SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The Dukes of James Madison University (14-1, 8-0 CAA) tallied 26-out-of-26 possible first-place votes in the final FCS coaches’ poll after the Dukes clinched the program’s second national title in school history with its 28-14 defeat over Youngstown State (12-4, 8-0 MVC) in Frisco, Texas, Saturday afternoon.
The Dukes, who finished the season 14-1 and undefeated against all FCS foes, held the Penguins to 21 yards on the ground after Youngstown State entered the championship contest averaging 257.5 rushing yards per game – seventh in the nation. Senior JMU linebacker Gage Steele led the Dukes on defense, racking up six tackles, including five solo, two sacks and a pass breakup.
Senior JMU running back Khalid Abdullah concluded his collegiate career by garnering MVP honors after rushing for 101 yards and two touchdowns against YSU. Abdullah, an AP All-American, also wrote his name atop the JMU record books for career touchdowns (45) and single-season records for both total touchdowns (25) and rushing yards (1,809). His marks of 1,809 yards rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns are the most in the FCS this season. The Newport News, Va., native averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 120.6 yards per game during the 2016 season.
JMU head coach Mike Houston earned his first career national championship and CAA championship in his first year as head coach of the Dukes. Houston led a Dukes team whose only 2016 loss came on the road against the ACC’s University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whom the Dukes led 21-14 at the end first quarter before falling 56-28. Houston was head coach at The Citadel during the 2014 and 2015 seasons and led Lenoir-Rhyne to a NCAA Division II runner-up finish in 2013. Houston is now 5-1 all-time in the FCS playoffs.
No. 2 Youngstown State collected 607 points in the final FCS coaches’ poll after posting its third national championship runner-up finish in program history. In 2016, the Penguins went 12-4 overall and 6-2 in Missouri Valley play. YSU entered the championship game on a six-game winning streak, four of which were FCS playoff victories. The Penguins knocked off Samford, 38-24, in the first round of the playoffs, before upsetting third-seed Jacksonville State (10-2, 7-0 OVC), 40-24, in Jacksonville, Ala. In the quarterfinals, YSU edged Wofford in double-overtime, 30-23. The Penguins advanced to Saturday’s championship game after a miraculous one-handed game-winning catch in the back of the end zone by YSU junior tight end Kevin Rader with one second remaining in regulation at second-seeded Eastern Washington (12-2, 7-0 Big Sky). The Penguins defeated EWU by a final score of 40-38.
No. 3 North Dakota State (12-2, 7-1 MVC) saw its streak of five consecutive FCS championships come to an end as the top-seeded Bison lost in the semifinals to the champion Dukes, 27-17. With the loss, NDSU fell to 18-1 all-time at home in the FCS playoffs and also saw its 25-year streak of 22 consecutive playoff victories snapped. The Bison were led by running backs Lance Dunn and King Frazier, who averaged 71.1 and 67.6 rushing yards per game, respectively. Frazier posted a team-high 11 rushing touchdowns, while Dunn found the end zone six times on the ground this season. Sophomore quarterback Easton Stick averaged a completion percentage of 58.7, threw for 19 touchdowns and rushed for seven touchdowns in 2016.
Eastern Washington was voted fourth in this week’s coaches’ poll after posting a 12-2 overall record, including an undefeated 8-0 mark in conference play to claim a share of the regular-season Big Sky championship. The Eagles concluded their season by falling in the semifinals, 40-38, against FCS championship runner-ups in Youngstown State. EWU recorded an 11-game winning streak that began in the third week of the regular-season after falling to the then-No. 1 NDSU Bison, 50-44, in Fargo, N.D. The Eagles, along with the No. 5 Sam Houston State Bearkats (12-1, 9-0 Southland), accumulated the No. 1 ranked passing offense in the FCS after averaging 401 passing yards per game. The EWU passing attack was led by redshirt-sophomore quarterback Gage Gubrud, who threw for 5,160 yards (368.6/game) and 48 touchdowns, while maintaining an efficient 67.7 completion percentage in 2016.
