(STATS) – Some might say you’re living in an alternate universe if you’re not picking North Dakota State or James Madison to win the FCS national championship this season.
The two have become the dominant powers in the subdivision. North Dakota State has won a record-tying six of the last seven titles, while James Madison won the other one in 2016 and finished as the national runner-up to the Bison last season.
But there are enough upset winners across sports to know the original storyline doesn’t follow the script. So if somehow the 2018 champ isn’t North Dakota State or James Madison, who’s it gonna be?
Twenty media members who vote in the STATS FCS Top 25 considered the rest of the field and rated Missouri Valley power South Dakota State with the best chance. The Jackrabbits drew seven of the 20 votes, while Big South champ Kennesaw State was second with five votes. In addition, Eastern Washington drew four votes, Sam Houston State three and New Hampshire one.
South Dakota State (11-3) reached the national semifinals for the first time last season, although the Jackrabbits were pummeled by James Madison 51-16. They have defeated North Dakota State in the regular season in two consecutive years.
“The Jacks are playoff seasoned and just might break through with a difference maker like Taryn Christion at quarterback,” a Missouri Valley Conference voter said. “And with Christian Rozeboom at linebacker, the defense should be solid again.”
Kennesaw State is entering just its fourth season as a program, but seemingly has skipped over steps in the growth process. Behind the nation’s top-ranked rushing offense, the Owls (12-2) reached the national quarterfinals last year.
“The Owls have everyone back from one of the top rushing attacks in the nation, which will help it become one of the best offenses in the nation,” an Ohio Valley Conference voter said. “Chandler Burks is such a big weapon at quarterback and the Owls defense was a big reason the team made as deep of a run as it did, which I expect to continue this season. Last year’s playoff run proves they can handle this season’s tougher schedule.”
Eastern Washington was the 2010 national champ – the year before North Dakota State’s five-year title reign began. The Eagles from the Big Sky went 7-4 and didn’t qualify for the playoffs last season, but they return an experienced lineup this year.
“Eastern Washington has the talent and, just as important, the motivation to be called the best FCS team in the country,” a Southern Conference voter said. “Missing the playoffs last season must have had the Eagles seeing red like their turf.”
The season kicks off Aug. 25. The national championship game, which caps a 24-team playoff, will be played Jan. 5 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.