SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — The final polls for the 2016 football season have been released and Cal Poly finished tied for No. 21 in the FCS Coaches Poll and No. 24 in the STATS FCS Media Poll.
It marks the first time since the 2012 campaign that Cal Poly finished in the Top 25. Back then, the Mustangs closed out the year No. 11 in the coaches poll and No. 12 in the media poll.
James Madison, a 28-14 winner over Youngstown State in the FCS Championship Game at Frisco, Texas, is ranked No. 1 in both polls, followed by the Penguins. North Dakota State, Eastern Washington and Sam Houston State round out the top five in both polls.
North Dakota State's five-year reign as FCS champion came to an end in a 27-17 semifinal-round loss to James Madison on Dec. 16. Youngstown State defeated Big Sky Conference co-champion Eastern Washington 40-38 in the other semifinal.
Cal Poly wrapped up its 2016 season with a 35-21 loss to San Diego in the opening round of the FCS playoffs on Nov. 26 inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium, closing the year with a 7-5 record. The Mustangs were ranked No. 21 by the media and No. 20 by the coaches at the end of the regular season.
Cal Poly's highest rankings of the season were No. 14 by the media and No. 16 by the coaches before losing back-to-back games against Eastern Washington and Weber State in early November The Mustangs finished tied for fourth place with Southern Utah in the Big Sky, both with 5-3 marks.
Cal Poly, which earned its fourth FCS playoff berth in the last 12 years, entered the polls for the first time in 2016 at No. 16 in the media poll and No. 18 in the coaches poll after its 42-41 win over then-No. 6 Montana on Sept. 24. The Mustangs fell to Nos. 21 and 22 after a 31-24 loss at North Dakota, then jumped to No. 19 and 20, respectively, after the bye week.
Cal Poly climbed two spots in both polls to No. 17 (media) and No. 18 (coaches) after its 55-35 win at Portland State and jumped to Nos. 14 and 17 with its 21-16 Battle for the Golden Horseshoe triumph over UC Davis. The Mustangs' highest rankings of the year — No. 14 by the media and No. 16 by the coaches — was achieved following their 59-47 win at Sacramento State.
Besides Cal Poly and Eastern Washington, three other Big Sky Conference schools are in the final top 25. North Dakota, which shared the Big Sky title with Eastern Washington, is No. 12 in both polls while Weber State is ranked No. 24 by the coaches and No. 25 by the media. Despite its 6-5 overall mark, Montana is No. 25 in the coaches poll.
Northern Arizona received votes in both polls and Southern Utah received votes in the coaches poll.
In the Sagarin Ratings this week, Cal Poly is ranked 137th among 253 NCAA Division I football programs and No. 28 among Football Championship Subdivision schools. The Mustangs are ahead of such FBS schools as Akron, UNLV, Rutgers, Connecticut, Kent State, Marshall, New Mexico State, UTEP and Rice.
Cal Poly was ranked midway through the 2015 season -- No. 17 in the media poll and 18th in the coaches poll -- before losing three straight and falling back.
Cal Poly has been ranked in the top 25 in 11 of the last 12 campaigns, including this fall. The Mustangs, who have won 94 of their last 155 games going back to the 2002 season finale, have been ranked as high as No. 3, which occurred in the 2005 season and that team settled for a No. 6 final ranking.
The 2004 Mustangs were ranked as high as No. 5 and the 2008 club finished No. 8 in the coaches poll and No. 10 in the media poll. Cal Poly was ranked as high as No. 11 in 2012, No. 10 in 2013 and No. 21 in 2014.
Photo above of junior fullback Joe Protheroe courtesy of Tina Creel