In the FCS Huddle: CAA schedule has Top 25 feel

Philadelphia, PA ( - Six conference games, four decided by a touchdown or less, two go to overtime. The road team even wins five times.

It figures to be that kind of tight season in CAA Football.

The conference schedule is basically just beginning and the CAA teams, including six in The Sports Network FCS Top 25, are revving up for the grind of October and November.

Fourth-ranked New Hampshire and sixth-ranked Villanova headline the CAA contingent in the national media poll, which on Monday didn't have any changes among the top 14 after only one ranked team lost on the fifth full weekend of action. Everybody in the FCS, of course, is giving chase to No. 1 North Dakota State, the three-time reigning national champion.

The brutal nature of conference play is evident in the CAA, where coach Jack Cosgrove of defending champion Maine said Monday, "You have to stay grounded on what's in front of you."

In addition to New Hampshire and Villanova, the elite conference along the eastern seaboard boasts ranked teams in No. 12 William & Mary, No. 20 Richmond, No. 23 Albany and No. 24 Delaware. Maine, Towson and James Madison also are receiving votes but are outside the Top 25.

UNH epitomized the CAA a year ago. The Wildcats had a 4-4 record at one point, including 3-2 in conference play, and then rallied with three wins to make the playoffs for the 10th straight season. From there, the experience of playing the CAA aided the Wildcats, who won three playoff games - including against Maine - and advanced to the national semifinals for the first time in program history.

"It's a one-week season. Enjoy what we do for 24 hours or lament what we do for 24 hours, and then get on to the next one," UNH coach Sean McDonnell said Monday, preparing for a road trip to CAA newcomer Elon.

"When you look over our schedule, and you look over the league schedule, you travel to places like Richmond, you travel to places like Stony Brook, you travel to places like Delaware, and then Maine, JMU, Villanova - they're just great places to play. And the teams are well-coached, good football teams. The big thing is winning on the road. And how do you do that in our league, how do you be successful? It's gotta be one-week seasons as you go along with it."

Top-ranked North Dakota State knows about playing in a tough conference. Its Missouri Valley Football Conference is the only one in the FCS to have more teams in the Top 25 than the CAA. With seven this week, the Valley set its all- time high.

NDSU (4-0), which is coming off a bye this past weekend, captured 153 of the 161 first-place votes.

After the Bison, the Top 10 was No. 2 Eastern Washington (4-1), which gained the other eight first-place votes; No. 3 Coastal Carolina (5-0); No. 4 New Hampshire (3-1); No. 5 McNeese State (2-1); No. 6 Villanova (3-1); No. 7 Montana (3-2); No. 8 Jacksonville State (3-1); No. 9 South Dakota State (3-1); and No. 10 Northern Iowa (2-2).

Then it was No. 11 Southeastern Louisiana (3-2), followed by No. 12 William & Mary (4-1), No. 13 Montana State (3-2), No. 14 Chattanooga (2-2), No. 15 Southern Illinois (4-1), No. 16 Fordham (4-1), No. 17 Bethune-Cookman (3-1), No. 18 Youngstown State (3-1), No. 19 Eastern Kentucky (4-0) and No. 20 Richmond (2-2).

Rounding out the Top 25 were No. 21 Tennessee State (4-1), No. 22 Illinois State (3-0), No. 23 Albany (4-0), No. 24 Delaware (3-1) and No. 25 Indiana State (3-1).

Perhaps it was fitting that Indiana State joined the rankings for the first time since Nov. 18, 2012. The Sycamores knocked off previous-No. 22 Liberty, 38-19, to earn their way in.

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.

During the regular season, the Top 25 will be released every Monday afternoon, except for the final weekend of the regular season, when it will be released Sunday morning, Nov. 23, prior to the selection of the 24-team FCS playoff field.

The Sports Network will release a final Top 25 following the FCS championship game, which will be held Jan. 10 in Frisco, Texas.