Three years ago, North Dakota State football completed a three-peat with 20 seniors on a team considered the best in FCS history. Fargo was the top of the FCS world, but fans and everyone in the region had the same general thought: “This run isn’t going to last forever.”
The 2014 season brought with it a memorable playoff run, featuring three come-from-behind victories for a fourth straight title. Then last year, a 4-2 start and a potentially season-ending wrist injury to Carson Wentz looked to stop the run in its tracks. But NDSU still had some magic left in the tank behind redshirt freshman quarterback Easton Stick, who led the Bison to Frisco, Texas, and allowed Wentz to return and dominate for a fifth straight title.
Then this season, a 10-1 regular season (including a win at Iowa), a No. 1 seed to the FCS playoffs, and dominating performances in the second and quarterfinal rounds made a ridiculous six-peat look like a real possibility.
But NDSU met its match Friday night in the semifinals against James Madison. The Bison ran out of magic after battling back from a 17-0 deficit and tying the game. NDSU had all the momentum in the third quarter, but the plays the Bison have made in each of the previous five seasons just weren’t there against the Dukes. JMU scored the last 10 points of the game to upset NDSU 27-17.
The streak was snapped. The Fargodome was eerily quiet, but the shock quickly wore off as the Bison fans (the decent human beings) who stuck around until the end gave players and coaches a standing ovation as the game ended.
The Fargodome showed true appreciation for what they had witnessed over the last five years. The greatest run in college football history happened in Fargo, N.D. The run of consecutive national titles is over.
But here’s the thing — the greatest dynasty in college football history isn’t done yet. A new champion will be crowned this season, yes. But it’s a mistake if anyone in or around the FCS thinks NDSU’s reign is over.
Simply put, the Bison are stacked next season. I’ve said it since the start of the playoffs: no matter how NDSU finishes this season, it will win the national title next year.
And there’s no reason to think the Bison will be anything other than favorites to win the title entering the 2017 season.
People forget that the Bison had just 11 seniors on the roster this season. One of the seniors is linebacker Nick DeLuca, the best player on the team, who will return next season after taking a medical redshirt this year.
NDSU will lose two great outside linebackers in MJ Stumpf and Pierre Gee-Tucker. But Matt Plank and Chris Board filled in just fine when DeLuca and Gee-Tucker missed time.
Running backs King Frazier and Chase Morlock are gone, but Lance Dunn and Bruce Anderson return as the two more explosive runners. They will run behind a line with three new starters. NDSU breeds offensive linemen like no one else in the FCS and the coaches like the young talent there.
Eight of the top 10 receiving leaders return. The entire starting secondary returns. The defensive line loses just one player. And Stick returns with a 20-2 record as a starter.
What happened in Fargo will never be seen again. To win a 24-team tournament once is unlikely. Twice is improbable. Three times is amazing. Five is just silly. The last 2:05 of this video shows just how amazing and long this run was.
But NDSU isn’t done. Not even close. A Bison team with something to prove is a scary prospect for the rest of the division. We saw it last week against South Dakota State. We might look back at the 2016 season as a bump in the road for NDSU if it takes care of business and reclaims its throne next year.
The streak is over. But the Bison aren’t done yet.