Four of the top five teams in FCS lose last week, opening the door for Eagles to earn top ranking in The Sports Network Top 25 Poll
Thanks to losses by the top three ranked teams – and its own marquee victory over second-ranked Montana State -- the Eastern Washington University football team moved up five spots to the top position in this week’s Sports Network NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 Poll released Monday (Oct. 15). The rankings are selected by a national panel of sportswriters, broadcasters and sports information directors.
“It’s exciting for our program," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "To be ranked No.1 -- and for the third time in three years -- takes a lot of work from a lot of people. I’m proud of everyone involved in getting us to this point. From here we have to keep focusing on the task at hand, which is the Sacramento State game.
"But I’m not going to undersell what is special," he added. "A lot of programs go a lot of years without being ranked No. 1 for a single season, let alone being ranked No. 1 for three-straight years.”
The Eagles, who are No. 1 for the third-straight year, received 92 first-place votes and 3,982 total votes to edge No. 2 James Madison (42, 3831). Nine different teams received first-place votes after a weekend that saw the Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 teams all lose. James Madison was fourth last week, but struggled to beat 2-5 William and Mary 27-26 in overtime.
Eastern ended the 2010 regular season with its first No. 1 ranking in school history, and remained in that position after winning the NCAA Division I Championship. The Eagles were also ranked first in the 2011 preseason poll, as well as after the Eagles narrowly lost its opener last season at Washington, 30-27.
In the coaches poll this week, the Eagles are also ranked No. 1, after ranking sixth, seventh and ninth the previous three weeks.
Other Big Sky Conference schools in the top 25 include Montana State (5th TSN), Cal Poly (14th TSN) and Northern Arizona (16th TSN). Sacramento State, Eastern’s opponent this week, received enough votes to rank 30th.
OTHER TEAM NOTES . . .
* Eastern’s victory over Montana State on Oct. 13 was the seventh for the Eagles over a team ranked in the top three in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. In the 2004 FCS Playoffs, Eastern upset top-ranked and No. 1 seeded Southern Illinois 35-31, and three years later in the playoffs romped past unbeaten McNeese State 44-15. The Cowboys entered that 2007 game seeded second in the playoffs and ranked third nationally. In both first-round upset victories, Eastern entered the game ranked just 14th nationally. The other four conquests have come against Montana, including victories in 1990, 1997 and 2005 in Missoula, Mont., when the Grizzlies were ranked second. In 2002 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Eastern beat the No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Grizzlies 30-21, ending Montana’s record-tying winning streak in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision at 24 games. It was the first Big Sky Conference loss for UM head coach Joe Glenn, and snapped Montana’s record winning streaks of 25 Big Sky games in a row and 13 league road games in a row. And in the process, the season-ending victory for the Eagles opened the door for Montana State and Idaho State to share the conference title with the Grizzlies. During EWU’s national championship season in 2010, the highest-ranked team the Eagles played in the playoffs was Delaware, which was ranked fifth at the end of the regular season. Eastern won that game 38-31. That season, Eastern beat sixth-ranked Montana, ninth-ranked Southeast Missouri State, 10th-ranked Villanova and 25th-ranked North Dakota State, and lost to 17th-ranked Montana State. Here is the complete list of conquests for the Eagles against teams ranked in the top three in FCS:
2012 - #6 Eastern Washington 27, #2 Montana State 24 (in
2007 - #14 Eastern Washington 44, #3 McNeese State 15 (in Lake Charles, La.)
2005 - #12 Eastern Washington 34, #2 Montana 20 (in Missoula, Mont.)
2004 - #14 Eastern Washington 35, #1 Southern Illinois 31 (in Carbondale, Ill.)
2001 – Eastern Washington 30, #1 Montana 21 (in Spokane, Wash.)
1997 - #17 Eastern Washington 40, #2 Montana 35 (in Missoula, Mont.)
1990 - #20 Eastern Washington 36, #2 Montana 35 (in Missoula, Mont.)
* The last time EWU defeated both Montana and Montana State in the same year was in 2005 – the only other times in school history that has occurred were in 1985, 1991 and 1992. Eastern scored twice in the last 2:19 to defeat the Grizzlies 32-26 on Sept. 29, then held-off second-ranked Montana State 27-24 on Oct. 13. The Eagles now lead the all-time series versus MSU 26-10, but had lost the last two meetings by a collective score of 66-28. Eastern was out-scored in the second half of those two games 26-7, but in the 2012 meeting the Eagles had a 24-14 advantage after halftime.
* Eastern is coming off an unconventional come-from-behind victory, beating second-ranked Montana State 27-24 on Oct. 13 in Bozeman, Mont. The Bobcats out-gained EWU 375-211, but EWU managed to take the lead for good on a blocked punt by sophomore Dylan Zylstra that was recovered for a touchdown by Evan Day. Just 59 seconds later, an interception by freshman redshirt safety Jordan Tonani was returned 21 yards for a touchdown to give EWU a 10-point advantage it didn’t surrender. Because of the two non-offensive scoring plays, Eastern had just 21 1/2 minutes of possession time in the 60-minute game. In the fourth quarter alone, MSU had the ball for 12:24 and EWU for just 2:36.
* The Eagles remain a season-high second behind North Dakota State in the Jeff Sagarin computer ratings, despite the fact NDSU lost and EWU won last week. Eastern is 80th overall, with Cal Poly ranking as the next-highest Big Sky school (fifth in FCS, 88th overall). Other highly ranked Big Sky schools include Montana State (14/113), Northern Arizona (15/114), Montana (18/118), Southern Utah (30/138), North Dakota (35/145), UC Davis (37/152), Portland State (39/154) and Sacramento State (40/155).
* The weekly Gridiron Power Rankings are released every Wednesday by College Sporting News (www.collegesportingnews.com), and last week the top three teams were North Dakota State, Montana State and Eastern. This week’s ratings should be released on Oct. 17.