Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - FCS powers North Dakota State, Eastern Illinois and Eastern Washington continue to play their best football at the right time of the season.
The trio stood 1, 2, 3, respectively, in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 for the fifth straight week on Monday. In fact, North Dakota State, which gained all 155 first-place votes and 3,875 points, has been the top-ranked team since the preseason.
North Dakota State (10-0) hasn't lost a game, Eastern Illinois (10-1) hasn't lost to an FCS opponent and Eastern Washington (9-2) has only lost to one FCS opponent. All three have claimed their conference's automatic qualifying bid to the FCS playoffs.
One weekend remains in the regular season. The 24-team playoff field will be announced Sunday morning.
North Dakota State, which has won 19 straight games and the last two FCS national titles, clinched its third straight Missouri Valley Football Conference championship this past Saturday by defeating Youngstown State, 35-17.
The Bison would figure to earn the No. 1 overall playoff seed if they post a home win over South Dakota in their regular-season finale on Saturday.
Eastern Illinois is still hopeful of a slip by the Bison. Coach Dino Babers' Panthers, whose lone loss was by four points to Northern Illinois, finished off a second straight Ohio Valley Conference title by pounding Jacksonville State, 52-14, on Saturday.
EIU will end the regular season by visiting UT Martin this weekend.
Eastern Washington earned at least a share of the Big Sky Conference title by defeating Cal Poly, 35-22, this past Saturday. The Eagles, whose losses are both on the road to Toledo and Southland Conference power Sam Houston State, will end the regular season on Saturday by hosting Portland State.
Maine (10-1) moved up two spots to No. 4 for its highest ranking since being No. 2 in 2002. The Black Bears have clinched a berth in the playoffs as the CAA Football champion.
The rest of the Top 10 was No. 5 Montana (9-2); No. 6 McNeese State (9-2); No. 7 Towson (9-2); No. 8 Southeastern Louisiana (9-2), which has clinched the Southland Conference's automatic bid; No. 9 Sam Houston State (8-3); and No. 10 Northern Arizona (8-2).
Coastal Carolina (10-1) remained at No. 11, one spot ahead of No. 12 Fordham (10-1), which dropped seven spots after suffering its first loss of the season, 27-14 to Lafayette.
The Rams were followed by No. 13 Montana State (7-4), No. 14 Bethune-Cookman (9-2), No. 15 Youngstown State (8-3), No. 16 South Dakota State (7-4), No. 17 Lehigh (8-2), No. 18 Charleston Southern (10-2), No. 19 William & Mary (7-4) and No. 20 Southern Utah (8-3), which moved into the rankings for the first time since Oct. 3, 2011. The Thunderbirds pulled a 22-14 Big Sky win at Montana State this past Saturday to put themselves in contention for a playoff bid.
New Hampshire (6-4) was ranked 21st in its 138th consecutive appearance in the rankings. Rounding out the poll were No. 22 Princeton (8-1), No. 23 Chattanooga (8-3), No. 24 Samford (7-4) and No. 25 Tennessee State (9-3). The latter two returned to the poll after Delaware, Jacksonville State and Wofford dropped out following losses this past weekend.
A panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries selects the national poll. In the Top 25 voting, a first-place vote is worth 25 points, a second-place vote 24 points, all the way down to one point for a 25th-place vote.
During the regular season, the Top 25 will be released every Monday afternoon, except for the final weekend ahead, when it will be released Sunday morning prior to the selection of the FCS playoff field.
The final Top 25 will be released on the Monday after the FCS championship game Jan. 4 in Frisco, Texas.