With the start of the 150th college football season less than three weeks away, it’s time to roll out the 2019 preseason rankings.
The first STATS FCS Top 25 poll of the season will be unveiled on Monday. As one of the voters for this year’s poll, I’ll be releasing my Top 25 ballot each week, as well as explanations for some of my decisions.
My preseason poll features CAA favorite James Madison at the top of the list, followed by defending national champion North Dakota State and Missouri Valley Conference runner-up South Dakota State rounding out the top-three.
Sam Houston State comes in at No. 12, and is one of three Southland Conference teams to make the cut. The Bearkats are joined by the league’s 2018 co-champions — No. 8 Nicholls and No. 18 Incarnate Word.
Below are a few notable selections, as well as my full preseason Top 25:
James Madison (No. 1)
After going 9-4 in 2018 with a second-round playoff exit, James Madison enters the upcoming season as arguably the most seasoned team in the country. The Dukes return 19 starters from last year’s squad, including four preseason All-Americans — Rashad Robinson, D'Angelo Amos, Liam Fornadel and Ron'Dell Carter.
James Madison lost head coach Mike Houston to East Carolina following last season, but his replacement Curt Cignetti spurs reason for optimism. In two years at Elon, Cignetti ended a run of six straight losing seasons and took the Phoenix to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in school history.
North Dakota State (No. 2)
First-year head coach Matt Entz has his work cut out for him as he attempts to lead the Bison to their third straight national title. Entz takes over for Chris Klieman — who left for the head job at Kansas State after leading NDSU to four national championships since 2014 — and returns only seven starters.
While the Bison have displayed a proven track record of being able to reload talent, their losses are enough to keep them out of the top spot.
Nicholls (No. 8)
Returning its top weapons on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, Nicholls is the lone Southland Conference team to crack the top-10. The Colonels bring back 2018 Southland Player of the Year Chase Fourcade, as well as three-time all-conference selection Sully Laiche, the FCS active leader in career sacks (25.5).
Nicholls received 20 out of 22 first-place votes in the Southland’s preseason poll, and enters 2019 as the team to beat in the league.
Sam Houston State (No. 12)
Sam Houston State missed the postseason for the first time since 2010 last year, but a bevy of returners and the addition of several FBS starters via transfer have the Bearkats feeling confident heading into 2019.
Among the newcomers are former Under Armour All-American and Texas running back Toneil Carter, Oregon State graduate transfer defensive back Dwayne Williams and Trace Mascorro, a two-year starter on the D-line for UTEP. All three are expected to make an immediate impact for the Kats.
Headlining Sam Houston State’s returning starters is senior receiver Nathan Stewart, who is looking to become the third player in FCS history to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in each of his four seasons. On defense, the Kats bring back a pair of senior linebackers — Hunter Brown and Royce See — to go along with three starters in the secondary.
Incarnate Word (No. 18)
Incarnate Word shocked the FCS community last season, claiming a co-league title and making its first playoff appearance after being picked to finish ninth in the Southland Conference preseason poll.
The Cardinals return Southland Coach of the Year Eric Morris and Freshman of the Year Jon Copeland, who helped spur a five-win turnaround in their first season with the team. Copeland is reportedly back to full strength after suffering a torn ACL in last year’s season finale
My preseason Top 25:
1. James Madison
2. North Dakota State
3. South Dakota State
4. Eastern Washington
5. Jacksonville State
6. UC Davis
10. Kennesaw State
11. Weber State
12. Sam Houston State
15. Montana State
16. Alcorn State
17. Illinois State
18. Incarnate Word
21. North Carolina A&T
22. Southeast Missouri State
23. Northern Iowa
24. San Diego