UND readies for spring practice with move to Big Sky on mindsGRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota finally has cleared its five-year transition to Division I football. However, the Sioux football program now faces another obstacle — a long-term hurdle known as the Big Sky Conference.
By: Wayne Nelson, Forum Communications Co.
GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota finally has cleared its five-year transition to Division I football.
However, the Sioux football program now faces another obstacle — a long-term hurdle known as the Big Sky Conference.
UND opens spring football drills Monday at Memorial Stadium, the first step the program will take in its preparation for Big Sky Conference play.
“I’m anxious to see the challenges week in and week out the Big Sky presents and how much difference there will be from team to team,” UND coach Chris Mussman said. “As you play out West, what are the different philosophies you’ll see?
“No. 1, how do we prepare for that physically and mentally?
“No. 2, what toll will it take on our athletes each week? Are we going to have to change things as the season progresses? There are a lot of unknowns for us as far as the staff goes.
“Some of that is exciting but some of that brings anxiety as well.”
A big change for the program will be consistency. Throughout the transition, UND played up and down, taking on FBS opponents one week followed by an NAIA opponent the following week.
And the Great West Conference was a small league, one that further complicated scheduling.
UND lost 13 seniors from last season’s 8-3 team, one that earned a share of the Great West Conference title on the last day of the season.
The biggest question during the spring season will be focused on the starting quarterback.
The Sioux brought in North Carolina transfer Braden Hanson at the semester break. Despite playing a few games last season in the ACC, Hanson starts spring ball at No. 4 on the depth chart, behind Joey Bradley, Marcus Hendrickson and Chris Comes.
Bradley, a junior, started last season before being replaced by senior Brent Goska. Goska finished up the season at No. 1, but now the competition begins again. All four quarterbacks will get a chance in the 15 spring practices.
“It will be like it was last year,” Mussman said. “Joey will be the starter going into spring ball. But we’ll break up the reps and a couple of days into camp we’ll flip it so everyone gets their fair share of reps with the No. 1 group.
“We’ll keep the reps even so each guy will get the same amount of reps with the No. 1s so we can accurately evaluate all four guys.”
There will be two other concerns addressed during the spring season.
The first will be to develop depth on defense.
The second focuses on the big play, one that eluded UND last season.
“If we get one or two more big plays a game last season, we would be looking at an extremely productive offense instead of one that’s middle of the road,” Mussman said. “We need to improve our offensive explosiveness.”
Last season, UND had only two plays go for more than 40 yards. The offense averaged 310 yards per game.
UND is scheduled to practice Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday this week, with the first scrimmage set for April 7.
The annual Green and White game is set for April 21 at the Alerus Center.
“We had 60 guys with personal records in the weight room during the winter,” Mussman said. “Our guys are looking forward to getting back on the field.”
Nelson is the sports editor of the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.