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FCS powers: Reason to worry or not?

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - That North Dakota State players quickly get back to training within a week or two of winning FCS national titles signifies the need to take every day seriously, whether it's preparation in January or a rivalry game in November.

Even the Bison have reasons to worry considering only one ending is satisfying to them.

The STATS FCS Top 25 will swirl with change this season if last year's top teams don't stay ahead of the competition.

In what ways should last year's top 10 be worried? Here are possibilities:

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New coach, new lineup at (No. 10) Central Arkansas

The Southland Conference champ had more wins last season (10) than its number of returning starters (nine). With the conference set for a banner season after a pretty strong one last season, it won't be easy on first-time head coach Nathan Brown.

It's all about the playoffs at (No. 9) Jacksonville State

Continuing a 32-game winning streak in the Ohio Valley Conference is hard enough, but a Gamecocks team that lost seven first-team all-conference selections (maybe eight depending on quarterback Bryant Horn's recovery from offseason shoulder surgery) is forced to think big picture all season after it lost its first playoff game as the No. 3 seed for third time in four years.

(No. 8) Kennesaw State is facing higher expectations

Sure, many key players are returning from a 12-win Big South champion which reached the quarterfinals, but there's no sneaking up on the opposition this year. The Owls are now being circled on other teams' schedules, and this year they're facing their first FBS opponent, Georgia State, plus Samford and Jacksonville State programs that seek revenge for playoff losses.

(No. 7) North Carolina A&T is taking on much more early on

First-year coach Sam Washington is calling it a measuring stick, but last year's only unbeaten team will have a hard time continuing the winning streak with opening games against Jacksonville State in the FCS Kickoff at Montgomery, Alabama, and at Conference USA member East Carolina.

(No. 6) Wofford is replacing a legendary coach

Considering Mike Ayers' success over the last 30 seasons, new coach Josh Conklin shouldn't make too many changes with the Terriers' playing style. It's never too easy to replace a Hall of Fame-type coach, and the defending Southern Conference champ is doing so with a first-year head coach.

(No. 5) Weber State has lost a lot of talent

Quarterback Stefan Cantwell, tight end Andrew Vollert, defensive tackle McKay Murphy and cornerback Taron Johnson (the Big Sky defensive player of the year) are the biggest losses from Weber State's most-successful team. There's a lot of "if's" in replacing them.

(No. 4) Sam Houston State may still be, well, Sam Houston State

Anybody outside North Dakota State and James Madison would want the Bearkats' postseason resume this decade - five semifinal-round appearances or beyond in the last seven seasons - but the exits have mostly been blowouts. They've never fixed the defensive shortcomings.

(No. 3) South Dakota State is trying to soar without Goedert and Wieneke

Sure, the Jackrabbits can run the ball more often and the young wide receivers are ready for larger roles, but the two dominant go-to options in recent seasons are departed - Jake Wieneke (288 receptions for 5,157 yards and 59 touchdowns) and second-round NFL Draft choice Dallas Goedert (198-2,988-21).

(No. 2) James Madison isn't a lock in the CAA

The success and recruiting of the Dukes and North Dakota State have separated themselves from the rest of the FCS … but the rest of CAA Football is only impressed so much. Elon, New Hampshire, Delaware, Villanova and Stony Brook may be top 10-worthy this season.

(No. 1) North Dakota State might be bored during the regular season

Let's face it, once again it's Frisco or bust with the reigning FCS champ. The Bison are only leaving the Fargodome four times in the regular season, so the "road" appears paved to another spot in the national championship game. It's a recipe for getting caught looking ahead.

Updated June 4, 2018

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