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.
NORTH Dakota (3-8 IN 2017)
Independent (UND was in the Big Sky in 2017)
COACH: Bubba Schweigert – 5th year (24-22 record)
2017 OFFENSE: 25.2 ppg. (56th in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 34.6 ppg. (108th in FCS)
SUM IT UP: Of all the teams snake-bit by injuries last season, perhaps no team was impacted more than the Fighting Hawks. They went from a team in the preseason national picture discussion to finishing the year 3-8. But the Hawks are putting 2017 behind them and begin an interesting next two seasons as a program. UND plays a Big Sky schedule but is an independent FCS team as it joins the MVFC in 2020. That means the Hawks can't win a conference title, but can still make the playoffs as an at-large bid.
UND plays physical defense and wants to run the ball under Schweigert. He has the players to do it at a high level, starting with running backs John Santiago and Brady Oliveira, two all-conference talents. The big question offensively is who's going to replace three-year starter at quarterback Keaton Studsrud. On the other side of the ball with a healthy defense intact, this could be a much-improved unit after wearing thin last year and finishing 108th in scoring defense. There's an argument to be made about the most valuable position defensively in the Big Sky is a shutdown cornerback. UND has that in Deion Harris, who missed all of 2017 and is an NFL Draft prospect entering this year.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: The Fighting Hawks make the playoffs like they did in 2016. The Big Sky is loaded with playoff-caliber teams, and UND plays a handful of them – vs. Montana, vs. Weber State, at Idaho and at Northern Arizona. Add in nonconference games at FBS Washington and at 2017 semifinalist Sam Houston State, and you have a daunting schedule. It'll be a battle to return to the postseason, but it's not out of the question. One thing is for sure: this program needs to get momentum back on its side before entering the tough MVFC.
TOP RETURNEE: RB John Santiago (All-American all-purpose player)
THE NEXT BEST: DB Deion Harris (Preseason HERO Sports All-American); RB Brady Oliveira (637 yards rushing ) DL Tank Harris (All-Conference Third Team); LB Tanner Palmborg (All-Conference Third Team, 8.5 TFLs); Noah Wanzek (No. 1 receiver, 648 yards, 5 TDs)
TOP NEWCOMER: LB Everett Williams (Minnesota graduate transfer, started 3 games over 3 seasons)
DID YOU KNOW?: Legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson played basketball at North Dakota.
THE QUOTE: "Our quarterback situation is going to be competitive. We have to give all three of those guys opportunities to show what they can do. We love the competition. We need it at every position and that group does a good job of coming into the offices to learn the offense and are pushing each other to get better. We feel like we have three guys that can play here."– Head Coach Bubba Schweigert said in a spring preview
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #UNDproud
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @UNDfootball