Five-time reigning FCS champion North Dakota State is not just the most decorated program in FCS history, it is also the most successful program in D2 football team. The Bison racked up five D2 football national championships before their to the FCS ranks in 2004. But in a few short weeks, we may see a new team reach the top of the D2 football pantheon.
Northwest Missouri has already tied NDSU's record for most titles in D2 history. Another this year would set a new mark at six, including their second straight after a dominating performance in the 2015 season.
"I've been very lucky as a head coach to step into a job that has such tremendous support behind a program like ours," said NW coach Adam Dorrel, man at the helm of two championship squads (2013, 2015). "We concentrate much more on building the relationship with our student-athletes and the community. If we do the right things on and off the field, success will follow."
The Bearcats have a combined 71-8 record since Dorrel (pictued left) took over in 2011, easily the best mark in D2 football, and one of the best winning percentages in any division of college football.
Like every college football team, the Bearcats must regroup each season as graduation, transfers, new recruits and and a million other factors change the blueprint waiting to be drawn. This year Dorrel has leaned on his seniors — guys looking to bookend their careers with titles after they won one back in 2013.
"One of the things I've been really proud of our upperclassmen for is their ability to stay focused," Dorrel told HERO. "For us, when I talk to our seniors, I talk to them about what kind of legacy they are leaving for the younger players. What did the older players do for them when they were new in the program to be so successful?"
Success is a virtue at NWMSU — the younger players know this as well as the seasoned vets. But interestingly, one of the biggest reasons for the Bercats' success doesn't fall into either of those groups.
Quarterback Kyle Zimmerman is in his fourth year in green and white, but his first as a starter.
"It would have been really easy for Kyle to transfer, to get a situation where he could be the starter for two or three years rather than just starting his senior year for us," Dorrel said about his starting QB. "He's gotten to work behind some great Northwest quarterbacks so he understands the pressure. His preparation each week is second to none. He's just done a really great job adjusting to everything we've thrown at him this year."
This season, the Overland Park, Kansas native has amassed 2,810 passing yards with 32 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 10 games. He has also run for 264 yards and four scores.
Besides the impressive play of their quarterback, Northwest has also received some of the best defensive play you could ask for, not only this season, but over the last few years as well.
"Defense sets the tone and we have had some real amazing individuals leading us this season," Dorrel explained. "We always have a number of guys who step up but we've also been very blessed with getting some great football players on the defensive side of the ball. The talent we've been able to find and work with these past few years is a really big part of our success."
With the NCAA Tournament approaching — a sure-thing for the number one team in the country in almost every major poll — the top-ranked team from Super Region 3 is just six games away from their sixth title.
Their path to the title this year will be difficult, as it is every year, even though all of their contests will be taking place at home in Maryville, Missouri. Two other 10-0 teams currently reside in SR3, including Sioux Falls and Harding.
Coach Dorrel didn't speculate on potential NCAA Tournament matchups, but there should be a high level of confidence exuding from Missouri this year.
The last team to beat NW Missouri was Minnesota-Duluth, nearly two full years ago on November 22, 2014. The Bulldogs also happen to be in the competition this year. They're fifth in the most recent regional rankings, which sets them up for a possible second round matchup with the Bearcats.
While NW Missouri fans and other members of the D2 world are focused on the title itself, the Bearcats and their head coach have a narrower focus.
"We take things one game at a time … We ask our players to do their 1/11th, if they do that, good things will happen," Dorrel said. "We concentrate first on the regular season and then our 'second season' for the playoffs."
The second season is just a week away.