Philadelphia, PA – Sometimes voters select a defending national champion No. 1 in a preseason poll because they believe it deserves to stay on top until another team knocks it off the lofty perch.
With reigning FCS champion Eastern Washington, this year's top ranking in the preseason appears to be deserving.
On Monday, the Eagles were installed as a prohibitive No. 1 by voters in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Preseason Top 25. They gained 90 of the 140 first-place votes and 3,377 points in the poll.
William & Mary had six more first-place votes for 20 while finishing one spot behind at No. 3. Georgia Southern, which had 11 first-place votes, was fourth, and Delaware, which fell to Eastern Washington in the national championship game, was fifth, gaining a pair of first-place votes.
Having led Eastern Washington to its first FCS national championship, head coach Beau Baldwin says, "it adds to the talk you're getting going into the season, it adds to people maybe saying, 'Hey, there's a huge game for us on our schedule.
"But ultimately as a team, it's what we wanted, it was part of our vision record-wise and over the years we've had a lot of success here, but our goals have been to try and keep taking it to another level. And if you do that, and you do wind up with a quote-un-quote target on your back, it means you've done something pretty darn good the year before or the years before."
Eastern Washington, which carries an 11-game winning streak into its Sept. 3 season opener at Washington of the Pac-12, returns 15 starters plus its two kickers from last season's 13-2 squad, which shared the Big Sky Conference title with Montana State.
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, the most outstanding performer in the 20-19 second-half rally past Delaware, helps lead the returnees, a decorated group which includes safety Matt Johnson, his twin brother and linebacker Zach Johnson, defensive tackle Renard Williams, wide receiver Brandon Kaufman, center Chris Powers and offensive tackle Gabriel Jackson.
Other Preseason Top 10 teams were No. 6 Montana State, No. 7 Northern Iowa, No. 8 Wofford, No. 9 Jacksonville State and No. 10 New Hampshire (one first- place vote).
North Dakota State led the next 10 at No. 11, followed by No. 12 Montana, No. 13 Lehigh, No. 14 Villanova (two first-place votes), No. 15 James Madison, No. 16 Richmond, No. 17 Stephen F. Austin, No. 18 Central Arkansas, No. 19 Southern Illinois and No. 20 McNeese State.
Chattanooga was selected at No. 21. Next up were No. 22 Liberty, No. 23 South Carolina State, No. 24 Sacramento State and No. 25 Massachusetts, which is playing its final season in the FCS before joining the Mid-American Conference of the FBS next year.
CAA Football had the most teams in the Preseason Top 25 with seven, followed by the Big Sky and Southern conferences with four each, and the Missouri Valley and Southland conferences with three each. The Big South, Mid-Eastern Athletic and Ohio Valley conferences and the Patriot League each had one Top 25 team.
A national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries select the Top 25.
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. 20, due to its use as an official tool by the NCAA Division I Football Committee in selecting the 20-team playoff field.
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.