Plenty of factors say yes, but there are some concerns
The North Dakota State dynasty never fails to find motivation from an offseason factor.
With each of the Bison’s record five straight FCS national titles beginning in the 2011 season, they wanted to continue repeating as the national champ. After the run ended in 2016, they wanted to make amends with another title this past season.
In 2018, head coach Chris Klieman’s program is heavily favored to stay No. 1 in the subdivision, and there’s quite the carrot dangling in front of the Bison — they could break their tie with Georgia Southern for the most all-time FCS titles by winning a seventh in eight years.
Here are some factors as to why they will or won’t get the job done:
Why the Bison Will Repeat as FCS National Champions
QB Easton Stick
The most outstanding player in the 2017 FCS title game returns with a 34-3 career record and the chance to set the subdivision record for wins by a quarterback (a 15-0 season would surpass former Bison quarterback Brock Jensen’s 48 wins). Stick (above, right) is 9-1 in the playoffs.
All of the key running backs, led by Bruce Anderson, Lance Dunn, Ty Brooks and Seth Wilson, return from a unit that helped set a school record with 4,083 rushing yards in 2017. Three returning starters on the offensive line will pave the way for the power run attack.
There won’t be much of a drop-off after the Bison led the FCS in total defense. Strong safety Robbie Grimsley leads an outstanding secondary, linebacker Jabril Cox is the next star and All-America defensive end Greg Menard is expected to be back after missing the 2017 season with a torn ACL.
The senior class is outstanding. In addition to Stick, Anderson, Dunn, Grimsley and Menard, there’s also such seniors as wide receiver Darrius Shepherd, offensive linemen Colin Conner and Tanner Volson, defensive end Caleb Butler, defensive tackle Aaron Steidl, linebacker Levi Jordheim, cornerbacks Jalen Allison and Jaylaan Wimbush, and placekicker Cam Pedersen.
With seven of its 11 regular-season games at the Fargodome, the Bison appear to be building toward earning another top-two playoff seed, which guarantees home-field advantage through the semifinals. The final shifts to Frisco, Texas, where the Bison are 6-0.
The seniors departing on the other top finishers in the final Athlon Sports FCS Power Poll appear to be more substantial than the Bison’s, including at Missouri Valley Football Conference rival South Dakota State (No. 3) and national runner-up James Madison (No. 2).
What Could Go Wrong
Having a deeply talented roster has helped the Bison overcome injuries to a number of key players during their championship seasons, but it’s a factor that nobody knows about and who it could hit at any time.
One and done
Sure, it appears North Dakota State will be the best team over the long haul, but in the playoffs, there’s no tomorrow for a team that has a subpar game, such as the Bison’s 27-17 loss to James Madison in the 2016 semifinals.
National title or bust
Nothing but a championship repeat will satisfy Bison Nation, which is a ton of pressure for even the most-equipped team. Klieman and Co. will talk about taking the 2018 season in steps, but the big picture will be front and center the entire way.
— 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.
(Photos courtesy North Dakota State Athletics)