Just when you thought this weird, wacky, wild FCS spring season could result in changing of the guard, the North Dakota State Bison reminded us of who they are. No. 4 NDSU, who looked average at best in the first four games, defeated No. 2 North Dakota 34-13, a team that looked like the best in the subdivision entering this week.
Now, today doesn’t necessarily mean the Bison are back to dominating the FCS landscape. NDSU’s passing game, while getting better, still lacks consistency and is a concern when/if NDSU runs into a team that can stop the run like Southern Illinois did earlier this year. And while the popular saying during the first half of this regular season was the national championship picture was wide open, NDSU was still included in that picture. The Bison never left it.
Don’t tell NDSU head coach Matt Entz that, though.
“I vote,” Entz said after today’s game regarding the AFCA FCS Coaches Poll, which released its first ranking this week. “I didn’t even put us in the Top 25.”
Confidence in NDSU winning the national championship spikes after today’s showing, but there are still several teams in the title picture.
No. 6 South Dakota State, who hammered No. 5 SIU 44-3 today and who NDSU faces in two weeks, comes right to mind. The Bison also take on currently-ranked No. 10 Northern Iowa to end the regular season. So it’s not smooth-sailing to the postseason.
NDSU doesn’t need elite quarterback play to win a national title. People forget Brock Jensen wasn’t a very good quarterback in 2012. NDSU still won the natty. The question with this Bison team is if the running game isn’t going against a team like SDSU, Weber State, or James Madison, can Zeb Noland — who started again today despite many of us assuming Cam Miller would get the nod — step up and make a play when the season is on the line?
NDSU, now 5-1, is back in the driver’s seat to get a Top 2 seed if this young squad continues its week-to-week improvements. The Bison can afford a second loss in the final three weeks and still make the playoffs at 7-2, but a seed would likely be off the table.
As far as UND, the Fighting Hawks were brought back down to earth. But they are still in a great position. UND is 4-1 with ranked wins against SIU and SDSU and upcoming games against unranked Youngstown State, Missouri State, and Illinois State. Who’s to say the Fighting Hawks can’t earn a seed if they win out? A second loss means UND is on the bubble, but the Hawks would hold key head-to-head wins against other MVFC bubble teams.
UND can’t let its traditional road woes continue and let this loss zap them of confidence, as YSU (an improving team each week) and Illinois State are both road games.
The Fighting Hawks are still a top team in the FCS. These are still the same offensive and defensive lines that dominated in the first four games. Otis Weah still looks like an All-American RB. And Tommy Schuster still has a bright future.
Today proved UND may not be ready to win a national championship just yet. But it’s not far away.
And today also proved the Bison aren’t ready to relinquish their throne yet.