FCS champ facing tougher competition after graduating a lot
There are plenty of tough games on North Dakota State's schedule in 2019, but the two-time defending FCS champion never seems to look beyond its next opponent.
That means the Bison, who have won a record eight straight Missouri Valley Football Conference titles in addition to their record seven FCS titles since 2011, should be adding to the 21-game winning streak they bring into the season.
Yes, there are potential losses ahead in a 12-game schedule, but new head coach Matt Entz and his reloading squad, which returns only seven starters, are ready to go week-by-week while remaining the team to beat in the FCS.
North Dakota State Bison's 2019 Schedule
Bye: Week 5
Week 1 – Aug. 31 vs. Butler (Minneapolis)
The Bison recruit well in Minnesota, so they may as well show off their program at Target Field — aptly named for the FCS program with the biggest bull's-eye. Butler upset Youngstown State to open last season, but this game has blowout written all over it.
Week 2 – Sept. 7 vs. North Dakota (Fargo, N.D.)
Separated by just over 75 miles, the two schools get together for their 112th meeting, but only the second time since 2003 (NDSU won, 34-9, in 2015). They'll be conference rivals when UND joins the Missouri Valley Football Conference next year.
Week 3 – Sept. 14 at Delaware (Newark, Del.)
Behind four touchdowns in the first quarter, the Bison rolled to a 38-10 rout of Delaware in their first-ever meeting last season at the Fargodome. This will become the farthest east they have traveled for a game.
Week 4 – Sept. 21 vs. UC Davis (Fargo, N.D.)
These two schools have a spirited history, including four meetings in the Division II playoffs during the early 1980s (NDSU leads 6-4 all-time). The Bison defense has to figure out a way to slow down quarterback Jake Maier, the 2018 Big Sky offensive player of the year.
Week 6 – Oct. 5 at Illinois State (Normal, Ill.)
The Bison have won the last seven meetings, including in the 2014 national championship game. The Redbirds are tied for the most returning starters (16) in the MVFC and feature senior running back James Robinson.
Week 7 – Oct. 12 vs. Northern Iowa (Fargo, N.D.)
This rivalry has the intensity of a national championship game and is tied at 26 wins apiece. UNI is usually one of the few teams that can match the Bison's physicality, although they, too, suffered substantial losses after last season.
Week 8 – Oct. 19 vs. Missouri State (Fargo, N.D.)
Missouri State hasn't finished with a winning record since 2009 (however, it went 5-3 in conference play in 2013). The Bears were last in the MVFC against the run a year ago, so the Bison will attack on the ground with Ty Brooks, Adam Cofield and company.
Week 9 – Oct. 26 at South Dakota State (Brookings, S.D.)
Here's the most dangerous game on the Bison schedule: they lost at SDSU in the Dakota Marker rivalry two years ago. The Jackrabbits will want revenge after getting knocked out by the Bison in the national semifinals last December.
Week 10 – Nov. 2 at Youngstown State (Youngstown, Ohio)
Coach Bo Pelini's Penguins have played well against NDSU the last two seasons, losing in overtime in 2017 and tied going into the fourth quarter at the Fargodome last year. Quarterback Nathan Mays, who's back for a fifth season, played well in the 17-7 loss.
Week 11 – Nov. 9 vs. Western Illinois (Fargo, N.D.)
Like NDSU with Easton Stick, the Leathernecks must replace a three-and-a-half-years starter at quarterback, Sean McGuire. The Bison will be most happy they won’t see defensive tackle Khalen Saunders coming through the line of scrimmage.
Week 12 – Nov. 16 vs. South Dakota (Fargo, N.D.)
USD quarterback Austin Simmons ranked No. 1 in the MVFC and No. 7 in the FCS in passing yards per game (284) last season. The Bison will try to play ball control to keep the ball out of his hands. The Coyotes went from an eight-win playoff team in 2017 to finishing only 4-7 last year.
Week 13 – Nov. 23 at Southern Illinois (Carbondale, Ill.)
With a 65-17 thrashing of the Salukis last season, NDSU had its most points and yards (663) in an MVFC game (Bison joined the conference in 2008). Salukis running back D.J. Davis led the conference in all-purpose yards per game (141.7) last season.
North Dakota State is 24-1 at home in the playoffs this decade, so a big regular season could set it up for another deep playoff run in 2019. The Bison are No. 1 in the Athlon Preseason FCS Top 25.
— 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 North Dakota State Athletics)