Unbeaten Sam Houston State is No. 1 for first time

Unbeaten Sam Houston State hopes to follow a similar path of last year's FCS national champion, Eastern Washington.

Sam Houston State heads into the playoffs with its first-ever No. 1 ranking in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25. The Southland Conference champion improved to 11-0 on Saturday, then collected 125 of the 140 first-place votes and 3,473 points from the poll's national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries on Sunday.

A year ago, Eastern Washington claimed its first No. 1 ranking at the end of the regular season, then went on to capture its first FCS national title in the 20-team playoffs.

Sam Houston State is the FCS' only unbeaten team. Behind second-year head coach Willie Fritz, the Bearkats rank first in the nation in scoring defense (12.6 ppg) and second in scoring offense (39.5 ppg).

"I think we deserve it," Fritz said about the No. 1 ranking. "We won our conference very convincingly."

Sam Houston State completed its regular season with a 36-14 triumph over Texas State as redshirt sophomore running back Tim Flanders rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns, giving him a Southland Conference-record 22 TDs this season.

The Bearkats moved up from No. 2 after then-No. 1 Montana State fell on Saturday.

The Bearkats are awaiting Sunday's announcement of the NCAA Division I playoff pairings.

Northern Iowa (9-2), the Missouri Valley Football Conference co-champion, moved up to two spots to No. 2 after its 23-20 overtime win at Illinois State. The Panthers received two first-place votes and 3,155 points.

Southern Conference champion Georgia Southern (9-2) remained No. 3 in the FCS despite losing to the No. 3 team in the Bowl Subdivision, the University of Alabama, 45-21. The Eagles received six first-place votes.

Three voters gave first-place votes to No. 4 North Dakota State (10-1), which shared the Missouri Valley title with Northern Iowa and won the head-to-head meeting last month. That victory gave the Bison the conference's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.

Montana (9-2), up two spots to No. 5, also shared a conference title, in the Big Sky with Montana State. But Saturday's 36-10 rout of Montana State earned the Grizzlies the automatic bid in that conference.

Patriot League champion Lehigh (10-1), whose only loss was in overtime to New Hampshire back in the second week of the season, received four first-place votes to remain at No. 6. The Mountain Hawks beat rival Lafayette, 37-13, on Saturday.

Rounding out the Top 10 were No. 7 Montana State (9-2); No. 8 Towson (9-2), the CAA Football champion; No. 9 Appalachian State (8-3); and No. 10 Old Dominion (9-2).

New Hampshire (8-3), one of six CAA teams in the rankings, moved up to No. 11. The Wildcats were followed by No. 12 Wofford (8-3); No. 13 Maine (8-3); No. 14 Delaware (7-4); No. 15 Central Arkansas (8-3); No. 16 Harvard (9-1), the Ivy League champion; No. 17 James Madison (7-4); No. 18 Illinois State (7-4); No. 19 Norfolk State (9-2), which won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title; and No. 20 Jackson State (9-2).

Tennessee Tech (7-3), which captured the Ohio Valley Conference's automatic bid, checked in at No. 21, followed by No. 22 Stony Brook (8-3), the Big South Conference champion which had never appeared in the rankings previously; No. 23 North Dakota (8-3), which shared the final Great West Football Conference title; No. 24 Liberty (7-4); and No. 25 Jacksonville State (7-4).

After losing games on Saturday, South Dakota, Furman and Portland State fell out of the Top 25.

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.