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North Dakota vs. North Dakota State Football Prediction and Preview

North Dakota vs. North Dakota State (NDSU) Football Prediction and Preview

North Dakota Fighting Hawks vs. North Dakota State Bison (NDSU) Prediction and Preview

Throughout the 2010s, the North Dakota State Bison left no doubt to anybody across college football, closing their glorious decade with nine straight Missouri Valley Football Conference titles and eight of the final nine FCS national titles.

But in this unprecedented spring season, it's not even certain they're the best team in their state.

North Dakota has taken the MVFC by storm in its transition to the conference, jumping out to a 4-0 first-place start and taking a No. 2 ranking in the Athlon FCS Power Poll into a showdown on Saturday against a No. 4 NDSU squad (4-1, 3-1) that's shown vulnerability for a change.

However, the Bison are on a 31-game home winning streak, which is tied for fourth-longest in FCS history, so it's not as though the Fighting Hawks will find a welcome mat downstate.

North Dakota at North Dakota State

Kickoff: Saturday, March 20 at 3:30 p.m. ET

TV: NBC North Dakota, Midco Sports Network, ESPN+

Spread: North Dakota State -3.5

When North Dakota Has the Ball

North Dakota State opponents usually don't dictate ball control, but it's been a strength for the Fighting Hawks and a way to (further) keep the three-time defending FCS champ out of rhythm. UND ranks fifth in the FCS in time of possession, holding an advantage in every game for an average of 35 minutes and 58 seconds.

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Redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Schuster has directed wins over ranked teams in four of his five career starts. He's protected by a veteran offensive line, and his passing (68.5 percent, 849 yards, 7 touchdowns) is set up by the running of Otis Weah (441 yards, 6 TDs) and Luke Skokna (294 yards, 3 TDs), and vice versa.

NDSU's defense has been solid outside a blowout loss at Southern Illinois, allowing just 2.7 yards per carry (half of UND's rushing average) and getting big production out of defensive end Spencer Waege and linebackers Jackson Hankey and James Kaczor.

When North Dakota State Has the Ball

The Bison are averaging only 319.8 yards and 21.3 points in spring games and appear to be undergoing a change at quarterback, or at least a share of the position, after true freshman Cam Miller received extensive action against Illinois State last Saturday in relief of Zeb Noland. The offense is accustomed to having a running threat with its signal-caller, and that's something Miller offers more than Noland, whose spring turnovers (five) outnumber his total TDs (four).

The vaunted offensive line has settled in after early struggles, which is welcome news to the running back rotation of Kobe Johnson, Jalen Bussey, and Dominic Gonnella. Wide receiver Christian Watson also is coming off his best spring game (four receptions for 93 yards).

North Dakota State doesn't have it easy in game-planning against North Dakota's defense, whose QB pressure comes at a bad time for the Bison. The Fighting Hawks unit is full of veterans as well as balance, with 14 defenders between 10 and 23 tackles. Linebackers Jaxson Turner and Noah Larson and safety Jordan Canady are all over 25 career starts.

Final Analysis

Make no mistake, the roof at the Fargodome hasn't fallen in — no, all is not lost with the FCS dynasty, at least outside social media hyperbole.

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If any program should receive the benefit of the doubt that it will fix problems, it's North Dakota State. Granted, the Bison have to fix all of them this week because North Dakota has been as impressive as any FCS team this season.

Make no mistake, this is the most heated matchup of the spring campaign to date.

Prediction: North Dakota 21, North Dakota State 20

— 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.