The University of Central Arkansas, which reached the second round of the NCAA FCS playoffs last season, is ranked 24th in the first poll of the season by The Sports Network.

Sam Houston State, the defending Southland Conference champion, is the preseason No. 1. The Bearkats gained 79 of the 151 first-place votes and 3,708 points in the national poll.

Defending national champion North Dakota State, which defeated Sam Houston in the title game, was the second choice, totaling 59 first-place votes and 3,625 points.

Sam Houston State return eight starters on offense and nine on defense, but 19 of its players were named to the Southland’s two preseason teams. The list includes the 2011 conference Player of the Year in running back Timothy Flanders, the offensive player of the year in wide receiver Richard Sincere and the defensive player of the year in safety Darnell Taylor.

Georgia Southern, Montana State and James Madison round out the top five.

Stephen F. Austin of the SLC is ranked 20th.

A national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries select the Top 25 each season. David McCollum of the Log Cabin Democrat is one of the voters.