Ranking the FCS conferences in 2019
By CRAIG HALEY
(STATS) - The Big Sky Conference and CAA Football took their best shot last season, but the Missouri Valley Football Conference didn't lose its grip on being the strongest FCS conference.
It sure helps to have FCS dynasty North Dakota State fending off all comers.
The MVFC, Big Sky and CAA are on a tier above the rest in the 13-conference FCS, but there could be some jockeying of positions in 2019.
Here's a ranking of the conferences heading toward the upcoming season:
13. Pioneer Football League (10 teams)
San Diego has won 29 straight league games, making it a prohibitive favorite going into the season. Stetson won't sneak up on anybody this season, while Dayton and Drake remain in the upper echelon of the league, whose members are only 9-51 in nonleague FCS games since 2016.
12. Southwestern Athletic Conference (10 teams)
Veteran teams return across the conference, but Alcorn State and Southern are favored to repeat in the East and West division races, respectively. Grambling State had been so good under coach Broderick Fobbs that a step backward didn't feel right last season.
11. Patriot League (7 teams)
Colgate will face a challenging nonleague schedule before taking aim at another Patriot title. Last year's national quarterfinalist has been the only Patriot program with a winning record in each of the last two seasons, but Holy Cross, Georgetown, Lehigh and others seek a different outcome in 2019.
10. Northeast Conference (8 teams)
Coming off its first playoff win, Duquesne is a big favorite, although 2017 champ Central Connecticut State and 2018 co-champ Sacred Heart keep the conference solid. Long Island will play a full conference schedule, but fellow newcomer Merrimack (which would be the ninth NEC team) is at least one year away from that.
9. Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (9 teams)
The MEAC continues to gain FBS wins and NFL Draft picks and North Carolina A&T has been one of the best FCS programs over the last four seasons, winning the Celebration Bowl three times. Florida A&M is under NCAA sanctions, but Bethune-Cookman will chase N.C. A&T.
8. Big South Conference (8 teams)
Kennesaw State returns only two offensive starters, likely meaning the two-time defending champion and national quarterfinalist will take a step backward. Monmouth hopes to knock the Owls off their perch as the conference goes to eight teams for one year with Hampton and North Alabama joining. Presbyterian is playing its final season in the conference.
7. Ivy League (8 teams)
After going 10-0, Princeton will have new faces in the offensive skills positions, while 9-1 Dartmouth is replenishing across its two lines. They're still a big part of the title race, but a healthier Yale wants to make it two crowns in three years. The league is always full of good players and teams.
6. Ohio Valley Conference (9 teams)
Jacksonville State rallied to make it five straight titles and should be a Top 10 team this season, but Southeast Missouri will have a standout defense and a bolstered Eastern Kentucky squad has designs on a playoff season.
5. Southland Conference (11 teams)
Last season was unpredictable across the conference with no team immune to enduring a surprising loss. It may be the same again, although Nicholls should be favored over fellow playoff qualifiers Incarnate Word and Lamar, a rebounding Sam Houston State, McNeese, Abilene Christian and Central Arkansas.
4. Southern Conference (9 teams)
Seven teams finished within two games of first place last season. Two of the tri-champs, Wofford and Furman, rate above the rest of the conference on paper, but the other champ, ETSU, may have a patent on how to win close games.
3. CAA Football (12 teams)
Disappointing performances in the playoff overshadowed that the CAA had a record six qualifiers. James Madison will be back in the national title mix and defending champ Maine should remain elite. Towson appears next in line in another brutally deep title race.
2. Big Sky Conference (13 teams)
National runner-up Eastern Washington, fellow quarterfinalists Weber State and UC Davis and Montana State could all be Top 10 teams this season. Montana has a lot of returning talent and the largest FCS conference always seems to have a surprise team.
1. Missouri Valley Football Conference (10 teams)
North Dakota State, a winner of two straight and seven of the last eight national titles, remains the team to beat despite losing 15 starters. That South Dakota State has reached back-to-back semifinals helps to keep the MVFC at No. 1, but only three teams made the playoffs last season. Northern Iowa, Illinois State and Indiana State could push it back to a higher number.
Updated June 3, 2019