Back-to-back MIAA champion Fort Hays State is ranked No. 11 in the preseason American Football Coaches Association Division II poll released Monday.
The Tigers are coming off a 9-3 season and second straight NCAA playoff appearance.
Northwest Missouri State was tabbed No. 6 in the rankings. The Bearcats shared the MIAA title with Fort Hays State last year despite suffering a late-season loss to the Tigers in Maryville.
MIAA foes Pittsburg State, Central Missouri, Emporia State and Central Oklahoma received votes.
The Fort Hays offense returns nine starters and five All-MIAA picks — junior offensive lineman Amari Angram-Boldin (second team), senior receiver Layne Bieberle (third team), senior tight end Matt Wendelberger (third team), senior running back Charles Tigner (third team) and senior receiver Harley Hazlett (honorable mention).
Sophomore Chance Fuller returns at quarterback after playing in 10 games last year and earning two late-season starts. He threw for 1,185 passing yards as a redshirt freshman.
On defense, the Tigers bring back four starters led by junior defensive lineman Sterling Swopes, a third-team all-conference pick last year. Linebacker Kolt Trachsel and defensive back Tanner Hoekman were honorable mention picks in 2018 while starting D-lineman Sheldon Schmidt also returns.
Defending national champion Valdosta State topped the poll, followed by Ferris State, Minnesota State, Notre Dame (Ohio) and Ouachita Baptist.
The Tigers open the season at Central Missouri on Sept. 5 in Warrensburg, Mo.