NC a hotbed for top FCS football teams, with four in this week’s national rankings

NC A&T, Elon, Western Carolina and NC Central are all among the top 25 teams in college football's championship subdivision at the midway point in the regular season

NC Central coach Jerry Mack talks with tight end Josh McCoy during the Eagles' season-opening game at Duke last month. Central became the fourth state team to crack the national FCS rankings this week (Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

NC State is the only North Carolina team ranked among the nation’s top 25 in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Wolfpack, however, isn’t the only state entry in the national college polls.

The Old North State has become a hotbed for top Championship Subdivision teams, with no fewer than four making the grade this week in the STATS FCS Top 25 rankings.

Undefeated NC A&T, at 6-0, leads the way at No. 15, followed by Elon at No. 16, Western Carolina at No. 21 and NC Central, which became the latest team to enter the poll at No. 25 following its 13-7 win at Howard last Saturday.

The Eagles have won four straight since a season-opening loss to Duke. This marks the second straight season they’ve been ranked, after topping out at No. 18 in 2016. Coach Jerry Mack’s team made its first appearance in the national poll as a Division I program last Nov. 7.

“Anytime you get a chance to have some recognition, whether it’s in life or on the football field, I think everybody appreciates that,” Mack said earlier this week. “But with that comes and responsibility and we have to go out there this Saturday against Gardner-Webb and prove we are worthy of being a top 25 team.”

Central’s MEAC rival A&T has done just that by outscoring its first six opponents by a 250-61 margin during the first half of its regular season schedule.

The Aggies are coming off an FCS playoff berth and are one of just seven undefeated teams left in the subdivision this season. A win against Florida A&M on Saturday would give coach Rod Broadway’s team its first 7-0 start since the program began playing an 11-game schedule.

A&T went 8-0 in 1927 and 7-0 in 1943, the only two undefeated seasons in the school’s 94-year football history.

The Aggies and Eagles are on a collision course for their head-to-head showdown on the final week of the regular season, a game shaping up to be another battle for the MEAC title. Because of their past success, it’s no surprise that the in-state rivals are back in the rankings this season.

Elon’s appearance in the poll, however, is something of a surprise.

The Phoenix has lived up to its nickname by rising from the ashes of a 2-9 season in 2017 to win five of its first six games this year under new coach Curt Cignetti. It moved up two spots in the poll after beating William & Mary 25-17 last Saturday.

Western Carolina also improved its ranking this week, despite a loss that dropped it to 4-2 on the season. The Catamounts took fifth-ranked Wofford to overtime on the road before dropping a 35-28 decision.

A highlight of Western’s remaining schedule is a Nov. 18 date with struggling UNC in Chapel Hill, which is looming as an opportunity to beat a high-profile Power 5 opponent. But coach Mark Speir isn’t looking that far ahead.

“In terms of a football game, it’s halftime,” said Speir, whose team plays at home against East Tennessee State on Saturday. “We just finished Game 6 of a 12-game season. You always want to come out of halftime positive. It’s going to be huge for our football team to come out and try to have a great October and it all starts this weekend with East Tennessee State.”

A&T (No. 11), Elon (No. 20) and Western (No. 25) are also ranked in the FCS coaches poll while Central is listed among the “others receiving votes.”