September 25, 2021

College football top 25: Sam Houston State opens 2021 at No. 1 in CBS Sports FCS Power Rankings

5 min read

Welcome back, college football. It’s great to see you again! However, unlike the FBS, which has not played since January, the FCS wrapped up a unique spring season that saw Sam Houston State crowned as national champions in May. It was a well-earned championship for the Bearkats as as they had to go through a murderer’s row of FCS titans to get there, knocking off Monmouth, North Dakota State, James Madison and South Dakota State en route to the title.

Based off what we saw in the spring, where does that leave Sam Houston State and others as we approach Week 0 of the 2021 season? Well, the FCS Top 25 poll opens with Sam Houston State firmly at No. 1, receiving 39 of 50 first-place votes.

As a voter in the FCS Top 25, that aligns with my ballot. Which is why Sam Houston State opens as No. 1 in the debut of my CBS Sports FCS Power Rankings. Lets see how the rest of the subdivision stacks up in the debut of The Czar’s latest top 25 rankings.

1. Sam Houston State: The reigning national champions return one of the most explosive offenses in the FCS along with one of the country’s most exciting players in wide receiver Jaquez Ezzard.

2. South Dakota State: The FCS runner-up will have some quarterback questions entering the season, but the Jackrabbits are still strong enough everywhere else to contend.

3. James Madison: The Dukes gave Sam Houston State all they could handle in the FCS playoffs. It has a huge out-of-conference tilt on Sept. 18 against Weber State.

4. Jacksonville State: QB Zerrick Cooper is coming off of a strong fall and spring season as he looks to position himself as the top FCS quarterback prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft.

5. Weber State: The Wildcats are a resilient group that should be much more experienced this fall. 

6. Delaware: I’m a big fan of QB Nolan Henderson. He has the dual-threat capability to keep defensive coordinators up at night. 

7. North Dakota State: Everything looks stable for the Bison except the QB position, which is unheard of for NDSU.

8. Monmouth: Coach Kevin Callahan’s Hawks are one of the most balanced teams in the FCS. Freshman QB Tony Muskett is a legit star!

9. Eastern Washington: With QB Eric Barriere at the controls, the Eagles will always have a chance to go deep into the playoffs.

10. North Dakota: UND is already making noise in the Missouri Valley, coming off of a strong showing in the spring.

11. Southern Illinois: One of the better stories of the FCS spring season was the Salukis. They are really good on the perimeter across both sides of the ball.

12. Montana State: Keep an eye on the Bobcats as they could potentially have the Walter Payton and Buck Buchanan Award winners in QB Matthew McKay and linebacker Troy Anderson, respectively.

13. Nicholls: Led by QB Lindsey Scott III, the Colonels can score at will. But whether they stop opponents from doing the same thing will be the biggest question.

14. Richmond: Coming off of a solid spring, the Spiders figure to be right in the thick of the CAA race.

15. Southeastern Louisiana: The Lions have the reigning Walter Payton Award winner in QB Cole Kelley (6-foot-7, 240 pounds), who can help them navigate through a tough nonconference schedule in September.

16. VMI: Coming off their first-ever playoff appearance, the Keydets now know what it takes to win and will be looking to make playoff trips a common occurrence.

17. Montana: The Grizzlies didn’t play a full schedule in the spring, but they looked impressive in the few games they were able to play. 

18. Austin Peay: Running back Brian Snead’s big-play capability will help give the Governors the run game it needs to make it through a competitive Ohio Valley this season. 

19. Villanova: QB Daniel Smith is one of the better signal-callers in the subdivision and leads an experienced group of Wildcats into the season.

20. Murray State: A surprising 5-2 spring season just laid the foundation for a Racers squad that’s looking to become a mainstay atop the Ohio Valley rankings.

21. East Tennessee State: The Buccaneers were one of the more consistent teams in the spring, especially on defense. They open up with a huge game against Vanderbilt. Should the Commodores be on upset alert?

22. Sacred Heart: RB Julius Chestnut (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) is a legitimate NFL prospect coming off of a spring season that saw him rush for 717 yards in eight games.

23. Alabama A&M: Armed (pun intended) with the best QB prospect in the state of Alabama, Aqeel Glass (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) is coming off of a SWAC Championship, SWAC Player of the Year & Black College Hall of Fame Player of the Year awards. He has the Bulldogs looking for more this fall.

24. Holy Cross: Bob Chesney is one of the best coaches in football, and he’s coming off of a Patriot League title along with Holy Cross’ second playoff appearance under his leadership.

25. Florida A&M: Do not sleep on the Rattlers in 2021. FAMU has quietly built a bully up front along both sides of the line of scrimmage. Coach Willie Simmons has a future stud on his hands in QB Rasean McKay as well as defensive back Marquese Bell, an NFL Draft prospect.

Just missed the cut: Kennesaw State, Princeton, Missouri State, Incarnate Word, UC Davis, Alcorn State

The Czar’s Game of the Week

Alcorn State vs. North Carolina Central: This kicks off the season at the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. Alcorn State’s Fred McNair is the most underrated coach in college football, and he takes an experienced Braves squad looking to get off to a great start in Atlanta. They didn’t play in the spring, and neither did North Carolina Central. So, it should be an exciting and entertaining game. The Braves are one of the most consistent teams in the SWAC, boast one of the conference’s best QBs and coaches, and are legitimately a SWAC title contender, looking to get back to Atlanta later in the season for the Celebration Bowl. Pick: Alcorn State 35, NCCU 17

Players to watch

Alcorn State — QB Felix Harper: He’s the FCS version of Louisiana’s Levi Lewis, a smaller, point guard-type passer with outstanding ability in the intermediate area of the field.

North Carolina Central — RB Isaiah Totten: Totten is looking for his 1st 1,000 yard season in his career but still ranks seventh all-time in rushing at NCCU. He’ll need to have a big day in order for the Eagles to have a chance.

The Czar’s Featured SportsLine Pick

Southern Utah at San Jose State: Are the Thunderbirds ready to pull off the shocker in San Jose? Linebacker La’akea Kaho’ohanohano-Davis definitely thinks so. Check out my pick plus every Week 0 and Week 1 pick on SportsLine.

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