North Dakota State football ranks No. 2 in HERO Sports’ FCS Preseason Top 25.
The Bison lost 45-21 to South Dakota State in the 2022 FCS national championship, finishing 12-3 overall and 12-2 vs. the FCS.
Here’s a look at this year’s NDSU squad.
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Returning 2022 All-Conference Players (4)
LS Hunter Brozio
RB TaMerik Williams
DT Will Mostaert
RS Jayden Price
Players In 2023 FCS Positional Rankings (5)
Transfer Portal Movement
Transfers Lost To The FBS (8)
Courtney Eubanks (CB) to Coastal Carolina
Dom Jones (S) to Colorado State
Kobe Johnson (RB) to Colorado State
Tony Pierce (DE) to Colorado State
Phoenix Sproles (WR) to James Madison
Marques Sigle (CB) to Kansas State
Dominic Gonnella (RB) to USF
Max Rader (OL) to Wisconsin
Transfers Lost To The FCS (1)
Britton Pascoe (DB) to Robert Morris
Transfers Coming In From The FBS (3)
Hunter Zenzen (DE), Iowa State
Marcus Sheppard (DB), Bowling Green
Isaac Zatechka (OL), Missouri
RELATED: 5 Offseason Questions For NDSU
NDSU loses its two best rushers and its two best offensive linemen from last year, but the Bison still expect to have a strong running game in 2023.
All-American fullback Hunter Luepke and All-American OL Nash Jensen and Cody Mauch are off to the NFL, while last year’s leading rusher Kobe Johnson transferred to Colorado State. NDSU does return RB TaMerik Williams, who ended 2022 as the second-leading rusher after Luepke’s season-ending injury. Williams averaged 7.1 yards per carry, totaling 702 yards and eight touchdowns. The next most-experienced RB is TK Marshall, who rushed 58 times for 365 yards and five scores last year.
NDSU will reshuffle its offensive line a little to get quality starting experience across the front. Jake Kubas (6’4″ 306 lbs) returns as starting right guard and Mason Miller (6’7″ 296 lbs) was beside him at right tackle. Jalen Sundell (6’5″ 298 lbs) and Brandon Westberg (6’4″ 291 lbs) have both started games at center, and Sundell may move to left tackle this fall. Grey Zabel (6’6″ 292 lbs) started seven games last year and could occupy the fifth full-time starting spot.
NDSU finished No. 4 in 2022 FCS rushing offense, averaging 265.7 yards per game. The passing game faltered toward the end of the season, though, finishing No. 118 in the FCS (135.1 yards per game).
Cam Miller is now a senior quarterback with three seasons of starting experience. He has won many games and has a 2021 national title to his name. Miller finished 2022 going 160/243 (65.8%) for 1,975 yards, 13 TDs, and five interceptions. His 147.7 passing efficiency ranked No. 20 in the FCS. Miller also ran for 561 yards and 15 touchdowns. But the playoffs didn’t leave a good impression for this offseason. He went 6/10 for 58 yards and an interception vs. Montana in the second round, 15/18 for 194 yards and a TD vs. Samford in the quarterfinals, 1/12 for five yards vs. UIW in the semifinals, and 18/29 for 260 yards, two TDs, and two interceptions vs. SDSU in Frisco.
The top four pass-catchers from 2022 return. Six-foot-7 WR Zach Mathis had 35 catches for 520 yards and three TDs. Joe Stoffel emerged at tight end to be the No. 2 receiving threat, hauling in 25 catches for 276 yards and two TDs. The next top pass-catcher who returns is WR Braylon Henderson, who had 14 catches for 222 yards. Carson Hegerle (6-foot-2) and Mekhi Collins (6-foot-4) were highly-touted WR recruits and are redshirt freshmen in 2023 looking to add more explosiveness to the offense.
There may not be many FCS defenses able to stop NDSU’s run game in 2023. But getting more dynamic through the air will be key in the Bison reaching their national championship standard.
The Bison are experienced in the front seven, but they will have a new-look secondary.
NDSU’s top three cornerbacks and top three safeties from last year are gone. CB Destin Talbert, safety Michael Tutsie, and safety Dawson Weber graduated and received NFL rookie minicamp tryout invites. CB Marques Sigle, CB Courtney Eubanks, and safety Dom Jones transferred to the FBS. The Bison had little playing experience behind those top six guys last year.
The linebackers lose NDSU’s top tackler James Kaczor (104 tackles). And the defensive line loses its top player in DE Spencer Waege (2023 NFL undrafted free agent), plus its other starting DE Tony Pierce to the FBS.
Those are large holes to fill. But plenty of experience is otherwise back for the front seven.
At linebacker, Nick Kubitz started 10 games last year, Julian Wlodarczyk started seven, Luke Weerts started five, and Logan Kopp started one. The interior DL rotation will be deep and is bolstered by the return of 2022 preseason All-American Eli Mostaert, who missed most of 2022 with an injury. Will Mostaert and Javier Derritt are also veterans with many starts on the interior of the d-line.
NDSU doesn’t have much production back at the defensive end position. The most sacks a current DE has in a season is Jake Kava’s four in 2021. Kava played in only five games last season before an injury. Iowa State transfer Hunter Zenzen looks to add a spark for that position group.
The Bison weren’t their usual dominant run defense in 2022, allowing 156.9 rushing yards per game to rank No. 60 in the FCS. The 2021 national title team allowed 87.6 rushing YPG, 2019 allowed 136.1, and 2018 allowed 114.5. NDSU doesn’t have the star-power names in the front seven compared to past seasons. But with the overall experience returning, the Bison should be stronger against the run this fall.
9/2 Eastern Washington (Minneapolis, MN)
9/9 vs Maine
9/16 vs Central Arkansas
9/30 vs South Dakota
10/7 at Missouri State
10/14 at No. 17 North Dakota
10/21 vs Western Illinois
10/28 vs Murray State
11/4 at No. 1 South Dakota State
11/11 vs RV Southern Illinois
11/18 at RV Northern Iowa
HERO Sports’ rankings
RV = Received Votes
Bold indicates MVFC games