Why We Should Love NDSU and the Bison?

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NDSU vs. Jacksonville State–2015 National Title Game. Courtesy of Bryan Finley

 

I felt compelled to write a rebuttal this after my colleague Charles Burton at College Sports Journal wrote why we hate the five time reigning national champions of North Dakota State.

Well Chuck, I beg to differ in my view.  Of course, my view comes from someone with some green and gold colored glasses too.

I get what Chuck is trying to say.

I really do.

Most sports fans hate it when one particular team continues to win.

And win.  And win.  And win.

This very reason is why I hate the New York Yankees, as a small market Minnesota Twins fan.

It seemed whenever the Twins have been strong over the past 15 years, the team were always lined up to play the hated Yankees during the postseason and never actually could beat those hated Bronx Bombers.

But NDSU should not be treated like the hated Yankees of the FCS football world.

I believe that the Bison are completely the opposite and actually have brought much good to the FCS world.

NDSU is really a riches to rags to riches story in itself, especially considering it is just going into its 13th Division I season and just its eighth as being DI playoff eligible.

Before I get into my reasons, I wanted to give folks a little background on myself and where I get my viewpoint.  I have over 10 years of covering the FCS ranks from the now defunct College Sporting News.

I was born and raised in the state of North Dakota.  My hometown of LaMoure was technically not my home town, as I actually grew up five miles east of town and seven miles west of an even smaller town of Verona on a nearly 4,000 acre family farm—one that began as homestead by my German immigrant great-grandfather in the 1890s.

During my childhood, I was spoiled much like children of North Dakota are today with Bison football.  As I was growing up, the Bison won five Division II national titles from my kindergarten to senior year of high school—winning titles in 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, and 1990.  NDSU also finished as the national runner’s up in two of those years—1981 and 1984.

Following my senior year of high school, I attended the only school that was really on radar to attend.

I joined many of my family members before me and headed around 100 miles northeast to what at the time seemed like a faraway metropolis of Fargo (population over 100,000 in the metro area) to attend NDSU.

Folks reading this that are not from my home state might think this is funny, but moving from LaMoure (population of under 1,000) to Fargo-Moorhead (metro population just over 150,000) at my time of college in the 1990s was a drastic cultural change.

After a month or so into my freshman year of school, I got used to the Fargo-Moorhead area and met many of the folks I am still glad to say are my friends today.  (It is funny what they say but it is true, the friends you make in college are the ones typically are the ones that remain through your lifetime).

While I was in Fargo, I had hoped to see what most of my older cousins got to see—yet another Bison Division II national title in football.

During my time at NDSU, I got to witness the last home outdoor game the Bison ever played at what I thought was the legendary field of Dacotah Field.  I got to enjoy the play of players like quarterbacks Jeff Bentrim and Chris Simdorn, running back Chad Stark and Tony Satter, corner back Tyrone Braxton, defensive end Phil Hanson, and countless others.

That last Dacotah Field appearance was a playoff win over what at the time was named Northeast Missouri State (later renamed to Truman State) in the Division II playoffs in November of 1992.  NDSU would fall in the next round in dramatic overtime fashion on the road to Pittsburg State of Kansas.

Dacotah Field, Courtesy of NDSU Archieves

But with senior Arden Beachy as the option quarterback and a number of other returning starters, most students and fans alike thought that the 1993 Bison squad just had to be the next national title winner.  Certainly a trip to Florence, Alabama (home of the DII title game over that time) would be in our future.

I was also amongst the extravagant crowd as NDSU made their Fargodome debut the following year for the 1993 season.  That opener was against that same DII playoff nemesis of the time, Pittsburg State.

That first game in the new facility wound up being the last one of Beachy’s career, who sustained a devistating knee injury.

While the Bison won that first indoor game in rather easily, the injury put a damper on the rest of that year.  Whereas we expected NDSU playoff success, the Bison would instead miss the playoffs that year.

Sure, NDSU would make the DII playoffs in the 1994 and 1995 season while I was still in school and later while I was just out in the 1997 and 2000 seasons.  But NDSU did not once host even one playoff game during their DII days within the Fargodome.

The Bison did have some success in winning several road playoff games and even made the semi-finals in the 2000 season, but could never get back to the only place that really matter to us spoiled Bison supporters—the national title game.

The Bison magic just seemed to be gone.

I have moved between a few locations within the Midwest after my NDSU graduation.  I have lived in the Chicago area, near Des Moines, Iowa, near Wichita, Kansas, and currently in the home of new found NDSU rival Northern Iowa of Cedar Falls, Iowa.

I was a firm supporter of the Division I move.  But as many others like me, we all had many fears as NDSU would not have the same kind of success at the DI level it saw during my formative years within DII.

Had the move taken place in the 1990s when I was in college, all NDSU fans may have projected such success as has now occurred, but more than a decade after that kind of achievement was unthinkable.

But as all of the FCS world knows now, all DI doubts for NDSU football have been suspended and we have seen the resurrection of the program as it sits now.

Fargodome

Fargodome, Courtesy from Blaine Johnson

From that first DI playoff contest win in the Fargodome over Robert Morris and the lone DI playoff loss in 2010 to Eastern Washington, I know NDSU has picked up numerous fans but many are still the same core group and has sold out basically every game since that 2010 playoff contest.  I still see many friends I knew from college at most of these games both home and away.  I know some of their parents and others of similar age still coming to these games.

The hard-nosed play of NDSU on the field is a common denominator that brings one of the lowest populated states in the country together for one common event.

