In the FCS Huddle: North Dakota State a wire-to-wire No. 1

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Updated: 1/06 2:16 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - In the two weeks leading up to the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game, Towson coach Rob Ambrose kept describing his opponent - North Dakota State - as "perfect."

Perfection is what motivated the Bison all season, and they wound up becoming the first undefeated FCS national champion in 17 years while claiming their third consecutive title, 35-7 over Towson this past Saturday in Frisco, Texas.

Not surprisingly, on Monday, the Bison finished as a unanimous No. 1 in The Sports Network FCS Top 25, gaining all 142 first-place votes and 3,550 points from a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries.

The Bison had one regular-season loss in both their 2011 and '12 championship seasons. This season, they were a perfect 15-0, gaining the preseason No. 1 and never giving it up through the final poll. They won their third straight Missouri Valley Football Conference title and then four playoff games by a combined 173-42.

So is there chance for the dynasty to win fourth straight title, which has never been accomplished on the FCS level? It will be difficult because the Bison will lose a 24-member senior class, including quarterback and championship game most outstanding player Brock Jensen, as well as two-time Eddie Robinson Award-winning head coach Craig Bohl after 11 seasons to the University of Wyoming.

But ...

"We still have capable underclassmen that are making plays this year," said junior linebacker Carlton Littlejohn, who led NDSU in tackles during its playoff run. "Going to get some guys ready for next year. We just have to not focus on what we're losing but what we still have and what we have to gain. I think we'll still be a good football team next year with the guys we have."

Towson (13-3), which came up short in its bid to become a sixth program from CAA Football to win the national title, finished second in the Top 25, gaining all but three second-place votes.

Ambrose's Tigers featured junior running back Terrance West, who rushed for 2,509 yards and 41 touchdowns and scored 42 total touchdowns - all FCS single- season records.

The final two teams that Towson knocked out of the playoffs, Big Sky Conference champion and national semifinalist Eastern Washington (12-3) and Ohio Valley Conference champion and national quarterfinalist Eastern Illinois (12-2) finished third and fourth, respectively.

Eastern Washington featured quarterback Vernon Adams and wide receiver Cooper Kupp, the 2013 Jerry Rice Award winner, on a team that will return a lot of key players next season. Eastern Illinois had the Walter Payton Award winner in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but will lose the NFL prospect as well as coach Dino Babers, who has become the new head coach at Bowling Green.

The other national semifinalist, New Hampshire (10-5), also from the CAA, finished fifth after making its deepest playoff run in program history. Coach Sean McDonnell will return the majority of his key players next season.

The rest of the Top 10 was No. 6 Southeastern Louisiana (11-3), the Southland Conference champion and a national quarterfinalist; No. 7 Coastal Carolina (12-3), which shared the Big South Conference title and reached the national quarterfinals; No. 8 Montana (10-3); No. 9 Fordham (12-2); and No. 10 Jacksonville State (11-4), which reached the national quarterfinals.

The next 10 were No. 11 McNeese State (10-3); No. 12 Maine (10-3), the CAA champion; No. 13 South Dakota State (9-5); No. 14 Sam Houston State (9-5); No. 15 Northern Arizona (9-3); No. 16 Bethune-Cookman (10-3), the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion; No. 17 Tennessee State (10-4); No. 18 Youngstown State (8-4); No. 19 Samford (8-5), which earned a share of the Southern Conference title; and No. 20 Montana State (7-5).

Southern Utah (8-5) finished at No. 21, followed by No. 22 Furman (8-6) and No. 23 Chattanooga (8-4), which both earned a share of the Southern Conference title with Samford, No. 25 Charleston Southern (10-3) and No. 25 South Carolina State (9-4).

The first teams outside the final Top 25 were Ivy League co-champion Harvard, Lehigh and Northeast Conference co-champion Sacred Heart.

The Big Sky had the most Top 25 teams with five. The CAA as well as Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, Southern and Southland conferences had three teams each. The Big South and MEAC had two teams each, and the Patriot League one.

The final Top 25 is found at http://tinyurl.com/88q2k7t.

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