In the FCS Huddle: Top 25 staple UNH rises to No. 2

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - A program that has been nationally ranked for 150 straight weeks will go through its share of highs and lows.

University of New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell, whose team moved up to No. 2 in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 on Monday for its highest ranking in over eight years, thinks the high his Wildcats have been on over the last year stems from a low early last season.

The Wildcats probably thought their streak in the poll was going to end last October after they fell to 1-3 against a tough early season schedule. But they clung to No. 25, got hot when they had no other option considering their FCS playoff hopes, then earned their 10th straight appearance in the postseason and turned it into their furthest run ever - a trip to the national semifinals to cap a 10-win season.

This season, the Wildcats (6-1) have won six straight games since losing to FBS member Toledo, including four in CAA Football to move into first place alongside Villanova.

"I think the best thing that happened to us was we came right back down to earth last year," McDonnell said, "and you're able to reflect back on that an awful lot - that you took that week of preparation, that week of practice and got to a one-game (at a time) season. And I think every team wants to do that."

UNH's starting lineup is full of redshirt juniors, fifth-year seniors, even a sixth-year senior in defensive end Cody Muller, a team captain. It's such a veteran team that the Wildcats have overcome injuries to No. 1 quarterback Sean Goldrich and No. 1 running back Nico Steriti by plugging in veteran backups Andy Vailas and Jimmy Owens, respectively.

"The week-to-week preparation has been terrific in my mind," said McDonnell, whose team features All-American wide receiver R.J. Harris, also a fifth-year senior.

UNH's No. 2 ranking comes on the heels of Eastern Washington falling from the spot after a 28-27 loss to Northern Arizona in the Big Sky Conference. The ranking is UNH's highest since the Wildcats were No. 1 for five weeks in the 2006 season (most recently Oct. 9, 2006). The next-longest streak of consecutive appearances in the Top 25 belongs to Montana State at 66 weeks.

North Dakota State, the three-time reigning FCS champion, became a unanimous No. 1 after stretching its winning streak to 32 games by defeating South Dakota, 47-7, on Saturday. The Bison (8-0), who received all 157 first-place votes, next host South Dakota State and the Missouri Valley Football Conference's all-time leading rusher, Zach Zenner.

After New Hampshire, the rest of the Top 10 was No. 3 Coastal Carolina (8-0), No. 4 Villanova (7-1), No. 5 Jacksonville State (6-1), No. 6 Eastern Washington (7-2), No. 7 Illinois State (7-0), No. 8 Montana State (6-2), No. 9 McNeese State (5-2) and No. 10 Fordham (7-1).

Youngstown State moved up to No. 11 followed by No. 12 Montana (5-3), No. 13 Richmond (6-2), No. 14 Chattanooga (5-3), No. 15 Southeastern Louisiana (6-3), No. 16 Eastern Kentucky (7-1), No. 17 William & Mary (5-3), No. 18 South Dakota State (5-3), No. 19 Indiana State (5-3) and No. 20 Harvard (6-0).

Rounding out the Top 25 were No. 21 Bethune-Cookman (6-2), No. 22 Northern Iowa (4-4), No. 23 Albany (6-2), and two newcomers, No. 24 Stephen F. Austin (6-2) for the first time since Sept. 10, 2012, and No. 25 Bryant (6-1) for the first time ever.

Southern Illinois and Sacred Heart fell out of the Top 25 after suffering losses on Saturday. SIU's departure left the Missouri Valley with six teams in the rankings - still the most among FCS conferences.

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.