North Dakota State’s Road to Frisco for the Ninth Time in Eleven Years

This year, North Dakota State will play for its unprecedented ninth Division I title in football to enter its first title game in a new decade after winning eight of ten titles in the 2010s. The Bison will be facing Montana State, who are somewhat the new kids on the block. Of course, Montana State does have a Division I national title but that was in 1984.

We’ll review how the Bison come into this game with a 13-1 record and some the factors and reasons that they are playing again in Frisco at Toyota Stadium this year.

How were the Bison viewed in the preseason?

The COVID-19 delayed 2020 season was played instead this past spring and NDSU did not win at least a share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference title for the first time in ten years.

Instead, South Dakota State, North Dakota and Missouri State tied for the title. NDSU did make the postseason this spring and after winning its quarterfinal match-up against Eastern Washington, the Bison lost for the first time in the quarterfinal round since 2011 to eventual national titlist Sam Houston.

South Dakota State was the top seed in the tournament last spring and played Sam Houston in the national title game this past May.

Because of SDSU’s strong spring campaign, many had picked the Jackrabbits to repeat their success this fall but I was won that picked NDSU to regain their status as the top team in the Valley

I still felt that SDSU would be the top competition, along with North Dakota and Northern Iowa, along with two squads with strong spring seasons in Missouri State and Southern Illinois.

For the rest of the media, South Dakota State was the pick. Here are the preseason rankings:

How did the Bison finish 10-1 within the 2021 regular season?

North Dakota State started the season winning its first eight games before falling at South Dakota State for the lone loss of the season. The Bison would close out the regular season with two straight victories and capturing the Missouri Valley Football Conference title outright.

NDSU would garner the #2 seed in the Division I FCS playoffs.

The Bison out-of-conference slate featured two Colonial Athletic Association squads with a home game against Albany and a road game at Towson. The final non-MVFC game was at home against the Pioneer League’s Valparaiso.

The Bison handled all three of these three games of the season against these non-MVFC squads easily by a combined 127-13 score.

The first MVFC game though was far from easy. NDSU played at in-state rival UND for the first time and escaped with a 16-10 road victory. See some highlights of this game below.

The next two MVFC contests were fairly easy as the Bison defeated Northern Iowa (34-20) at home and Illinois State (20-0) on the road.

But the fourth conference game against Missouri State was the tightest home game of the year. The Bison had to come from behind for the first time this year and also saw an injury and a switch at the quarterback position. Starting QB Quincy Patterson left the game with a shoulder injury and led to Cam Miller coming in to lead the Bison back.

Miller would not let the starting spot go despite Patterson being back from the injury. See highlights of this Missouri State 27-20 win below:

Miller started for the first time in another home game next against Indiana State and the Bison dominated the Sycamores in this game 44-2. That win led to the next test at South Dakota State.

SDSU would control the ball for most of the first half and raced out to a 24-7 halftime lead. NDSU would make a comeback in the second half but could not overcome the large lead and fell for the second straight season to the Jackrabbits 27-19. See highlights of this game below:

That first loss of the season though seemed to wake up the Bison as had two rather easy wins to close out the regular season (at Youngstown State 49-14 and at home against South Dakota 52-24.

Here is a look how the Bison entered into this year’s postseason as the #2 seed.

How did North Dakota State win its opening round playoff game?

NDSU opened the playoffs against a familiar foe in fellow MVFC member Southern Illinois. The Bison did not play the Salukis in the regular season but had a bad taste in their mouth as SIU gave the Bison its first loss in this past spring’s season–ending NDSU’s FCS-record 39-game win streak.

The Bison used the running of RB TaMerik Williams to lead in this win. He rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns to charge the 38-7 home win.

See highlights of this game below:

How did the Bison advance through the quarterfinal round?

The Bison played #7 seeded East Tennessee State and its dominate defense limited Walter Payton Award finalist Quay Holmes to just 35 yards. Overall, NDSU gave up just 66 yards on the ground and just 165 yards total to ETSU.

