The supposed "Bison invasion" on ESPN's "College GameDay" visit to South Dakota State's campus didn't happen. Jackrabbit fans showed out in full force with a sea of blue to create an amazing atmosphere for all of college football fans to see. However, the monumental day in SDSU school and program history turned sour as No. 1 North Dakota State spoiled the day's festivities with a 23-16 win.
Whether it was turnovers, failed trick plays or SDSU needing to go deep into the QB depth chart, the game was as wild as the "GameDay" scene that started as early as last night for some or at 6 a.m. today for most.
SDSU, ranked No. 3, had a spirited effort on defense for most of the game. The Bison had 394 total yards and 332 yards on the ground with 130 of them coming on touchdown runs of 59 and 71 yards. Offensively, the Jacks saw their outstanding redshirt freshman quarterback J'Bore Gibbs go down with a first-half leg injury, never to return. By the end of the game, SDSU had third-string QB Keaton Heide in and still had chances to win in the final quarter.
But the Bison, not at their sharpest, found a way to come out on top and keep the Dakota Marker in Fargo.
NDSU failed on a couple of "trick plays," which seems like a description not in the Bison vocabulary. During their run of national titles, "trickery" was rarely needed. But the Bison failed on a 2-point conversion when kicking a PAT that would have given them an 11-point lead. So of course, the Jacks came roaring back with 10 straight points to tie the game at 16-16 on Heide's 3-yard run with 7:22 to play. Fast forward five minutes later, and the Bison pulled the trigger on another gutsy decision. They went for it on fourth-and-1 on their own 29-yard line and it paid off. Adam Cofield bounced outside and outran an SDSU defender for a 71-yard TD run with 2:32 remaining to decide the game.
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Look, football doesn't work this way because injuries are such a norm in this physical game. But the human element in all of us has to be curious about what happens in this matchup if Gibbs stays healthy. He looked fantastic to start the game. With his absence, the Jacks had zero threat of a passing attack. Backup Kanin Nelson was just 2-9 throwing for 13 yards. Heide came in and attempted only three passes, completing two of them for 27 yards.
Yet SDSU's offensive line and running back Pierre Strong Jr., who had 120 yards rushing on 19 attempts, put together solid drives that weren't able to be finished thanks to NDSU's defense digging in and/or forcing key turnovers.
And for the Bison, there's no denying this wasn't their best game. Yes, the offense's inability to sustain drives or get good drives going is because of SDSU's defense, which is among the best in the FCS. But the Bison had some puzzling and uncharacteristic play calls with 100 yards in penalties and Trey Lance missing some open throws that could have extended NDSU's lead by another touchdown in the second half.
This is why the Bison have won seven national titles in the last eight years, though. When things aren't going their way, they still find a way to win. NDSU is now 8-0 this season with favorable games remaining against YSU, WIU, USD and SIU. Bison teams in the past have had some hiccups, but it's hard to envision an 11-1 NDSU squad not getting at least a Top 2 seed.
So where does SDSU's seeding situation look like?
Well, the Jacks are now 6-1 against FCS competition with that one loss a "quality" one if we want to go down that road of quality losses. SDSU has a more challenging finish to the season with Mo State, No. 8 Illinois State, No. 11 UNI and USD remaining. The ISU and UNI games are at home.
The Jacks' chances at a Top 2 seed aren't strong with these teams in the seeding discussion still undefeated against FCS foes: NDSU, JMU, Sac State, Weber State and Kennesaw State, although KSU's strength of schedule likely isn't strong enough to get a Top 4 seed. James Madison looks like it can finish the season without a loss. And Sac State and Weber State play next week.
If SDSU wins out, and that may come down to the severity of Gibbs' leg injury, the Jacks have a strong enough resume to be a Top 4 seed. Another loss and they're looking at a 5-8 seed depending on how things shake out.
Will these teams see each other again in the playoffs?
That mostly depends on the seeds. Remember, once the Top 8 seeds are decided, the committee does not adjust them to avoid rematches. They decide the Top 8 playoff resumes, seed them and lock them in. That's the process, although in my opinion, the committee should be able to adjust seeds to avoid rematches as long as it doesn't cost a seed a home playoff game in the quarterfinals. There isn't a difference between the No. 7 and No. 8 seed, but there is a difference in the No. 4 and No. 5 seed.
Who knows what happens on Selection Sunday. If NDSU and SDSU stay clean, they should get Top 4 seeds and may or may not face off again in the semifinals. And who knows, maybe it'll be in Frisco. As shown today, nothing appears to be slowing down the Bison. And the Jackrabbits resemble a team good enough to be playing for a national title.