For South Dakota State to go from a good FCS program to a great program, it needed to get better on the offensive and defensive lines. The Jackrabbits had the dudes at QB, RB, WR, TE, and LB throughout the 2010s. But their losses in the playoffs as they advanced further in the bracket could usually be chalked up as getting straight up beat in the trenches.
SDSU’s improved play on the lines over the last few years has resulted in the Jacks becoming a legit title contender. And that was certainly on display today in Brookings in a 39-18 semifinal win over Montana State.
The No. 1 seeded Jacks owned the No. 1 FCS rushing defense and were squaring off against the No. 1 FCS rushing offense that was averaging 332.4 YPG. MSU’s ground game had looked unstoppable in the last few games.
But SDSU stonewalled the MSU running attack, allowing just 52 yards on 34 carries. The SDSU d-line lived in the backfield, and the linebackers were flying around to swarm the ball carriers. On the flipside, SDSU’s o-line played like a top unit in the subdivision, rushing for 281 yards via 38 attempts on what had been a stout MSU front seven. It was a dominant effort against the hottest team in the FCS. SDSU looked every bit the part of the No. 1 team in the FCS.
The Jacks have built their roster to win a national title. Which essentially means building a roster to beat North Dakota State, winners of nine FCS championships since 2011. SDSU has done just that, beating NDSU in the regular seasons of 2016, 2017, spring 2021, fall 2021, and this season. NDSU returned the favor in the 2016 quarterfinals and the 2018 semifinals, winning by 20+ points. Besides the spring season when SDSU lost a last-minute heartbreaker to Sam Houston in the championship game, NDSU has advanced further in the playoffs since its run began.
Now, SDSU has an opportunity to exorcise those demons when it squares off against NDSU in the championship game. The Bison defeated UIW 35-32 in a thriller last night, setting up a clash between the two rivals.
We’ve seen it in the second round, quarterfinals, and semifinals. For the first time ever, the two Dakota Marker rivals meet up in an FCS title tilt. It’s the first all-MVFC final since NDSU and Illinois State met in the 2014 season. There have been some intense Frisco atmospheres. This one will likely top the list.
It also creates a juicy three-week lead-up to the game. This has developed into a top rivalry in the FCS, getting more heated every season as the Jacks have closed the gap. Social media will be a treat. Plus you have the dynamic of SDSU and NDSU tailgating rigs or vehicles decked out in blue or green paint/flags driving down the same interstate to Texas. Or for the flyers, crossing paths in the airports, or maybe even sharing the same armrest on a plane.
Once down there, bar owners in Frisco and Plano should double their planned alcohol stock, and then double it again. NDSU fans are known to flood those two towns as a winter vacation routine, and the Jackrabbit fans filled those same bars during the spring.
The Bison have hogged the national spotlight over the last 10+ years. The Jacks have increasingly closed the gap over the years, and the current three-game SDSU winning streak shows the gap has been erased. But for the Jacks to now create their own gap over NDSU, the ultimate trophy needs to be won.
This SDSU team looks like the most well-built squad it has had to win a national title. And it starts on the offensive and defensive lines. If the Jacks win on Jan. 8, it will be because of those two units leading the way, which would complete a national championship build for the program.