The kings of FCS football were unceremoniously usurped last season.
After five straight national championships, the North Dakota State Bison suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of James Madison in the FCS semifinals. The team that has been a thorn in the side of FBS teams for a decade is the favorite to return to the top of the mountain, though, in 2017. However, NDSU must first get past what is unquestionably the toughest conference in the FCS.
2016 North Dakota State Football Season In Review
North Dakota State had laid waste to the middle-of-the-pack teams in the Big Ten and Big 12 for the last half-decade, but the Bison had never beaten a ranked opponent before last year when they defeated then-No. 13 Iowa.
It must sting to pay an FCS team to come to your place for a body bag game only to see your season end up being the corpse. With the win over the Hawkeyes, the Bison moved to 9-3 against FBS opponents since 2006, prompting the Big Ten and Big 12 to essentially say enough is enough. No program from either of those FBS conferences has NDSU on a future schedule.
The Bison didn’t look as indomitable as they had in recent seasons in 2016. Chris Klieman’s squad needed overtime to knock off Charleston Southern and Eastern Washington in its first two games and struggled against many of its Missouri Valley Conference foes. South Dakota State ended up knocking off the Bison on the strength of a solid rushing attack.
Last season marked the fifth time in six years that the Bison dropped a game in conference play. For as good as the Bison have been, running this conference slate has been tough.
Ultimately, the Bison saw their season end with the first home playoff loss in school history. North Dakota State had been 18-0 at the Fargodome in the postseason, but James Madison did not fall victim to the difficult environment.
The Dukes dominated North Dakota State on the ground, as Khalid Abdullah ripped through the Bison front seven for 180 rushing yards on just 23 carries to pace a team that won by throwing the ball just 18 times. The run defense was a weak link for NDSU all season, and it broke at the worst possible time.
2017 North Dakota State Football Season Preview
Quarterback Easton Stick is looking to have a breakout junior campaign. The Nebraska native saw a lot of action as a true freshman after Carson Wentz broke his wrist, playing steady and helping lead the team to the national title game as more of a game manager. Stick had a similar role last year, too, throwing for 200 yards or more in four of 14 games and never passing for more than 257 yards in a contest.
The biggest area of his game that needs improvement is his accuracy. Despite playing in a run-first system where he should complete a lot of passes, Stick connected on just 58.7 percent of his attempts in 2016. He is going to have to play much better if the Bison want to ascend to the mountain top once again.
That’s especially because the running game is going to take a step back. Sure, Lance Dunn is back for another season, but the offensive line has lost three starters. That could lead to some early woes while the younger hogs get their feet wet up front.
The defense, though, should be one of the best in the nation. Star linebacker Nick DeLuca was granted a fifth year of eligibility after an injury sidelined him for 2016. He will bolster a front seven that had trouble stopping teams that continually prioritized the run.
And good luck doing anything against this secondary. Tre Dempsey and Robbie Grimsley will be the best safety tandem in the country, so opposing quarterbacks better be aware of where they are at all times.
2017 North Dakota State Football Schedule
September 2: North Dakota State vs. Mississippi Valley State
September 9: North Dakota State at Eastern Washington
September 23: North Dakota State vs. Robert Morris
September 30: North Dakota State vs. Missouri State
October 7: North Dakota State at Indiana State
October 14: North Dakota State at Youngstown State
October 21: North Dakota State vs. Western Illinois
October 28: North Dakota State vs. Northern Iowa
November 4: North Dakota State at South Dakota State
November 11: North Dakota State vs. South Dakota
November 18: North Dakota State at Illinois State
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
One of the premier regular season games of the year at the FCS-level will be when the Bison travel to Eastern Washington. The Eagles love to throw the ball all over the place but will have to replace Cooper Kupp, who was the best receiver in school history. North Dakota State’s secondary will be able to limit EWU’s receivers, making the Bison a very good bet in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests.
The Bison were able to take down Youngstown State easily last season, but the Penguins were a different team by the end of the year. Bo Pelini has that program humming, making a road game for NDSU a dicey proposition. This game will be a tough one for the Bison, so picking Youngstown State in your This entry was posted in College Football and tagged North Dakota State. Bookmark the permalink.