When it comes to college football dynasties, North Dakota State has every reason to stake its own claim to one of the greatest eras in the sport's history.
No, the Bison aren’t Alabama, USC, Oklahoma or Notre Dame, but North Dakota State is amid one of the most rare streaks in college football with four consecutive national titles. None of the aforementioned power programs can match that streak.
Only two other programs in any NCAA division can claim a streak of four championships — Michigan from 1901-04 (using retroactive models) and Division III Augustana (Ill.) from 1983-86.
A fifth straight title would be unprecedented in the NCAA record book, and North Dakota State has plenty of reason to believe history is within its grasp.
1. North Dakota State
For a change, the four-time defending FCS national champion Bison have a better offense than defense. Senior quarterback Carson Wentz, named the Most Outstanding Player of last season’s title win over Illinois State, will work behind a terrific offensive line and get the ball to wide receivers Zach Vraa and RJ Urzendowski and running back King Frazier, a transfer from Nebraska. On defense, coach Chris Klieman loses a lot, but both starting cornerbacks, Jordan Champion and CJ Smith, return, and defensive tackle Nate Tanguay is a handful up front. The Fargodome will keep rocking.
2. Illinois State
Dual-threat quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Marshaun Coprich (FCS-high 2,274 rushing yards) are basically unstoppable, but coach Brock Spack’s national runner-up squad must replace key personnel on offense. An athletic defense will soar again behind ends Teddy Corwin and David Perkins and leading tackler Pat Meehan at linebacker. In the 10-team Missouri Valley, the Redbirds and North Dakota State won’t meet during the regular season.
3. Sam Houston State
After coach K.C. Keeler guided the Bearkats to the national semifinals in his first season, he gets back 19 starters. Dual-threat quarterback Jared Johnson threw for over 3,000 yards and was one rushing yard shy of 1,000. Sophomore defensive end P.J. Hall racked up 30 tackles for a loss.
4. Jacksonville State
OVC Defensive Player of the Year Devaunte Sigler, LaMichael Fanning and Chris Landrum form an intimidating defensive line, and quarterback Eli Jenkins keeps getting better. Plus, the veteran Gamecocks and coach John Grass are motivated by last year’s early playoff exit as the No. 3 seed.
Senior quarterback John Robertson (3,924 total yards, 46 total touchdowns) seeks an encore after winning the 2014 Walter Payton Award. Linebacker Don Cherry nearly matched Robertson’s excellence on defense, finishing second in the Buck Buchanan Award voting.
6. Eastern Washington
Lost in the transfer of star quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. to Oregon is the fact that the Eagles must improve a defense that ranked 90th in scoring defense and 95th in total defense. Emerging defensive end Samson Ebukam is a part of the solution. New signal-caller Jordan West will target junior Cooper Kupp, who’s caught 37 touchdowns in two seasons.
7. Coastal Carolina
Only North Dakota State has more FCS wins than Coastal’s 24 the last two seasons. The Chanticleers will continue the momentum behind dual-threat quarterback Alex Ross and 1,500-yard running back De’Angelo Henderson. Quinn Backus, a three-time Big South Defensive Player of the Year, departs, leaving senior end Roderick Holder in charge.
Quarterback Jacob Huesman has made his dad (coach Russ Huesman) proud in winning back-to-back conference titles and SoCon Offensive Player of the Year awards. Few FCS secondaries are better than the unit boasting Cedric Nettles, Dee Virgin and Lucas Webb.
9. New Hampshire
Coach Sean McDonnell’s back-to-back national semifinalists are guarding against a step backward. Despite the loss of influential seniors, the Wildcats have veteran leaders in quarterback Sean Goldrich, linebacker Akil Anderson and defensive back Casey DeAdrade.
10. Youngstown State
Former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini steps into a ready-to-win situation at YSU, where school president Jim Tressel guided the Penguins to four national titles in the 1990s. A youthful offense features sophomore quarterback Hunter Wells and junior running back Martin Ruiz. Defensive ends Derek Rivers and Terrell Williams combined for 24 sacks.
11. Northern Iowa
If UNI survives a tough five-game opening stretch, it will be a top-10 team. Transfers Aaron Bailey (Illinois quarterback) and Savon Huggins (Rutgers running back) join a strong corps featuring quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen, running back Darrian Miller, linebacker Brett McMakin, safety Tim Kilfoy and placekicker Michael Schmadeke.
Coach Turner Gill’s Flames expect to build on their first-ever playoff appearance. The passing duo of Josh Woodrum and Darrin Peterson is superb, there are two excellent running backs in D.J. Abnar and Desmond Rice, and placekicker John Lunsford has the strongest leg in the FCS.