This shows all of us in what someone familiar with the program—Bison Pride and like to call them sells a part of Bison Nation.

Now that I have given you a little background on me and my personal NDSU history, why do I think having such success from a single program like NDSU has been a help to all of the FCS?

As most fans know, the FCS gets little national publicity despite having a great product on the field and numerous athletes that continue to complete in the National Football League.  Getting the attention of five national titles, ESPN Gameday twice, and a first round NFL drafted quarterback (Carson Wentz), certainly provides publicity to a much underappreciated sub-division.

I do not think ESPN would have traveled to James Madison last year for another FCS Gameday program without the success of the prior two years of that college football pregame show coming to Fargo.

NDSU with its 8-3 record against the so-called “big boys” of FBS and winning five straight against this seemingly overmatched group have also forced these non-FCS TV outlets now to cover more of the subdivision.

And without all the Bison wins, would ESPN would ask for a game like this weekend’s for the Bison against Big South returning champion Charleston Southern—the third such FCS Kickoff game and second involving NDSU?

The answer is a big “NO”.

Would ESPN put NDSU’s FBS game against Iowa on its one of its main networks, ESPN or ESPN2, on September 17th without this kind of success?

The answer is a big “NO”.

While many of us that follow the FCS think of ESPN as the evil spirit that never really wants to cover this level of football, the fact remains that this network carries a lot of weight amongst the average sports viewing public.

Having a figure like NDSU forces the so-called “mother-ship” to cover our sub-division and continues to bring in interest from football fans that would have no interest in the FCS otherwise.

Without NDSU doing what it has done, does the average sports fan in this country today know much of anything about the FCS ranks?

Of course the answer again is a big “NO”.

Face it Chuck and the rest of the FCS fans out there, NDSU should not to be hated.

It should not to be ridiculed.

It should not be scorned.

NDSU will increasingly raise the FCS pedestal and this party will not stop until all FCS fans join Bison-Hornsthe fiesta.

So to the rest of the FCS fans out there, please go cheer for your local area or alma mater’s team but when your team doesn’t win (and you know it will eventually lose) go ahead and join the Bison bandwagon.

Get your hands in a position with your index and pinky fingers raised and cheer for another title run for Bison.   NDSU continuing to win will mean more and more national coverage for the FCS.

But please sound like a seasoned NDSU fan when you join.

When you finally commit to the party please pronounce the nickname correctly.  It is Bison with that “s” really sounding like a “z”.   Go BIZON!!

*****************************************************************************

Kent’s CSJ FCS Game of the Week

Charleston Southern (0-0) @ North Dakota State (0-0), 7:30pm EDT, TV-ESPN

With the only FCS game this week, this has to be the game of the week.  Charleston Southern brings in a team that may give NDSU a game at least for a little while.

After all, the Buccaneers (10-3 in 2015) have seven All-Big South Conference preseason selections coming to the Fargodome.  Overall CSU brings back 16 starters from last season when it advanced to the FCS quarterfinals.  The Buccaneers lost to eventual national runner-up Jacksonville State in that round.

NDSU brings back 14 starters after finishing 2015 with 13-2 record and played its top ball through the FCS Playoffs a year ago.

But it will be a daunting task for CSU to pull this on out.  Since 2011, NDSU is 71-5 overall but what CSU can take solace around is that three of those losses came in the Fargodome.

NDSU is 2-0 against teams from the Big South Conference with a pair of FCS quarterfinal victories over Coastal Carolina in 2013 and 2014.  This is the Bucs first game against a Missouri Valley Football Conference opponent.

CSU comes to Fargo with in a great early season record—having only lost once in 14 attempts under Coach Jamey Chadwell’s three prior seasons.

CSU has two outstanding performers in preseason Big South Defensive Player of the Year in junior end Anthony Ellis, as well as preseason Big South offensive player of the Year in senior running back Darius Hammond.

Ellis totaled 55 total tackles, including 18 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.

Hammond led CSU with 856 rushing yards and finished with 1,865 all-purpose yards while rushing for seven touchdowns.

The Bucs will also have two others helping the running game with Mike Holloway and Ben Robinson in the team’s triple option attack.   A year ago, Holloway had 731 yards and 12 touchdowns and Robinson totaled 422 yards on the ground and four touchdowns.

The issue for CSU offense though is that the Bison defense likes to stop the run.  The Bison finished third in the FCS in total defense, fifth in scoring defense and tenth in rush defense.

NDSU limited its four playoff opponents all to season-lows in total yardage, culminating with a 204-yard performance in the national title game against Jacksonville State, which had nine 500-yard games last year.

NDSU’s average of 217 yards allowed over four games was the best Bison defense in six FCS playoff trips.

And while the defense was performing in this type of form, the NDSU offense is potent in itself.

Sophomore quarterback Easton Stick started eight games after Carson Wentz went down with a wrist injury. He rushed for 498 yards, passed for 1,144 yards, and totaled 18 touchdowns.

He has a four-headed running back group behind him—led by senior King Frazier (1,158 rushing yards and 11 TD).

Stick also has his top two receivers in junior RJ Urzendowski and sophomore Darrius Shepherd.  The duo combined for 1,244 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns a season ago.

I think what CSU offense will need to do to keep the game close will try to run the clock and get first downs.

The CSU defense will likely need to key on the run first and force Stick to throw the ball.

But I don’t think it will be enough.  I like the Bison to win by two touchdowns.

North Dakota State 31 Charleston Southern 17

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