Published November 20, 2014
Montana State has it, but there's competition for the No. 1 ranking in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25.
With one week remaining in the regular season, the upcoming Football Championship Subdivision playoffs will provide the definitive answer about which team is the nation's best.
On Monday, the poll's national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries installed Montana State at No. 1 for the first time in program history.
The Bobcats (9-1) were idle this past weekend while then-No. 1 North Dakota State lost for the first time. The Big Sky Conference leader collected 76 of the 156 first-place votes and 3,805 points to edge Sam Houston State for the top spot in the rankings.
The Bobcats program knows plenty about the pursuit of the national title, having won it in 1984, six years before the poll began.
But there's little time for Montana State to soak in being No. 1. On Saturday, it will host rival Montana in Bozeman, with the winner earning the Big Sky's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. The loser is expected to be in the 20-team field as an at-large selection.
"This is a tremendous honor for the Montana State football program, our loyal and passionate fans, and our incredibly supportive administration," said Bobcats head coach Rob Ash, whose team will earn an outright Big Sky title by winning Saturday or will be the co-champion with Montana if it loses to the Grizzlies.
"But this ranking has only happened because our group of players and coaches made a promise almost a year ago to try to be the best in the nation, and everyone in this program has worked diligently, for literally months, to reach that goal.
"We know the tournament will eventually settle the issue on the field, but we are thrilled and excited to be recognized right now, this week, as the No. 1 team in the country."
Montana State is the fourth different team to ranked be No. 1 this season, and plenty of voters are supporting Sam Houston State (10-0), the only unbeaten team in the FCS. The Southland Conference champion received 71 first-place votes and 3,764 points.
On Saturday, coach Willie Fritz' Bearkats will try to complete an unbeaten regular season at Texas State.
Georgia Southern (9-1) moved up to No. 3 after clinching the Southern Conference championship and its automatic bid to the playoffs. The Eagles, who spent seven weeks at No. 1, received eight first-place votes.
The Missouri Valley Football Conference title remains undecided and it's likely a battle between No. 4 Northern Iowa (8-2) and No. 5 North Dakota State (9-1). UNI lost in the head-to-head battle, but has senior quarterback Tirrell Rennie has returned from the ankle injury he suffered in the loss.
North Dakota State fell from the No. 1 ranking after losing to Youngstown State, 27-24, on Saturday. The Bison, however, received one first-place vote.
The rest of the Top 10 was No. 6 Lehigh (9-1), the Patriot League champion for a second straight year; No. 7 Montana (8-2); No. 8 Towson (8-2); No. 9 Appalachian State (7-3); and No. 10 Old Dominion (9-2), which has completed its regular season.
CAA Football has a poll-high six teams in the rankings, including No. 11 Maine (8-2) and No. 12 New Hampshire (7-3). They were followed by No. 13 Wofford (7-3); No. 14 Illinois State (7-3); No. 15 Delaware (6-4); No. 16 Liberty (7-3); No. 17 Central Arkansas (8-3); No. 18 Harvard (8-1), the Ivy League champion; No. 19 James Madison (6-4); and No. 20 Norfolk State (9-2), the winner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Rounding out the poll were No. 21 Jackson State (8-2), No. 22 South Dakota (6-4), No. 23 Tennessee Tech (6-3), No. 24 Furman (6-4) and No. 25 Portland State (7-3), whose appearance in the rankings was its first since Sept. 4, 2007
The Top 25 is released every Monday afternoon during the regular season except this coming weekend, when it will be released Sunday morning, due to its use as an official tool by the NCAA Division I Football Committee in selecting the playoff field later that morning.
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.