KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association released its 2021 Preseason Polls for football on Tuesday at its annual Football Media Day in Kansas City.
The Fort Hays State Tigers tied Central Missouri for second in the coaches poll, each with 105 points, while the Tigers received a third-place selection in the media poll. Northwest Missouri State was a strong for first place in both polls.
Fort Hays State matched Central Missouri in the coaches poll in vote count, and both received a first-place vote. The Tigers were four total points behind the Mules in the media poll, though both also received one first-place vote in that poll. Northwest Missouri State received 10 first-place votes in both polls.
The upper third of the media poll looks pretty similar to the 2019 final MIAA standings. Northwest Missouri State and Central Missouri shared the regular season title in 2019, each at 10-1 in conference play, while Fort Hays State and Missouri Western tied for third at 8-3 in conference play.
Nebraska-Kearney shakes up the top four in the coaches poll with a fourth-place nod. The improved Lopers posted big wins in 2019, including an upset of Northwest Missouri State, a dominant 28-point win over Missouri Western, and a win over Winona State in the Mineral Water Bowl. They could be a team to watch this upcoming season with their steady rise of success the past three seasons. The Lopers lost by six to FHSU and seven to Central Missouri in 2019. UNK was only one voting point shy of Missouri Western in the media poll.
Fort Hays State returns four starters from 2019 on each side of the ball. Chance Fuller (QB), Ted Hessing (OL), and Amari Angram-Boldin (OL) are returning starters that received All-MIAA selections in 2019, while Jordan Starks (DB) and Javaris Sanders (DL) received all-conference nods as defensive starters for the Tigers in 2019. Hessing and Angram-Boldin helped Fuller throw for a school-record 35 touchdowns in 2019, while racking up 3,344 passing yards. Manny Ramsey, one of Fuller's top targets and an All-MIAA pick in 2019, also returns after a breakout season that saw him collect 47 passes for 808 yards and 10 touchdowns. Starks, a safety, is the top returning tackler for the Tigers after recording 78 in 2019, while also tying for a team-best three interceptions.
With high picks in the polls, several eyes will be on Hays in the first week of play. Northwest Missouri State travels to Fort Hays State for the season opener on Sept. 2, a 7 p.m. kickoff at Lewis Field Stadium. The last three contests between the Tigers and Bearcats have been decided by a total of five points with FHSU claiming 1-point wins in both 2017 and 2018, then Northwest Missouri State claiming an overtime win by 3 points in 2019.