Montana climbs back into FCS Top 25

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - It sounds strange after the first six weeks of the season, but Montana joined the STATS FCS Top 25 on Monday for the first time this season.

The Grizzlies, who have made a record 23 appearances in the FCS playoffs and are two-time champions and seven-time finalists, used to be the staple of the national media poll, appearing in it for 195 straight weeks from 1998-2012.

They climbed back in at No. 24, fresh off their second consecutive Big Sky road win to improve to 4-2 overall.

The poll's top two teams remained as they've been all season. James Madison, the 2016 FCS champ, was No. 1 following its bye week and heading into Saturday's visit by No. 11 Villanova and the ESPN "College GameDay" show. North Dakota State was No. 2 after shutting out Indiana State to join JMU with a 5-0 record.

Montana once held such lofty status, and it's something the Griz are hoping to build toward again under coach Bob Stitt. They beat Idaho State 39-31 on Saturday, overcoming an eight-point halftime deficit as redshirt freshman quarterback Gresch Jensen accounted for five touchdowns.

"We talk about this process," said Stitt, who has an 18-12 record in Missoula. "Now they're starting to see how good we can be, how special this football team is."

There was room for Montana to move into the Top 25 because each of the teams ranked 22-25 lost on Saturday. The Griz won't find it easy to stay in the rankings because they face a difficult second half of the season, including an upcoming visit from struggling preseason Big Sky favorite North Dakota.

Conference matchups are always more intense, of course, and not even James Madison and North Dakota State are exempt. The No. 1 Dukes, who received 160 of the 168 first-place votes and 4,192 points, lost in 2015 after the first "GameDay" visit to campus, but they hope to break the CAA Football record for consecutive wins (17) by defeating Villanova. In the Missouri Valley, NDSU seeks to add to its FCS-leading 11-game road win streak against Youngstown State, last year's national runner-up.

NDSU earned the other eight first-place votes Monday. The two teams right behind the Bison changed as Jacksonville State (4-1) rose one spot to No. 3 after beating Austin Peay for its record-tying 26th straight Ohio Valley Conference win, and South Dakota (5-0) moved up three spots to No. 4 after edging Youngstown State. It's the Coyotes' highest ranking on the FCS level.

Southern Conference-leading Wofford (5-0) remained at No. 5 followed by Central Arkansas (4-1); South Dakota State (4-1); Youngstown State (3-2), which owns a win over South Dakota State; Sam Houston State (4-1); and Eastern Washington (4-2).

After No. 11 Villanova (4-2), it was fellow CAA members New Hampshire (4-1) and Richmond (3-2), then Western Illinois (4-1), North Carolina A&T (6-0), Elon (5-1), Illinois State (4-1), Weber State (4-1), Samford (4-2) and Grambling State (5-1).

Western Carolina (4-2) moved up one spot to No. 21 after an overtime loss to Wofford. Like Montana, perennial Southland power McNeese (5-1) and defending MEAC champ North Carolina Central (4-1) appeared in the Top 25 for the first time this season at No. 22 and 25, respectively. In between were The Citadel (3-2) and Montana.

Stony Brook, Albany and UT Martin fell out of the Top 25, leaving the Missouri Valley with a poll-high six representatives.

A national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries select the STATS FCS Top 25. A first-place vote is worth 25 points, a second-place vote 24 points, all the way down to one point for a 25th-place vote.

The Top 25 is released every Monday afternoon during the regular season, except for Sunday morning, Nov. 19, prior to the selection of the 24-team FCS playoff field. A final Top 25 will follow the FCS championship game, which will be held Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas.

Updated October 9, 2017

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