In the FCS Huddle: Sacred Heart ranked for first time

Philadelphia, PA ( – Those who downplay national rankings
because the games on the field ultimately decide a season should consider North
Dakota State.

The Bison are thrilled to have the No. 1 ranking in the FCS and be able to
defend it every week.

Better yet, consider Sacred Heart. The first-place team in the Northeast
Conference race moved into The Sports Network FCS Top 25 for the first time in
program history on Monday, turning an important win over Duquesne into the No.
24 national ranking.

Located in Fairfield, Connecticut, Sacred Heart is a small school whose
athletic director – former major league player and manager Bobby Valentine – is
more well-known than the football coach.

But coach Mark Nofri has accomplished a lot in 2 1/2 seasons. After he debuted
with a 2-9 record in 2012, his program posted an eight-win improvement, earned
a share of the NEC title and participated in the FCS playoffs for the first
time a year ago.

On Saturday, the Pioneers gained sole possession of first place by scoring the
final 16 points of a 23-20 road win over Duquesne, the other 2013 NEC co-champ.
Quarterback RJ Noel’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Dube with 23 seconds
remaining provided the winning margin.

The Pioneers (6-1, 2-0 NEC) have lost only to a one-loss Bucknell squad,
opening the season with wins over 2013 Pioneer Football League co-champ Marist
and 2013 Patriot League champ Lafayette, and then beating a CAA Football team
for the first time with a 10-7 victory at then-No. 24 Delaware.

The Noel-Dube connection has worked for 10 touchdowns this season and running
back Keshaudas Spence, last year’s NEC offensive player of the year, has rushed
for nearly 500 yards. The defense has surrendered only 15.9 points per game and
has 25 sacks, led by linebacker James Rentz’s eight.

Top-ranked North Dakota State knows a thing or two about terrific defense. The
Bison doubled up Indiana State, 34-17, on Saturday, extending their FCS-record
winning streak to 31 games and beating the last team to defeat them more than
two years ago.

The three-time reigning national champions out of the Missouri Valley Football
Conference strengthened their hold on No. 1 by securing all but two of the 152
first-place votes in the poll.

All of the top 12 teams either won games or were idle on Saturday. The only
change among them was Illinois State moving up one spot to No. 9 over Montana

After North Dakota State, the rest of the Top 10 was No. 2 Eastern Washington
(7-1), which gained the other two first-place votes; No. 3 New Hampshire (5-1);
No. 4 Coastal Carolina (7-0); No. 5 Villanova (6-1); No. 6 Jacksonville State
(5-1); No. 7 Montana (5-2); No. 8 Southeastern Louisiana (6-2); No. 9 Illinois
State (6-0); and No. 10 Montana State (6-2).

Next up were No. 11 McNeese State (4-2), No. 12 Fordham (6-1), No. 13 South
Dakota State (5-2), No. 14 Bethune-Cookman (6-1), No. 15 Chattanooga (4-3), No.
16 Richmond (5-2), No. 17 Youngstown State (5-2), No. 18 William & Mary (4-3),
No. 19 Eastern Kentucky (6-1) and No. 20 Southern Illinois (5-3).

Rounding out the Top 25 were No. 21 Harvard (5-0), No. 22 Indiana State (4-3),
No. 23 Northern Iowa (3-4), No. 24 Sacred Heart and No. 25 Albany (5-2), which
returned to the poll after a two-week absence.

Charleston Southern and Sam Houston State fell out of the Top 25 after both
suffered losses on Saturday.

An impressive 11 conferences were represented in the rankings, with the
Missouri Valley leading with seven representatives followed by the CAA’s five.

A national panel of sports information and media relations directors,
broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries select the Top 25. In the voting,
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.

During the regular season, the Top 25 will be released every Monday afternoon,
except for the final weekend of the regular season, when it will be released
Sunday morning, Nov. 23, prior to the selection of the 24-team FCS playoff

The Sports Network will release a final Top 25 following the FCS championship
game, which will be held Jan. 10 in Frisco, Texas.