Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The conference that could send the most qualifiers to the upcoming FCS playoffs is flexing its muscles in The Sports Network FCS Top 25.
The Big Sky Conference boasted four of the top 12 teams in the rankings Monday, led by Eastern Washington at No. 3 and followed by No. 7 Montana, No. 8 Montana State and No. 12 Northern Arizona.
All four of those teams could have their names called when the 24-team playoff field is announced on Nov. 24. Another Big Sky team, Southern Utah, sitting four spots outside the Top 25, also is the mix for playoff consideration.
North Dakota State, the two-time defending FCS champion, was a unanimous No. 1 for the sixth straight week, gaining all 156 first-place votes and 3,900 points in the national media poll.
The Bison (9-0) have won a Missouri Valley Football Conference-record 18 straight games. They can clinch the conference title and its automatic bid to the playoffs with a win at No. 15 Youngstown State on Saturday.
Right behind NDSU is Eastern Illinois (9-1), which remained at No. 2 after defeating Murray State in Ohio Valley Conference action this past Saturday.
At No. 3, Eastern Washington (8-2) took sole possession of first place in the Big Sky by defeating Montana State, 54-29 - the Eagles' sixth straight win since their only defeat to an FCS opponent, Sam Houston State.
While Eastern Washington has the inside track to the Big Sky's automatic bid to the playoffs, Montana, Montana State and Northern Arizona have been building resumes that appear worthy of at-large bids. Southern Utah (7-3) would force its way into the picture with wins in its final two games - at Montana State on Saturday and home versus Northern Arizona on Nov. 23.
After Eastern Washington, the rest of the Top 10 was No. 4 Sam Houston State (8-2), No. 5 Fordham (10-0), No. 6 Maine (9-1), No. 7 Montana (8-2), No. 8 Montana State (7-3), No. 9 McNeese State (8-2) and No. 10 Towson (8-2).
Then it was No. 11 Coastal Carolina (9-1), No. 12 Northern Arizona (7-2), No. 13 Charleston Southern (10-1), No. 14 Southeastern Louisiana (8-2), No. 15 Youngstown State (8-2), No. 16 William & Mary (7-3), No. 17 Chattanooga (8-2), No. 18 Bethune-Cookman (8-2), No. 19 South Dakota State (6-4) and No. 20 Lehigh (7-2).
Rounding out the Top were No. 21 Delaware (7-3); No. 22 Jacksonville State (8-2), which moved back into the rankings after a decisive win over Eastern Kentucky; No. 23 New Hampshire (5-4); No. 24 Wofford (5-4); and No. 25 Princeton (7-1), the Ivy League leader. The Tigers joined the rankings for the first time since they finished 18th in the poll following the 2006 season.
Samford and James Madison fell out of the Top 25 after suffering losses this past Saturday.
Four games in Week 12 of the season Saturday will match ranked teams: North Dakota State-Youngstown State, Jacksonville State-Eastern Illinois, Sam Houston State-Southeastern Louisiana and Towson-William & Mary.
A panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries selects the national poll. In the Top 25 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, when it will be released Sunday morning, Nov. 24, prior to the selection of the FCS playoff field.
The final Top 25 will be released on the Monday after the FCS championship game Jan. 4 in Frisco, Texas.