This was supposed to be a “more vulnerable” North Dakota State team in 2019. The Bison weren’t supposed to be the FCS juggernaut like past seasons. This was supposed to be one of the more entertaining NDSU seasons in terms of close games, maybe a loss or two in the regular season and some nail-biters in the playoffs. The Bison would reload and still be a top team in the FCS, sure, but this was supposed to be the year where some teams closed the gap.
That didn’t happen.
NDSU won its eighth FCS national title in nine years, defeating James Madison, 28-20. Anyone with an ounce of FCS knowledge shouldn’t be surprised the Bison did it again. Back in the preseason, NDSU was still a top favorite to win it all. How they did it was something not many saw coming, though. NDSU finished 16-0. Only the 2013 and 2018 squads who are considered to be some of the best teams in this subdivision’s history have gone undefeated during this run.
The Bison outscored its opponents 37.2 to 12.3 this year and had just three games that were decided by fewer than 10 points, two of which came in the playoffs. They did it with 15 new offensive and defensive starters, a redshirt freshman starting quarterback, a new head coach and new offensive and defensive coordinators.
“It was motivating for us hearing the outside noise,” NDSU receiver Christian Watson told HERO Sports. “But at the same time, we knew within our circle that we could get it done.”
While realistically not many doubted what this team could ultimately accomplish in January, the Bison did face a number of question marks and uncertainty.
If there was a year to knock off the Bison and put a blip on their radar, this was the year. Not only because of the turnover on the roster and coaching staff, but because this JMU team had 20 returning starters and looked capable of beating the Bison all season.
The Dukes were close. However, down 28-20 on the 3-yard line and with eight seconds left, Ben DiNucci’s pass was intercepted by safety James Hendricks to seal the game.
“We knew people would doubt us with the 24 seniors and the best quarterback to ever play in the FCS leaving,” Hendricks, who also scored on a fake field goal, told HERO Sports. “But we knew we had Trey Lance and we had the guys in the locker room. We knew we had what it took. We just needed to show it and block out all the noise.”
Maybe those that said the Bison were going to be down just wanted NDSU to be down. And maybe we're putting too much stock into what the minority of FCS followers said in the preseason.
And guess what? NDSU will be even better next year.
Quarterback Trey Lance was the first freshman to ever win the Walter Payton Award, given to the best offensive player in the FCS. The Bison have their Nos. 2 and 3 running backs coming back, along with Seth Wilson, who was thought to be the No. 1 back before suffering a season-ending injury in the offseason. NDSU’s top two wide receivers and Nos. 2 and 3 tight ends are back. And maybe most importantly, four of five starting offensive linemen are returning.
Defensively, only one of four starting defensive linemen return. All three linebackers are coming back (including Jabril Cox who said he won’t be declaring early for the NFL Draft). Two of the four starting defensive backs are returning.
Most of us knew this Bison team was going to reload in 2019. But if there was a year where this program was “gettable,” it was this season. No one could get it done.
And with 17 players who started five games or more coming back in 2020, the Bison dynasty appears to be as strong as ever.
If you don't like that thought, then tell your favorite FCS team to get better, because NDSU to the FBS ain't happening.