North Dakota State enters 2014 at number 1 in our rankings. Check out our Top 25 Season Preview for more on the top college teams to watch this fall. Can’t find your team in the Top 25? View our full rankings to see where every team stands.
Last Season: 15-0 (8-0) Missouri Valley Football Conference
The Bison are on a roll. For the third season in a row North Dakota State won the FCS title, this time with a 35-7 win over Towson. During their three-year championship run, the Bison are 43-2; besides a pair of home losses to Youngstown State in 2011 and Indiana State 2012 (both by three points), the Bison are undefeated in that stretch, and last season was their best performance yet. Dozens of statistics could prove just how good Craig Bohl’s Bisons were last season, but two pretty much tell the whole story: the Bison boasted the 10th best scoring offense in FCS (38.7 ppg) and the #1 scoring defense (11.3 ppg allo wed).
-Billy Turner OL – First team FCS All-American, drafted in the third round (67th overall) by Miami
-Brock Jensen QB – Third team FCS All-American 218-329, 66.3%, 2,793 yards, 34 TDs, 7 INTs
-Ryan Smith WR – 54 catches, 703 yards, 5 TDs
-Sam Ojuri RB – 214 carries, 1,427 yards, 10 TDs
-Ryan Drevlow NG – Second Team FCS All-American, 25 tackles, 6 TFL, 5.5 sacks
-Leevon Perry DT – 19 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 5 sacks
-Danny Luecke DT – 31 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks
-Marcus Williams CB – First team FCS All-American, 31 tackles, 3 INTs, 8 pass defenses
What to Watch For
Their Offense Now – For the last ten minutes, I’ve been sitting here racking my brain, trying to come up with a harder job in sports than the quarterback who has to take over for Brock Jensen. The winningest quarterback in FCS history with a 47-5 record as a starter, Jensen is the newest member of the Miami Dolphins, leaving junior Carson Wentz in line for the job. Last year’s leading receiver Zach Vraa will be back to help ease Wentz’s transition, and John Crockett will see a big jump in carries now that Sam Ojuri is gone. Crockett played very well last season – he averaged 85.1 yards per game, 6.7 yards per carry, and lead the team in rushing touchdowns with 11.
Powerhouse doesn’t seem to cover it. Dynasty might be better. For the last three years, North Dakota State has owned the FCS; their 43-2 record over that period is unmatched. For perspective, compare the three-year championship run of the Bison to the three-year stretch from 2010 to 2012 in which Alabama won two of three BCS national titles. Like the Bison, the Crimson Tide were clearly the best team in their division, but Alabama’s combined record was only 35-4. The winning percentages aren’t even worth calculating because the Tide had eight less wins and twice as many losses. It’s not close. That being said, it’s a year of turnover for the Bison. Head Coach Craig Bohl took the top job at Wyoming, so defensive coordinator Chris Kleiman got a promotion. All five of last season’s All-Americans are gone, including QB Brock Jensen, all-purpose player Greg Hardin, and defensive leaders Marcus Williams, Grant Olson, and Ryan Drevlow. The Bison won’t fall apart, but they aren’t the far-and-away most talented team in the FCS like they’ve been in recent years. The Bison will make the FCS playoffs, they will make a deep run, and they have as good a shot as anyone at taking home the trophy – but winning championships takes at least a little luck to go with immense skill. Don’t be stunned if their luck runs out and they fail to make it four in a row, and don’t be surprised by whispers of a move to the FBS either. That’s what happens when you’re this good.