When Sunday’s AP College Football Top 25 ranking came out, I felt cheated as a fan of college football. Not cheated by the fact Wisconsin got booted from the top 10, or that Oklahoma was exiled to the No. 25 slot after a loss to then-No. 3 Ohio State.
No, I felt cheated that North Dakota State was snubbed from breaking the AP Top 25. Again.
North Dakota State’s win over No. 11 Iowa, slight though it was, proved the Bison’s capability of playing with ranked opponents, and showed that their rightful place is on a list with the best 25 teams in the country. It was the Bison’s first win against an FBS-ranked team and sixth straight win against an FBS opponent since 2010. They’re the best team in the FCS, as evident by their No. 1 status in the subdivision, and that fact that they’ve won five straight national titles.
It’s not like NDSU is an underdog. This isn’t a charity request. They produced a superstar-caliber NFL quarterback in Carson Wentz, repeatedly put together an offensive line comparable to any FBS team (save Alabama), and use the most proficient and consistent offensive strategy in the country with an equally damaging defense. They’re untouchable. In 2013 they went 15-0 on their way to their third straight national title. The only other team to do that was a Randy Moss-led Marshall team (now an FBS school) as they knocked off Montana 49-29 in the 1996 championship.
FCS wins, in the eyes of FBS-loving sports writers, mean nothing. Writers are biased, giving ranking priority to often inferior FBS schools. To AP voters, NDSU didn't win Saturday's game 23-21, Iowa lost. It's part of the baggage that comes with being an FCS team: Harsher critiques from AP voters and less exposure.
Saturday afternoon the AP reportedly sent an email to all eligible voters stating that NDSU is eligible for votes. The Bison received 74 points in Sunday’s new poll, the most of any FCS team. They came in at 27th in the country (unranked), tied with UCLA and just ahead of Boise State. They were still close to 200 points shy of No. 25 Oklahoma, however.
On paper, NDSU is an unattractive option to bear the 25th rank. Their players are not five-star recruits, they don’t have massive TV contracts, they don’t have a nation-wide fanbase and they play in Fargo, North Dakota. The stigma attached to the FCS drags the Bison down. They shouldn’t be punished because they have fewer fans attending home games than FBS schools (a requirement to play in the FBS). They should be rewarded for consistent, dominating play and an classic finish against the defending Big 10 champions.
Writers can get caught up in nostalgia, which happens way too often with the AP Top 25. A ranking without Oklahoma?! Blasphemy! Sticking with traditional powerhouses makes for better TV. Talking about No. 25 Oklahoma sounds much sexier than just plain old Oklahoma. In the mind of the average football fan, it’s the difference between “Are they even good this year?” and “I can’t wait to watch the Sooners play.” Oklahoma has more fans. More fans bring more viewers. The "25" next to their name makes for better ratings and attracts more attention to college football. The top 25 list is a private party for only the rich and powerful.
The Bison are a legitimate powerhouse. Though a No. 25 mark means less to the Bison than the No. 1 they receive in the FCS ranking, it shows that college football is not all about the big-name schools staying in spots they ought to be. It creates solidarity within the sport, which creates growth.
The fact that NDSU got snubbed speaks volumes about college football culture. The wealthy and powerful will stay that way, and anybody hoping to steal just a glimpse of that spotlight will have the door slammed in their face.