13. Montana State
Dual-threat quarterback Dakota Prukop was having a dominant campaign until a late-season knee injury slowed him down last year. With a veteran offensive line, the Bobcats will think run first while chasing the Big Sky title. Coach Rob Ash’s squad must make improvements on defense.
14. James Madison
Quarterback Vad Lee, after leading the FCS in total yards (4,288) last season, will challenge Villanova’s John Robertson for All-CAA honors. The young talent, including running back Khalid Abdullah, linebackers Kyre Hawkins and Rhakeem Stallings and cornerback Taylor Reynolds, has come of age.
15. Eastern Illinois
A bounce-back season for the Panthers appears likely in coach Kim Dameron’s second season. Kentucky transfer Jalen Whitlow came on strong after he got acclimated at quarterback, and the running game added some transfers alongside Shepard Little. Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill is one of the top defenders in the OVC.
16. McNeese State
There probably aren’t enough touches to go around in the Cowboys’ deep rushing attack, which includes quarterback Daniel Sams and running backs Ryan Ross and Derrick Milton. Coach Matt Viator, who has yet to have a losing record through nine seasons, seeks a rebound.
Former Colorado School of Mines coach Bob Stitt has taken over the Grizzlies’ historically powerful program. He won’t be the only new face in a retooled lineup, although there are key returnees in linebackers Kendrick Van Ackeren and Jeremiah Kose and 1,000-yard receiver Jamaal Jones.
18. Idaho State
After a breakthrough season for a program that had been a Big Sky cellar-dweller, the Bengals must replace record-setting quarterback Justin Arias (4,076 yards, 38 TDs in 2014). But Arias’ replacement will be able to rely on big-time weapons in running back Xavier Finney and wide receiver Madison Mangum.
19. South Dakota State
No team has a bigger hole to fill than the Jackrabbits after three-time 2,000-yard rusher Zach Zenner moved on. The focal point of the offense shifts to sophomore wide receiver Jake Wieneke (73 receptions for 1,404 yards and 16 TDs).
Despite the departure of quarterback Michael Strauss and a 23-member senior class, the Spiders return leading rushers Seth Fisher and Jacobi Green and 1,000-yard receivers Reggie Diggs and Brian Brown. Linebacker Omar Howard is coming off a breakout season.
21. Eastern Kentucky
Dy’Shawn Mobley rushed for nearly 1,500 yards after transferring from Kentucky. His old school will get another look at him on Oct. 3 as part of the Colonels’ challenging road schedule. Former Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence also has landed at EKU.
If Tim Murphy coaxes another unbeaten season out of his team, he might be the national Coach of the Year. The team’s strength is at the skill positions, with quarterback Scott Hosch, running backs Paul Stanton Jr. and Semar Smith and wide receiver Andrew Fischer.
23. Western Carolina
Every offensive starter is back from a Catamounts team coming off its best season in nearly a decade, none bigger than dual-threat quarterback Troy Mitchell. Trips to Tennessee and Texas A&M await.
24. Cal Poly
Quarterback Chris Brown (1,265 yards, 17 TDs on the ground) and slot back Kori Garcia (1,039 yards) fuel a triple-option that has led the FCS in rushing yards per game the last two seasons. But a veteran team has to overcome a brutal first half of the schedule.
25. Indiana State
Ten starters, led by linebacker Connor Underwood and safety Mark Sewall, return to a punishing defense. The key for the Sycamores is a steady transition for junior college transfer quarterback Zach Kline.
FCS 2015 Preseason All-America Team
QB Josh Robertson, Villanova
DE James Cowser, Southern Utah
RB Marshaun Coprich, Illinois State
DE Jonathan Woodard, Central Arkansas
RB Dy'shawn Mobley, Eastern Kentucky
DT Javon Harvgrave, South Carolina State
WR Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington
DT O.J. Mau, Gardner-Webb
WR Darrin Peterson, Liberty
LB Don Cherry, Villanova
TE Josh Cook, Idaho State
LB Luke Rhodes, William & Mary
C Robert Booker, Missouri State
LB Connor Underwood, Indiana State
G Jonathan Burgess, Liberty
CB Jermaine Hough, Jacksonville State
G JP Flynn, Montana State
CB Harlan Miller, Southeastern Louisiana
T Joe Haeg, North Dakota State
S Case DeAdrade, New Hampshire
T Donald Jackson III, Sam Houston State
S Donald Payne, Stetson
K John Lunsford, Liberty
KR Pokey Harris, Murray State
P Ben LeCompte, North Dakota State
PR Anotnio Hamilton, South Carolina State