Georgia Southern football returns to No. 1

All the hoopla surrounding Georgia Southern football's return to a lofty status in the Football Championship Subdivision has a new declaration:

The Eagles are No. 1!

Georgia Southern, off to a 2-0 start, was a runaway top choice in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 on Monday, claiming 102 of the 148 first-place votes and 3,622 points, for its first No. 1 ranking since the poll on Oct. 22, 2001.

Northern Iowa (1-1), which collected 16 first-place votes and 3,329 points, was ranked second, followed in the top five by Appalachian State (1-1), William & Mary (1-1) and Montana State (1-1). Each of those schools have suffered losses to Bowl Subdivision programs.

South Dakota, which on Saturday knocked off last week's No. 1 team - reigning FCS champion Eastern Washington - moved into the rankings at No. 24. The upstart Coyotes, from the Great West Conference, are in the rankings for the first time since last Sept. 20 following the third week of games in the 2010 season.

Last season also marked Georgia Southern's return to prominence in the FCS. The Eagles had a combined 21-23 record in the four seasons from 2006-09, but Jeff Monken, an assistant coach with two of the program's FCS-record six national championship squads between 1985-2000, returned to Statesboro as head coach last year.

He restored the vaunted triple option which helped rack up all the national titles and the Eagles reversed a 5-6 season in 2009 with a 10-5 campaign in which they won three playoff games and reached the national semifinals.

This season, Georgia Southern has defeated Southern Conference rival Samford and Division II Tusculum, rushing for 307 yards per game to rank fourth nationally. The Eagles are on a bye this week.

Monken downplayed the No. 1 ranking on Monday, saying, "It doesn't matter until the end of the season."

As Eastern Washington tumbled from the top ranking to No. 10, nine teams in the Top 10 received first-place votes.

The rest of the Top 10 consisted of No. 6 Richmond (2-0) No. 7 Delaware (1-1), No. 8 North Dakota State (2-0) and No. 9 Wofford (1-1) before Eastern Washington (0-2).

New Hampshire (1-1) moved up two spots to No. 11 after beating Lehigh, 48-41, in overtime. The Wildcats were followed by No. 12 Montana (1-1), which hosts Eastern Washington in an important Big Sky Conference game on Saturday.

James Madison (1-1) moved up six spots to No. 13, just ahead of No. 14 Chattanooga (1-1), which advanced a poll-high nine spots after its 38-17 win over Jacksonville State.

Next are No. 15 Southern Illinois (1-1), No. 16 Lehigh (1-1), No. 17 Jacksonville State (1-1), No. 18 Central Arkansas (1-1), No. 19 Stephen F. Austin (1-1) and No. 20 Sacramento State (1-1), whose 35-14 loss to Southern Utah sent it tumbling eight spots.

The rest of the Top 25 consisted of No. 21 Massachusetts (1-0), No. 22 Liberty (1-1), No. 23 McNeese State (0-1), No. 24 South Dakota (1-1) and No. 25 South Carolina State (1-1), which rejoined the rankings after beating Bethune- Cookman, 26-18, in an important MEAC game.

The first team outside the Top 25 was Southern Utah.

During the regular season the Top 25 will be released every Monday afternoon, except for the final weekend of games, when it will be released Sunday morning, Nov. 20, due to its use as an official tool by the NCAA Division I Football Committee in selecting the 20-team playoff field later that day.

The Sports Network and Fathead.com will release a final Top 25 following the FCS championship game, which will be held Jan. 7 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.