In the FCS Huddle: UNH top-ranked entering playoffs

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - There is plenty of satisfaction for a team that lands in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 after the regular season ends.

It's usually a job well done following a long, winding campaign of challenges.

There's some discomfort as well because the 24-team national playoffs are beckoning, and that's what will decide the final order of the rankings.

New Hampshire carried the No. 1 ranking - or is it "target"? - for the third straight week Sunday just prior to the release of the NCAA playoff pairings.

After the top-ranked Wildcats (10-1) won 20-12 at rival Maine on Saturday to complete a perfect season within CAA Football, they received 93 of the 146 first-place votes and 3,585 points in the national media poll.

Coach Sean McDonnell's squad has qualified for the playoffs in 11 straight seasons - the active national high. A year ago, the Wildcats advanced to the national semifinals for their furthest postseason run in school history.

Of course, that's where UNH was knocked out by eventual champion North Dakota State, and those same Bison (11-1) were ranked second in the final regular- season poll after they ran over Youngstown State, 38-14, to earn a share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

First-year coach Chris Klieman and his Bison enter the playoffs with the chance to capture an unprecedented fourth straight national title. They received 39 first-place votes and 3,472 points in the poll, moving up one spot after Coastal Carolina lost for the first time and dropped four spots down from the No. 2 ranking.

Ohio Valley Conference champion Jacksonville State (10-1) was the only other team to earn first-place votes, gaining 14 of them as well as 3,360 points following a 49-30 win at Southeast Missouri State.

The rest of the Top 10 was No. 4 Eastern Washington (10-2), the Big Sky Conference champion; No. 5 Villanova (10-2); No. 6 Coastal Carolina (11-1), which shared the Big South title with Liberty after falling to the Flames, 15-14; No. 7 Illinois State (10-1), which earned a piece of the Missouri Valley title with North Dakota State; No. 8 Chattanooga (9-3), the Southern Conference champion; No. 9 Fordham (10-2), the Patriot League champion; and No. 10 Northern Iowa (8-4).

Next up were No. 11 Southeastern Louisiana (9-3), a co-champion with Sam Houston State in the Southland Conference; No. 12 Montana (8-4); No. 13 Harvard (10-0), the Ivy League champion which ended its season as the only unbeaten team in the FCS; No. 14 South Dakota State (8-4); No. 15 James Madison (9-3); No. 16 Eastern Kentucky (9-3); No. 17 Montana State (8-4); No. 18 Richmond (8-4); No. 19 Sam Houston State (8-4), the Southland co-champion; and No. 20 Liberty (8-4), which returned to the rankings after an eight-week absence.

Youngstown State (7-5) had the No. 21 ranking, followed by No. 22 Bethune- Cookman (9-3), which was part of a five-way tie for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title; No. 23 William & Mary (7-5); No. 24 Idaho State (8-4), which entered the rankings on Sunday for the first time since Oct. 3, 2005; and No. 25 Indiana State (7-5).

McNeese State and North Carolina A&T fell out of the Top 25 after suffering losses on Saturday.

The Missouri Valley Football Conference had the most teams ranked in the Top 25 with six, followed by the CAA with five and the Big Sky with four. Ten of the 13 FCS conferences had at least one representative.

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.

The national playoffs begin with eight first-round games next Saturday and lead up to the FCS championship game on Jan. 10 in Frisco, Texas. The Sports Network will release a final Top 25 following the championship game.