Don't tell No. 4 UC Davis head coach Dan Hawkins, his coaching staff and his players with a pat on the back that they did a good job coming into the Fargodome and giving No. 1 North Dakota State a scare. The Aggies came into this game expecting to win and certainly played like it.
Outside of some opening-drive adjustments to the Fargodome environment, the UC Davis offense looked confident and the defense played stronger than many expected. The Aggies were down just 20-16 in the fourth quarter when Jake Maier, who played a fabulous game, threw an interception on the goal line. After UC Davis' defense forced a punt, the Bison tipped a pass and intercepted it on the first play of the ensuing drive. Three plays later, Bison quarterback Trey Lance scored on a 10-yard touchdown run to seal the 27-16 win with 2:50 to play.
It was a competitive game that the FCS needed. In a season where the gap is supposed to close on an NDSU team that returned just seven starters, the first three weeks of the season suggested that might not be the case. Craig Haley from STATS wrote a great column talking about how the FCS appears down this year. And on this week's episode of B-Mac and Herd's FCS Podcast, I talked about how I went from 6-7 teams in the preseason that I thought could win it all to now 2-3 teams.
James Madison looks good. South Dakota State looks good. And NDSU was annihilating opponents. After that? Teams like Eastern Washington, Maine and Jacksonville State have had head-scratching results. And UC Davis had a close win a couple of weeks ago against San Diego that made me question if this team was ready to compete for a national title.
Huge INT at the goal line to keep UC Davis out of the endzone! pic.twitter.com/WiYSibbLys
— NDSU Football (@NDSUfootball) September 21, 2019
It was No. 4 against No. 1 today, but that USD result was on everyone's mind. No one (at least from what I saw) predicted the Aggies to win. And even the oddsmakers had NDSU as a 25-point favorite earlier this week.
If NDSU would have beaten the No. 4 team in the country by 25 points today, it would've been a concern for the FCS. Bison fans would have loved it, of course. But from a level-of-play perspective in this subdivision, going back to the status quo of "it's NDSU and everyone else" isn't the most ideal situation.
Now, don't get me wrong, the Bison are still a top favorite to hoist that trophy again. But this result shows the Bison aren't going to roll through the subdivision and have this season end in a result everyone saw coming from a mile away. That was the case last year. We knew the Bison were going to win it all in 2018 from the start. It's not so clear in 2019.
UC Davis showed it belonged on the same field as the Bison. The Aggies certainly have reason to believe that if a few things went differently, the end result would've been in their favor. But when you win seven of the last eight FCS championships like the Bison have, you find ways to win these kinds of games.
The Aggies no doubt remain a national title contender. And while it's nowhere close to being a wide-open race for the championship, it appears we'll at least have a more exciting one. Had No. 1 NDSU, with a new-look team and a new-look coaching staff, beaten No. 4 UC Davis by 25 points … boy, the landscape of the FCS would be concerning right now.