"This might be the best North Dakota State team ever."
This isn't just a statement said by people in and around Fargo, but also by South Dakota State fans, Big Sky Conference media members/fans and people throughout the FCS.
With the Bison dominating the second half to defeat SDSU 44-21 in the semifinals, a team many thought would be their biggest challenge, it's a fair argument to say this is the best NDSU team has looked since this run of six national titles began in 2011.
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The 2013 Bison team, who many point to as the best team in FCS/Division I-AA history, went 15-0. This NDSU team is 14-0 and has drawn comparisons to that 2013 squad. In other words, the 2018 Bison are in the discussion to be called the best team in this subdivision's history.
But there's one thing.
NDSU has to finish the argument in Frisco, Texas, against
Maine or Eastern Washington. A loss and that argument is out the window.
What's the first thing people think of when they hear "the 2016 NDSU football team." Fair or unfair, it's not "that's the team that beat No. 11 Iowa." It's usually "that's the team that lost to James Madison in the semifinals."
Many people had the opinion that tonight was the de facto national title game. While NDSU will be favored,
Maine or EWU is going to present challenges. It's way too early to crown the Bison the champs right now.
But what we saw tonight suggests it's going to be hard to stand in NDSU's way because this looks like the best Bison team ever.
They have the best offensive player in the FCS, whether Easton Stick wins the Walter Payton Award or not. He proved it tonight, going 12-15 passing for 169 yards and a touchdown while running the ball 16 times for 147 yards and three touchdowns.
Because this NDSU staff that took over in 2014 are better recruiters than the previous staff (helped by the continued success), the Bison have the best depth they've ever had. This is the most difficult NDSU's offense has been to defend. And the defense is as athletic as it's ever been.
I haven't seen a Bison team play this well in the playoffs since I began covering the program in 2011.
Montana State was supposed to be built to defend the run. Colgate was statistically one of the best defenses in NCAA history. And this SDSU team had every ingredient needed to knock off the Bison.
NDSU outscored them by a combined 131-31.
I was hesitant all preseason/regular season on pulling the trigger and saying this NDSU team is better than the 2013 team. If the Bison win in Frisco, however, I won't hesitate to say it.
Which means we'd be looking at the best team in the history of this subdivision.
Premature? Maybe. But if the Bison players can get over the distraction of their head coach taking a new job days before a semifinal game, they can get over the pressure of having "the best team ever" argument hanging over their head.
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