RB TaMerik Williams scored two touchdowns again in this game to lead to the comfortable 27-3 win.

See highlights of the game below:

How did NDSU win the semifinal round game?

In what might be the best game of the year in all of FCS, NDSU defeated #3 seeded James Madison 20-14.

FB Hunter Luepke had 199 all-purpose yards and North Dakota State’s defense got two late stops as No. 2-seeded Bison beat JMU for the fourth time in their last five meetings–all in the playoffs in the semifinal round or championship game.

CB Destin Talbert made a leaping one-handed interception in the end zone with 3:05 left in the game, and DEs Javier Derritt and Logan McCormick combined for a sack and pass breakup on the final two plays of the game to send NDSU (13-1) to its ninth national championship game in 11 years.

See highlights of this classic contest below:

What is the prior history of postseason play for North Dakota State?

The Bison have made it to the FCS playoffs now 12 years in a row. NDSU won five straight national titles with wins over Sam Houston State in 2011 and 2012, Towson in 2013, and Illinois State in 2014, and Jacksonville State in 2015. The streak ended in 2016 to its championship game opponent this year of James Madison in the semi-final round but the Bison got revenge in 2016 in defeating the Dukes for its FCS tying sixth national title and also defeated JMU in the 2019 title game. NDSU also won the 2018 title over Eastern Washington.

This past spring, lost for the first time in the quarterfinal round since 2010 with its loss at Sam Houston State.

The Bison last lost in the quarterfinal round in 2010 in its first playoff berth– falling 38-31 in overtime to eventual national champion Eastern Washington.

In total, NDSU is an astonishing 42-3 in their Division I playoff history.

But NDSU also has a storied Division II playoff history—making that division’s playoffs 17 different seasons from 1976 to 2000. NDSU also played in six bowl games prior to the D-II playoffs starting in 1973.

In total, NDSU has won 16 national titles in 1965, 1968, 1969, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1990, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2019. NDSU also finished as the runner’s up in 1967, 1981 and 1984.

NDSU had a 30-12 record in the D-II playoffs and won five of their six bowl games.

Of the national championships during the DI and D-II playoff era, NDSU went undefeated five times in 1986, 1988, 1990, 2013, and 2019 enroot to those year’s national championships.

NDSU transitioned to Division I in the 2004 season and became postseason eligible in 2008.

Ready for Frisco

This year’s Bison team is a little different than the past. All the prior eight national title teams had a clear-cut starting quarterback from the first titles under Brock Jensen to Carsen Wentz to Easton Stick and lastly to Trey Lance.

This year’s team much like the spring season was in flux under center but have used their two quarterbacks in Quincy Patterson and Cam Miller. In the playoffs, Miller has been the starter but Patterson has come in on some plays and the combination has worked well.

The top receiving threat for NDSU is WR Christian Watson, who has 39 receptions for 739 yards and seven touchdowns. He has however not been healthy enough to play in the playoffs but their is hope he can make one last game before he leaves Fargo for the professional ranks.

The one thing though that is common offensively with the past teams are the Bison ability to run the ball. NDSU ranks third in the FCS in rushing yards per game (273.6), with six players above 350 yards, led by RB TaMerik Williams with 715 yards. OTs Cordell Volson and Cody Mauch lead a continuing strong Bison offensive line.

Another thing that is similar to all the other title game teams for NDSU is its defense. The 2021 Bison defense is arguably the best its ever had in its Division I era. NDSU is allowing just 11 points per game – the lowest average of its Division I era.

The Bison defense also set a program record with 49 sacks, led by DEs Brayden Thomas (nine) and Eli Mostaert (7.5).

The defense is also headed by All-Americans in S Michael Tutsie and LB Jackson Hankey.

NDSU is only in its 14th year of being FCS playoff and championship eligible so it is remarkable that the Bison are playing in an ninth national title game. But as can be seen from their storied history, making playoff runs and championship games is something that this program is known for. We shall see January 8th in Frisco if the Bison will hoist their ninth Division I trophy and 17th national title overall.