The University of Central Arkansas football team finished 10th in the final The Sports Network FCS Top 25 poll, the Bears’ highest ranking ever in NCAA Division I.
The Bears (9-3) shared the Southland Conference championship with Sam Houston State, which was the national runner-up for the second straight year and finished second in the final poll. By virtue of a victory over Sam Houston (one of only two FCS teams to defeat the Bearkats), UCA received the SLC’s automatic bid into the FCS playoffs. After gaining a bye into the second round, the Bears lost to Georgia Southern, 24-16, in Statesville. Georgia Southern lost, 23-20, to national champion North Dakota State in the semifinals.
North Dakota State was a unanimous choice for the No. 1 spot in the final poll with 142 points among voters representing every FCS conference.
The Bison have won back-to-back national titles, defeating Sam Houston State both times.
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,” said NDSU coach Craig Bohl after the 39-13 triumph over Sam Houston State in the title game at Frisco, Texas.
The Bison, the Missouri Valley Football Conference champions, were ranked No. 1 in 11 of the 14 polls this season.
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 a team UCA defeated in the regular season, 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.