Tough road aheadFARGO — Iowa State is not Austin Peay. Central Connecticut State is not Sam Houston State.
By: Kevin Schnepf, The Forum
FARGO — Iowa State is not Austin Peay. Central Connecticut State is not Sam Houston State.
And this year’s North Dakota State football team is not as experienced as last year’s team which opened its season with convincing 41-6 and 50-14 home wins over Austin Peay and Central Connecticut.
Those games weren’t a gauge of things to come as the Bison — once the top-ranked team of the Football Championship Subdivision — lost four of their next five games and finished with a disappointing 6-5 season.
With only eight starters returning, this year’s Bison open the season on the road against Iowa State of the Football Bowl Subdivision and FCS power Sam Houston.
“I think a lot of things are going to get revealed,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl said of his team’s first two games. “Maybe some things weren’t revealed initially last year.”
Despite last year’s letdown and the off-the-field problems in which two players were kicked off the team and four more were suspended, the Bison are eager for another season — even if it does start against a Big 12 Conference opponent.
“We’re hungry, we’re ready to go,” said senior offensive lineman and preseason All-American Keith Buckman during the team’s annual media day Thursday. “We have something to prove. We’re ready to get out there and turn some heads.”
Bison players describe themselves as the underdogs this year. They were picked to finish fourth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
There are reasons for that — especially when Bohl points out that he has lost virtually all of the players who touched the football on offense last year, with the exception of returning quarterback Nick Mertens. And even Mertens isn’t guaranteed the starting spot right now, according to Bohl.
“The defense is probably ahead of the offense right now,” Bohl said.
While the line is the strength of the offense, the quarterback and wide receiver positions are concerns right now.
Defensively, Bohl likes his line and young linebackers, but coaches are looking for some cornerbacks and safeties.
“This year, we may not have near as many returning starters, but what a great opportunity for some players to establish themselves,” Bohl said. “We certainly are not void athleticism. I think we are void experience right now.”
Inexperience that will open its season in about four weeks in front of 55,000 Iowa State fans.
“Iowa State … that’s a big difference,” said senior Shamen Washington, who is suspended for that game because of a driving under the influence arrest. “We really have to come out there with our ‘A’ game if we are even going to have a chance.
“But I feel we are stepping it up more than we did last year. Last year, we were already 10-1 coming in and we thought we could go out there and do the same exact thing. We saw it required much harder work.”
QB answer not coming soon
The quarterback competition at North Dakota State will likely go deep into training camp.
Bison head coach Craig Bohl said, ideally, the team will choose a starting quarterback the week leading up to the team’s season opener at Iowa State on Sept. 3.
“As you go into that last week, by that time you want things pretty settled,” Bohl said. “You don’t want a whole lot of adjustments. Ideally, you want to go into that week and say here’s our starting lineup.”
Still, Bohl isn’t exactly sure when the team’s starter will emerge.
“We’re going to try to do everything we can. I’d be surprised if we don’t have that situation nailed down by then,” Bohl said. “And I don’t have a crystal ball, but that would be my hopes.”
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