Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Win three straight national championships and then play with a chip on your shoulder.
Incredibly, that's what the North Dakota State Bison did in the 2014 season on their way toward capturing an unprecedented fourth straight FCS title this past Saturday and then the unanimous No. 1 ranking in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 on Monday.
In the final national media poll, North Dakota State collected all 152 first- place votes and 3,800 points.
Realistically, there appeared to be reason to doubt NDSU's chances after last season when it lost a superb senior class as well as former head coach Craig Bohl to the University of Wyoming. All that did, though, was motivate the Bison.
"What we've done this year shows that it wasn't those 24 seniors that got us three national championships," senior linebacker Carlton Littlejohn said. "It's everyone around -- everyone in the program from coaches to players to even training staff, like we're a whole Bison family. It's not 24 seniors that's going to win us a national championship."
"Exactly," senior running back John Crockett added, "and it's a band of brothers going out there and basically fighting for each other and not wanting to let the other one down because they know that the other one is going to do everything he can not to let him down."
NDSU completed its 15-1 season by defeating Illinois State, 29-27, in the FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas, winning on quarterback Carson Wentz's 5- yard run with 37 seconds remaining. The Bison rallied from fourth-quarter deficits in three of their four postseason wins.
The contributions were widespread for NDSU this season. First-year coach Chris Klieman's team placed a national-high six players on The Sports Network FCS All-America Team, and that didn't even include Wentz, a redshirt junior who was voted the Most Outstanding Player in the national final.
Looking toward 2015, the Bison will lose 16 outstanding seniors (wide receiver Zach Vraa has announced he will return for another season). Of course, the senior losses have been overcome while the Bison have gone 58-3 since the start of the 2011 season - one more national title than defeats.
National runner-up Illinois State (13-2) finished with the No. 2 ranking under sixth-year coach Brock Spack. The Redbirds, whose team featured dual-threat quarterback Tre Roberson and FCS rushing leader Marshaun Coprich, had an impressive postseason run, avenging a loss to the only team (Northern Iowa) to defeat both the Redbirds and North Dakota State during the regular season and then going on the road to beat both fourth-seeded Eastern Washington and top- seeded New Hampshire.
New Hampshire (12-2) was No. 3 in the final poll. The CAA Football champion finished the regular season with the top ranking and reached the national semifinals for the second consecutive season.
Big Sky Conference champion Eastern Washington (11-3), a national quarterfinalist, was No. 4 and Big South Conference co-champion Coastal Carolina (12-2), which also reached the final eight in the postseason, was No. 5.
They were followed by No. 6 Sam Houston State (11-5), a national semifinalist and co-champion in the Southland Conference; No. 7 Villanova (11-3), a national quarterfinalist; No. 8 Chattanooga (10-4), a national quarterfinalist and the Southern Conference champion; No. 9 Jacksonville State (10-2), the Ohio Valley Conference champion; and No. 10 Northern Iowa (9-5).
Next up were No. 11 Fordham (11-3), the Patriot League champion; No. 12 South Dakota State (9-5); No. 13 Montana (9-5); No. 14 Southeastern Louisiana (9-4), the Southland co-champion; No. 15 Harvard (10-0), unbeaten champion of an Ivy League which doesn't participate in the FCS playoffs; No. 16 Richmond (9-5); No. 17 Liberty (9-5), the Big South co-champion; No. 18 James Madison (9-4); No. 19 Indiana State; and No. 20 Montana State (8-5).
Rounding out the Top 25 were No. 21 Eastern Kentucky (9-4); No. 22 Youngstown State (7-5); No. 23 Bethune-Cookman (9-3), which was one of five teams to share the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title; No. 24 Sacred Heart (9-3), the Northeast Conference co-champion; and No. 25 Idaho State (8-4).
The Missouri Valley had the most teams ranked in the final Top 25 with six, followed by the Big Sky and the CAA with four each. Eleven of the 13 FCS conferences had at least one team in the Top 25.
A national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries select the Top 25. In the voting, a first-place vote is worth 25 points, a second-place vote 24 points, all the way down to one point for a 25th-place vote.