ODU, Richmond, JMU finish in final I-AA Top 25
To move forward to North Dakota State’s back-to-back FCS national championships, you have to move backward with coach Craig Bohl. Bohl was an assistant coach during Nebraska’s big run in the mid-1990s, including two of the Cornhuskers’ national championship seasons. Bohl’s NDSU squad, having beaten Sam Houston State for the second straight season in the FCS title game this past Saturday, was a unanimous selection on Monday on all 142 ballots of The Sports Network FCS Top 25.
The Bison finished with their second straight 14-1 record and had three more wins than any other FCS team.
“A tremendous amount of sacrifice and dedication by everybody in our organization,” Bohl said following the 39-13 triumph over Sam Houston State.
“It was certainly a long process. I also want to acknowledge my mentor, Tom Osborne, during the time that I had a chance to coach for him at Nebraska. We had an opportunity to do this, and it’s very hard to do. And the legacy that he’s left, left a blueprint for me personally on, OK, what were the key points to put things in place for a program standpoint to get it done. And once that was in place, then I think our assistant coaches and our players have done a phenomenal job, everything from our strength and conditioning staff to assistant coaches and the whole process.
“It’s very rewarding and it’s extremely hard to do,” added the 2012 Eddie Robinson Award winner as FCS coach of the year.
Quarterback Brock Jensen and running back Sam Ojuri combined on five touchdown runs and the defense intercepted two Sam Houston State quarterbacks a combined four times in the championship game win.
The Bison, the Missouri Valley Football Conference champions, were ranked No. 1 in 11 of the 14 polls this season, but, of course, the final one is what mattered most to them.
With nearly all of their key starters returning next season, including All- America first-team selections Billy Turner at left tackle and Marcus Williams at cornerback, the Bison will be favored to become just the second team to win three straight FCS titles. Appalachian State set the standard from 2005-07.
Sam Houston State (11-4) was voted second on 128 of the 142 ballots. Coach Willie Fritz’s Bearkats, the Southland Conference co-champions, finished behind North Dakota State in the point total, 3,550 to 3,386.
The other two teams to reach the national semifinals, Southern Conference tri-champion Georgia Southern (10-4) and Big Sky Conference tri-champion Eastern Washington (11-3), finished No. 3 and 4, respectively.
The rest of the Top 10 was No. 5 Montana State (11-2), a Big Sky tri-champion; No. 6 Old Dominion (11-2); No. 7 Wofford (9-4), a SoCon tri-champion; No. 8 Illinois State (9-4); No. 9 Appalachian State (8-4), a SoCon tri-champion; and No. 10 Central Arkansas (9-3), a Southland co-champion.
Next up were No. 11 Stony Brook (10-3), a Big South Conference tri-champion; No. 12 Cal Poly (9-3), a Big Sky tri-champion; No. 13 New Hampshire (8-4), a CAA Football tri-champion; No. 14 South Dakota State (9-4); No. 15 Villanova (8-4), a CAA tri-champion; No. 16 Lehigh (10-1); No. 17 Towson (7-4), a CAA tri-champion; No. 18 Richmond (8-3), a CAA tri-champion; No. 19 James Madison (7-4); and No. 20 Northern Arizona (8-3).
Northeast Conference champion Wagner (9-4) finished at No. 21, followed by No. 22 Bethune-Cookman (9-3), the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion; No. 23 Eastern Kentucky (8-3); No. 24 Coastal Carolina (8-5), a Big South tri- champion; and No. 25 Colgate (8-4), the Patriot League champion.
The first teams outside the Top 25 were Eastern Illinois, the Ohio Valley Conference champion, and Indiana State, which handed North Dakota State its only loss of the season, 17-14 on Oct. 13.
The CAA finished with the most teams in the Top 25 with six, followed by the Big Sky with four and the Missouri Valley and SoCon with three each. There were two teams each from the Southland, Big South and Patriot League, and one each from the MEC, NEC and Ohio Valley Conference.
A national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries selected the Top 25 throughout the season. A first-place vote was worth 25 points, a second-place vote 24 points, all the way down to one point for a 25th-place vote.