Bye week healing time for Bison
FARGO — Just finding an 11th football game was a chore for North Dakota State, so in a year when FCS teams are allowed to play 12, there was some risk associated with that.
More games, after all, bring more possibilities for victories – the No. 1 criteria in reaching the FCS playoffs. But an 8-0 record and a season-long No. 1 ranking has helped erase those fears for NDSU.
Even if more nonconference teams were willing to play the Bison, it’s questionable if they were going to schedule 12 this season anyway. For starters, the back-to-back FCS national title run resulted in 30 games in two years.
“That has an impact,” said Bison head coach Craig Bohl, whose team does not play this week.
Then there’s the physical nature of the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
“We have to make sure to protect our football team so we chose to take this route,” Bohl said. “We’ll see how it all plays out. I can tell you I’m pleased we have a bye week this week.”
The open date is the annual heal-up week for a lot of players. About the only question mark for NDSU is the ankle sprain of receiver and return specialist Ryan Smith, who hurt it on a punt return in the 56-10 win over Indiana State on Saturday.
Smith was the object of a horse-collar tackle that resulted in a 15-yard personal foul penalty for the Sycamores. Bohl said at worst, Smith will be a game-time decision in two weeks when NDSU hosts Illinois State at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
“We may know the answer a little ahead of time,” Bohl said.
Bohl said the ankle will have to be 100 percent for Smith to return kicks. NDSU didn’t need him last week, however. Junior Christian Dudzik returned two punts for touchdowns, a feat that earned him a national special teams honor by The Sports Network.
The Bison and Illinois State are the only two Valley teams playing 11 games. Certainly, other teams will need 12 to hope to reach the playoffs. South Dakota, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois, all 4-4, need to rattle off four straight.
South Dakota State, at 5-4, needs to win its last three games. It appears Youngstown State, at 7-1 and making its first appearance in the top 10 in the FCS top 25 poll, is in good shape.
“Certainly, we’re pleased at where we’re at,” Bohl said.
Bohl said backup linebacker Nick DeLuca, who’s been sidelined with a knee injury, should be at full speed for Illinois State.