HERO Sports welcomes you to "Two-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 125 FCS programs, with two being released each day from June 18 to August 18 (with the final day having three in one day). Today we give you … North Dakota State.
NORTH DAKOTA STATE (14-1 IN 2017)
MVFC (NDSU won the Valley & national title in 2017)
COACH: Chris Klieman- 5th year (54-6 record)
2017 OFFENSE: 38.7 ppg. (2nd in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 11.6 ppg. (2nd in FCS)
SUM IT UP: Let's not sugarcoat things: this is the best preseason roster the Bison have had since the 2013 undefeated season. Now, that doesn't equate to a seventh national title in eight years, but it does indicate NDSU is heavy favorites to stand on the Frisco stage once again. This is a veteran team with multi-year starters at every position group. The Bison return about 16 starters, eight on both sides of the ball, along with All-American defensive end Greg Menard.
Menard leads a deep defensive line with more than 10 guys in the rotation. Behind them, the Bison have three linebackers that started and played significant snaps at some point last year, led by All-American Jabril Cox. Add another All-American in the secondary with strong safety Robbie Grimsley. NDSU is experienced on the backend with its two starting cornerbacks, Jalen Allison and Jaylaan Wimbush, back along with the two youngsters who started and held their own in the national title game, Josh Hayes and Marquise Bridges.
Offensively, the Bison have a chance to be more explosive than last year's unit that ranked second in the FCS in scoring. It helps when you have a four-year starter and potential NFL Draft pick Easton Stick at quarterback. Joining him in the backfield is an array of talent. Bruce Anderson is the returning All-American. But Lance Dunn was the No. 1 running back before he got injured. Ty Brooks is the most explosive out of the bunch while Seth Wilson made big plays in the playoffs as a true freshman. The offensive line is always a big and physical unit at NDSU. Three starters return along with left tackle Dillon Radunz, who some already label an NFL Draft pick despite him only playing one game last year as a freshman before getting hurt. Top pass catcher Darrius Shepherd is back, but the next three are gone. That's a key spot and question for the Bison – who exactly is going to be a threat in the passing game? Keep an eye on 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman receiver Christian Watson, who Klieman told the media the coaches already know he's going to be a stud. The head coach doesn't throw out praise like that about unproven talent unless he's convinced. Klieman said the same about Cox a year ago at this time.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: The Bison go 15-0 and win a seventh national title since 2011. It's certainly a realistic outlook with a favorable schedule. NDSU has seven home games and doesn't have to play on the road until October. Only two games will be played outdoors. This program has been known to trip up at least once in the regular season and not let it impact its national title aspirations. But at the same time, the Valley may be down this season compared to past years. The best-case scenario for the 2018 Bison is a perfect season.
TOP RETURNEE: QB Easton Stick (Preseason All-American)
THE NEXT BEST: RB Bruce Anderson (1,216 yards, 12 TDs ); RB Lance Dunn (684 yards, 12 touchdowns in 8 games ); OL Tanner Volson (Preseason All-American); LB Jabril Cox (top tackler, 75 total); DE Greg Menard (returning from injury, 2016 All-American); S Robbie Grimsley (4-year starter, 221 career tackles)
TOP NEWCOMER: WR Christian Watson (Redshirt freshman, expected to make an impact)
DID YOU KNOW?: The Bison not only have won six FCS national titles, they also won eight Division II championships.
THE QUOTE: "Chris has done an exceptional job in leading our football program on a national level. Not only have we won three national championships during his tenure, but our student-athletes are achieving high marks in the classroom and are actively engaged on campus and in the Fargo-Moorhead community. I look forward to working with him and his staff for years to come." — NDSU director of athletics Matt Larsen said on Chris Klieman's contract extension through 2023
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #BisoNation
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @NDSUfootball