WACO, Texas (FHSU release) Fresh off the program's first MIAA Championship in 2017, Fort Hays State Football enters the 2018 season ranked No. 5 in the AFCA Division II Top 25 Poll. The Tigers ranked No. 8 in the final poll last year and reached as high as No. 4 by the end of the regular season. By posting an undefeated record in one of the premier football conferences of Division II last year, the Tigers earned a spot in the Top 10 to start the season.
Defending national champion Texas A&M-Commerce starts the year at No. 1 in the nation. The Lions had a magical run to the national title last year after entering the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in Super Region 4. The Lions won three consecutive road games to claim Super Region 4 before knocking off Super Region 3 champ Harding University in the national semifinals at home. They went on to Kansas City to defeat West Florida for the national title.
By finishing as national runner-up, West Florida holds the No. 2 ranking to open the year. Last year's Super Region 2 champion took three losses in the regular season before making a run to the national championship game. Minnesota State, the No. 1 seed in Super Region 4 last year, opens the season at No. 3 and Indiana (Pa.), the No. 1 seed in Super Region 1 last year, opens the season at No. 4.
After nearly tying in both MIAA Preseason Polls (Coaches and Media), Fort Hays State and Northwest Missouri State share the No. 5 national ranking to open the season. Both landed at 591 voting points in the poll. Fort Hays State ended Northwest Missouri State's four-year run of winning or at least sharing the MIAA title last year when they won in an epic battle in Maryville by a score of 13-12. That win gave the Tigers the MIAA title outright one week before completing an undefeated regular season. The teams will meet in Maryville again this season, set for Week 10 once again.
Northwest Missouri State won two national titles in a row (2015 and 2016) before getting knocked out of the playoffs in the first round last year. A high preseason ranking is nothing new for the Bearcats, grabbing a spot in the Top 5 of the AFCA Preseason Poll for the 14th consecutive year. The last time NWMSU entered a season ranked lower than No. 5 was 2004, when it started at No. 19 in the nation.
The Tigers are the new kids on the block though, making 2018 their second season appearing in the AFCA Division II Poll. The Tigers entered the AFCA poll (which began in 2000) for the first time in program history last year following a Week 2, 35-6 drubbing of then No. 13 ranked Central Missouri in Hays. Entering Week 3, the Tigers debuted in the poll at No. 21 and went on a steady climb to No. 4 by regular season's end. After suffering their only loss of the season in the playoffs, the Tigers settled at No. 8 in the final poll of the season.
Lewis Field Stadium will be the site of an exciting season opener when Central Missouri comes to Hays on August 30 for a 7 pm kickoff. The Mules are No. 18 in the AFCA preseason poll, providing a Top 25 test right out of the gate for the Tigers. The MIAA has three teams in the Top 25, but has five more receiving votes (Pittsburg State, Missouri Western, Emporia State, Central Oklahoma, and Washburn).
This is the third preseason Top 5 ranking for the Tigers this summer after gracing preseason magazine polls produced by Lindy's and Street and Smith's at No. 4.