Bison always a target
As long as the wind is blowing from the north, air traffic into Hector International Airport takes a southerly approach into the runway, giving opposing college football teams a good view of the Fargodome. About the only thing missing on the roof of the big brick building these days are a series of giant red and white circles within one another.
In other words, a target on North Dakota State.
The Bison have been taking the brunt of opposing team’s best efforts since that 2011 day in early January in Frisco, Texas. Everybody wants to beat the defending FCS national champion. And this year, NDSU has gotten a double dose of it as back-to-back title holders.
The point is this: Teams get up to play NDSU. It’s an obvious statement.
But here’s the problem: There are also other games to be played in a season, and the last two years haven’t been kind to Missouri Valley Football Conference opponents after they play the Bison.
Two classic cases of playoff-caliber teams come to mind. Two years ago, Youngstown State came to Gate City Bank Field 4-0 with wins at FBS Pittsburgh and league foe Northern Iowa. A 48-7 loss in Fargo sent the Penguins on their way to four straight defeats.
This year, UNI came to Fargo with the same pedigree — a 4-0 record, including a win at FBS Iowa State. A 24-23 loss was the first of five straight defeats, with star running back David Johnson getting hurt against NDSU.
It was a similar fate last year for the Panthers, who went 1-2 after a loss to NDSU in late September, and they never did recover in the league.
Last year, Indiana State left Fargo with an upset victory and a playoff spot firmly in hand. But the Sycamores left their “A” game at Hector on the way out of town, went 2-2 to finish the season and did not make the field.
There are probably 500 theories out there as to why teams struggle after facing NDSU, but the one that makes the most sense centers around the most important position on the field: quarterback.
It’s been awhile since a signal caller other than NDSU’s Brock Jensen got hot.
Three opposing starters left the NDSU game with injuries starting with Missouri State’s Kierra Harris. One week later, Southern Illinois’ Kory Faulkner saw an outstanding season end with a hand injury against the Bison. Last month, Youngstown’s Kurt Hess, who came into the NDSU game hurt, lasted three series.
Quarterbacks this year have completed 153 of 313 passes for 49 percent against NDSU. There were more interceptions — 11 — than touchdown passes — nine. Those figures did not include the number of quarterback hurries and hits that had quarterbacks walking slowly back to the sideline in the second half.
Furman is next up for the Bison defense Saturday in the second round of the FCS playoffs. The Paladins had a quarterback injury carousel of their own early in the year, but sophomore Reese Hannon has emerged as a steady hand.
History in the last two years tell us he’ll need to turn that into a hot hand on Saturday for Furman to advance to the quarterfinals.
Jeff Kolpack is a sports writer at the Fargo Forum