When you do something for five straight years, it turns into a tradition. When that tradition means your favorite team plays in the national championship every year, the expectations become a little too high. The North Dakota State football team played in, and won, the FCS national championship title during the 2011-2015 seasons. By 2015, Bison fans were so used to their team making it to Frisco, Texas, that it became more of a vacation than a celebration. It was more of a "business as usual" than a "I can't believe our team is playing for a national championship."
That won't be the case this season. NDSU's run to Frisco came to an end last year at the hands of James Madison, a result of a convincing 27-17 win at the Fargodome in the semifinals by the Dukes. Instead of shock and anger after the loss, most Bison fans did the right thing and instead reflected and appreciated the run of success. Judging from Twitter and the talk around Fargo, though, it wasn't until watching JMU and Youngstown State battle it out in Frisco was when the realization came that all those road trips to Frisco were taken for granted.
Making it to the national championship game in a 24-team bracket just doesn't happen every season. But it happened this year for NDSU after three straight statement wins in the playoffs. The Bison are heading back to Frisco for the Jan. 6 title game. And the team and fan base are feeling a bit rejuvenated as they get set for another visit to "Fargo South."
"I'm happy for all of (our players), but the guy that really deserves to play in a national championship game is Easton Stick," head coach Chris Klieman said Friday after the 55-13 semifinal win against Sam Houston State. He deserves that after what he did in 2015 to get his best friend Carson (Wentz) back to that game. He deserves that opportunity. He's played great football nearly every week this year."
NDSU sure looked to be on a mission to make it back. The Bison outscored their three playoff opponents 135-26. With a roster of 20 seniors, some of which were big contributors on two national championship teams, NDSU was hungry this season.
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"Everybody thought when we lost last year it was over," senior safety Tre Dempsey said. "It's not over. This team is a championship team and we had a championship mindset. There's no way we weren't getting back there and winning. And that's our mindset going into this next game. Becoming the champions again and defending it next year again."
Small talk in North Dakota/Minnesota is usually about the weather. But in late December, the conversation starter is always "Are you going down to Frisco?" And for good reason. Frisco and the surrounding area have treated Bison fans well. And vice versa.
NDSU fans have become some sort of legends in those parts. From drinking bars dry of Captain Morgan before 3 p.m. during the 2012 game. To cocktail waitresses choosing to work "NDSU weekend" instead of New Year's weekend so they can take in more tips. To cab drivers texting Bison fans turned friends and saying "can't wait for you guys to get back down here." And to local establishments catering toward the NDSU crowd.
And what will make this weekend in Texas even more fun is the opposing fan base rivals NDSU's in terms of passion, the amount of people traveling down south and the amount of "tailgating fun" they have.
James Madison is also turning the Frisco weekend into a tradition, returning for the second straight year. People were unsure how the crowd would look last season without the NDSU green and gold. But JMU answered the call. Now it's a perfect storm on the field and off the field. Two great teams will decide who's the king of the FCS. And two great fan bases with mutual respect will show a national audience just how great the FCS is.
And while the game is going to be a classic, the Frisco festivities before and after are what makes people take multiple vacation days from work. After all, some people do treat it as a winter vacation.