Rounding out the top five is the Southland champion Sam Houston State Bearkats. The Bearkats’ 2016 campaign was headlined by an undefeated regular-season and second round FCS playoff victory over Chattanooga (9-4, 6-2 SoCon), 41-36. The Bearkats fell victim to the champion JMU Dukes in the FCS quarterfinals in Harrisonburg, Va., 65-7, to conclude their 2016 run. Sam Houston, which ranked third in the FCS in scoring offense (42.4 pts/game), was led by junior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe. Briscoe became the first Bearkat to claim the STATS FCS Walter Payton award, which is given annually to the most outstanding offensive player in the FCS. Briscoe threw for 4,602 yards (354.0/game) and a Southland single-season record 57 touchdowns in a historic season for the Bearkats. The Houston, Texas, native also broke the Southland single-season passing touchdown record after tossing his 49th touchdown in Sam Houston’s final regular-season contest against Central Arkansas, which the Bearkats won, 59-23.
Rounding out the top 10 in the final FCS coaches’ poll is No. 6 Jacksonville State, No. 7 Richmond (10-4, 5-3 CAA), No. 8 South Dakota State (9-4, 7-1 MVC), No. 9 The Citadel (10-2, 8-0 SoCon) and No. 10 Chattanooga.
Ten conferences are represented among the top 25 teams in this week’s poll. The Big Sky leads the pack with five ranked teams, followed by the Southern with four teams. The Colonial posted three teams in the final poll, while the Missouri Valley, Mid-Eastern and Southland each notched two teams. The Big South, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Pioneer and Southwestern Athletic round out the group as each conference claimed one representative in the top 25.
The FCS Coaches Poll is based exclusively on a voting panel of head coaches in the FCS under the cooperation of the Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA) and the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and is administered by the Southern Conference.
|Team (No. 1 Votes)||Points||Previous||Record||Team (No. 1 Votes)||Points||Previous||Record||Team (No. 1 Votes)||
|1. James Madison||650||5||14-1||11. Wofford||374||19||10-4||T-21. Cal Poly||121||20||7-5|
|2. Youngstown State||607||12||12-4||12. North Dakota||373||8||9-3||T-21. San Diego||121||25||10-2|
|3. North Dakota State||599||3||12-2||13. Villanova||355||12||9-4||23. Samford||104||24||7-5|
|4. Eastern Washington||574||4||12-2||14. Charleston Southern||292||10||7-4||24. Weber State||73||23||7-5|
|5. Sam Houston State||519||1||12-1||15. Grambling State||286||14||12-1||25. Montana||33||22||6-5|
|6. Jacksonville State||494||2||10-2||16. Central Arkansas||281||16||10-3||
Others receiving votes: Illinois State (25), St. Francis (Pa.) (21), Princeton (20), Albay (15), Southeastern La. (14), Kennesaw State (9), Southern Utah (7), Fordham (4), Penn (4) and UT-Martin (2).
|7. South Dakota State||469||7||9-4||17. New Hampshire||217||21||8-5|
|8. Richmond||444||13||10-4||18. Lehigh||206||15||9-3|
|9. The Citadel||404||6||10-2||19. North Carolina Central||176||18||9-3|
|10. Chattanooga||388||9||9-4||20. North Carolina A&T||169||17||9-3|
|1. James Madison (26)||6. Jacksonville State||11. Wofford||16. Central Arkansas||T-21. Cal Poly|
|2. Youngstown State||7. South Dakota State||12. North Dakota||17. New Hampshire||T-21. San Diego|
|3. North Dakota State||8. Richmond||13. Villanova||18. Lehigh||23. Samford|
|4. Eastern Washington||9. The Citadel||14. Charleston Southern||19. North Carolina Central||24. Weber State|
|5. Sam Houston State||10. Chattanooga||15. Grambling State||20. North Carolina A&T||25. Montana|