A new FCS champion for a new decade.
Neither top-seeded South Dakota State nor second-seeded Sam Houston, who will square off for the first time on Sunday in the national championship game, has ever finished atop the Division I subdivision.
It's appropriate both teams defeated North Dakota State in the last month, SDSU on the final Saturday of the regular season and Sam Houston in a quarterfinal playoff matchup. Both elite programs were tormented by the Bison in the playoffs during the 2010s, the Jackrabbits losing four times to them and the Bearkats twice in the title game.
It was a decade in which the annual championship game moved to Frisco, Texas, beginning with the 2010 season. The FCS found a terrific host city, NDSU built a dynasty’s worth of titles, and national attention and TV ratings grew tremendously.
Before the new storyline unfolds this week, here’s a ranking of the 10 championship games in Frisco (in descending order) by an FCS writer who attended all of them:
10. North Dakota State 37, Jacksonville State 10 (2015)
After missing eight games with a broken wrist, quarterback Carson Wentz returned to the lineup and accounted for three total touchdowns (two rushing, one passing) in his final career game. The Bison (13-2) built a 24-0 lead on their first four possessions and controlled 40 minutes, 51 seconds of game clock.
9. North Dakota State 35, Towson 7 (2013)
The Bison (15-0), in head coach Craig Bohl's final game with the program, became the first undefeated FCS champion since Marshall in 1996 as quarterback Brock Jensen accounted for both a TD pass and run. Towson junior Terrance West had 99 yards on 22 carries to finish with an FCS single-season record 2,519 rushing yards.
8. James Madison 28, Youngstown State 14 (2016)
The Dukes (14-1) followed up a semifinal win at North Dakota State by completing a national title season in head coach Mike Houston's first campaign. Junior Bryan Schor tossed two touchdown passes, senior Khalid Abdullah ran for 101 yards and two scores, and the Dukes squashed the Youngstown State run game.
7. North Dakota State 39, Sam Houston State 13 (2012)
Tied 10-10 at halftime, the Bison (14-1) took control in the second half for the second consecutive championship meeting against Sam Houston State. Brock Jensen finished with three rushing touchdowns, and the Bison defense intercepted four passes, led by Marcus Williams with a pair.
6. North Dakota State 17, Sam Houston State 6 (2011)
This was the first of NDSU’s five straight and eight overall national titles in the decade. The Bison (14-1) reversed a 6-3 halftime deficit with two second-half touchdowns: DJ McNorton on a 39-yard screen pass shortly after a fake punt and Brock Jensen on a one-yard TD run that was set up by linebacker Travis Beck’s 63-yard interception return.
5. North Dakota State 38, Eastern Washington 24 (2018)
Quarterback Easton Stick's late 46-yard touchdown was the exclamation point to his 319 total yards and five total scores, including two TD passes to wide receiver Darrius Shepherd in the first four minutes of the third quarter. Head coach Chris Klieman earned his record-tying fourth title in his final game with the Bison (15-0).
4. North Dakota State 28, James Madison 20 (2019)
Senior safety James Hendricks, who scored earlier on a fake field goal, helped the Bison (16-0) hold on with a goal-line interception in the closing seconds. Walter Payton Award-winning quarterback Trey Lance carried the ball 30 times for 166 yards, including a 44-yard TD scramble to open the fourth quarter. Under first-year head coach Matt Entz, the Bison pushed their FCS record to 37 straight wins.
3. Eastern Washington 20, Delaware 19 (2010)
In the most recent nighttime championship game, Eastern Washington overcame a 19-0 deficit on Bo Levi Mitchell's three touchdown passes in the final 17 minutes, capped by an 11-yarder to Brandon Kaufman and Mike Jarrett's ensuing extra point with 2:47 left. The Blue Hens disputed the placement of the ball after a fourth-down run gave EWU (13-2) a first down on its winning drive.
2. North Dakota State 17, James Madison 13 (2017)
This was one of the more anticipated championship games in FCS history (JMU had ended NDSU's run of five straight titles in the 2016 semifinals), and the atmosphere and intensity level matched it. Consider it 1A on the list. The Bison (14-1) limited top-seeded JMU to 241 yards and forced three turnovers in their territory. Bruce Anderson rushed for a touchdown, while Easton Stick and Darrius Shepherd connected for a 50-yard score.
1. North Dakota State 29, Illinois State 27 (2014)
The Bison were trying to become the first program to win a fourth FCS title in a row, and it was the first championship game between two teams from the same FCS conference (Missouri Valley). The battle royale featured a number of future NFL players and a drama-filled fourth quarter. Illinois State went ahead 27-23 on quarterback Tre Roberson's 58-yard touchdown run with 1:38 remaining, but NDSU (15-1) drove 78 yards on six plays to win on Carson Wentz's five-yard run with 37 seconds left. Jaw-dropping stuff.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy of Southland Conference)