While a coach usually downplays his team being ranked No. 1 in the preseason and regular season, James Madison’s Mike Houston is now embracing the significant designation.
His Dukes were a unanimous No. 1 in the STATS FCS Top 25 on Monday, two days after defeating Youngstown State, 28-14, to win the second FCS national title in school history.
"You’re the best team in the nation. At the beginning of the year every college football program in the country has this goal," said Houston, whose squad finished 14-1 in his first season coaching James Madison.
After earning four wins in the 24-team playoffs - the final three against teams that finished in the top five of the poll - Houston says "nobody can take any of that away from these kids and these coaches that they earned the right to be declared the national champions and the No. 1 team in the nation this year."
The Dukes were outright champions in CAA Football and they won their final 12 games after losing only to an FBS program (North Carolina) in mid-September. In the championship game in Frisco, Texas, they jumped to an early 14-0 lead on Youngstown State and it never dipped below that margin during a comfortable victory.
James Madison, which ended North Dakota State’s five-year run as national champion in the semifinals, received all 154 first-place votes in the final Top 25.
The University of Central Arkansas, eliminated in the second round by Eastern Washington, finished 14th.
"The great thing about tournament play is it’s not up to a vote system or anything like that," Houston said. "You go out there and play it out on the field."
The CAA, Big Sky and Southern conferences had the most teams in the rankings with four teams each, but three from the Missouri Valley Conference finished in the top six: Youngstown State (12-4) at No. 2, North Dakota State (12-2) No. 3 and South Dakota State (9-4) No. 6. Coach Bo Pelini’s Youngstown State squad eliminated No. 4 Eastern Washington (12-2) in the semifinals, while James Madison handed No. 5 Sam Houston State (12-1) its only loss in the quarterfinals.
Jacksonville State (10-2) finished seventh. Richmond (10-4), Wofford (10-4) and The Citadel (10-2) completed the Top 10.
Villanova (9-4) concluded longtime coach Andy Talley’s final season by finishing 11th. Then it was North Dakota (9-3), Chattanooga (9-4), Central Arkansas (10-3), Charleston Southern (7-4), Celebration Bowl champion Grambling State (11-1), New Hampshire (8-5), Coastal Carolina (10-2), San Diego (10-2) and North Carolina A&T (9-3).
Rounding out the rankings were Lehigh (9-3) at No. 21 followed by North Carolina Central (9-3), Samford (7-5), Cal Poly (7-5) and Weber State (7-5).