King of the Jungle - Lions Ranked Number One in the Nation
Oct. 19, 2009
FLORENCE -- For the first time since 1996 the University of North Alabama is the top ranked college football team in the NCAA Division II as the Lions moved up one spot to No. 1 in the latest American Football Coaches Association poll released Monday.
The 8-0 Lions were ranked second last week but a loss by formerly top ranked Abilene Christian, combined with a solid 34-24 win by UNA over Delta State, helped elevate North Alabama to top spot.
The last time UNA was ranked No. 1 in the nation was in the 1996 pre-seasonpoll on the heels of winning three consecutive NCAA Division II National Championships. North Alabama got its first No. 1 ranking in football on October 4, 1993 and held that spot for what was then a Division II record 27 straight polls.
UNA head football coach Terry Bowden said his team accepts the challenge of carrying the No. 1 ranking. “If you want to be the target you might as well wear the target,” said Bowden. “We have said all along that our goal is to be a championship contender and you can’t be that if you can’t handle the pressures that go along with it.
“We have a lot of respect for the ranking but it means nothing if we can’t lineup and beat Valdosta State this week,” Bowden added. “We are going to fight hard to keep it but our players have to understand that the vote only lasts for seven days. There are no awards given for mid-season No. 1 rankings.”
While being ranked No. 1 is nothing new for the UNA program, it is a milestone of sorts for Bowden. Although he has coached nationally ranked teams on every level of collegiate competition, he has never had one of his team’s ranked No. 1.
“It’s a great honor but it’s one that has come about by the hard work of everyone involved in the program,” Bowden said.
UNA opened the 2009 season ranked No. 6 in the nation in Division II and has steadily climbed to the top spot. The latest ranking marks the 51st straight poll that UNA has been ranked in the Division II Top 11. The last time UNA was ranked lower than 11th in the nation was November 8, 2005 - when the Lions were No. 13. In fact, UNA has been ranked in the top four in the nation in 44 of the last 51 DII polls.
Going back to UNA’s No. 1 rankings from 1993-96, the Lions were finally knocked out of that top spot on September 9, 1996 after a season-opening loss at Albany State. The first in-season poll didn’t come out until the following week after UNA had defeated Alabama A/M, so the Lions posted a combined 38-2 record as the No. 1 team in the land. Grand Valley State broke UNA’s string of consecutive No. 1 rankings by holding the top spot in 35 consecutive polls from 2005-07.
UNA will have just three days before having to defend its No. 1 ranking. The Lions play at rival Valdosta State on Thursday night in a game televised by CBS College Sports. Kickoff is set for 7:06 p.m.
North Alabama is one of just six remaining unbeaten teams in Division II after Abilene Christian and No. 7 ranked Texas A/M-Kingsville lost last Saturday. The remaining unbeaten teams are North Alabama (8-0), Central Washington (8-0), Bloomsburg (8-0), Minnesota State-Mankato (8-0), Albany State (7-0) and Charleston (8-0).
The Lions’ first test as the top ranked team will come against one their most bitter rivals in Valdosta State. UNA defeated VSU twice last season, winning in both the regular season and post-season matchups in Florence. But in 2007 the Blazers defeated UNA twice, both in Valdosta in hard-fought contests. Those two losses are almost half of the combined losses by UNA’s Senior Class of 2009 during their collective careers.
One of the few blemishes on their 41-5 overall record since 2006 is that they have not won a game in Valdosta. UNA leads the all-time series with Valdosta State 17-13-1. The two schools have played in every season since VSU began its football program in 1982. This will be the first meeting since 2002 where one of the team’s is not nationally ranked. That breaks a streak of nine straight meetings between UNA and VSU where both were nationally ranked.