Monke: Get used to Carroll, and the rest of the Frontier
Get ready, folks. What you see today at Badlands Activities Center is just a preview of what could be in store for the Dickinson State football team when it officially joins the Frontier Conference next season.
Where the Blue Hawks are going, there are no Mayville State's.
Every week will be a new challenge.
Not every team in the Frontier is at Carroll College's level. But, guess what? The rest of the league is beginning to keep up with the six-time national champion Saints.
Think of the Frontier as the NAIA's version of the Southeastern Conference. When a conference produces multiple national champions in a sport -- in this case, those titles all belong to Carroll -- eventually the competition begins stepping up to that level.
This week, three of the six Frontier teams are ranked in the NAIA coaches' poll.
The Saints opened the season at No. 1, suffered a 41-33 loss to Eastern Oregon on Sept. 10 and are now ranked No. 3 and climbing. Eastern Oregon is ranked 17th.
Rocky Mountain College, which rolled DSU 38-3 in its season opener and thrashed Eastern Oregon 51-17 last Saturday, is 23rd and probably should be rated a lot higher. Montana State-Northern was ranked 22nd last week before dropping out after a 37-22 loss to Carroll.
While Frontier bottom-feeders Montana Western and Montana Tech have just one win between them this season, it's not for lack of trying. Western's lone win was a 55-16 romp over Tech, which has lost three of its games by single digits.
And don't worry. Tech and Western have had their glory days, too.
The Blue Hawks, with a 2-3 record this season and a 5-11 record against Frontier opponents the past 10 seasons, are undeniable underdogs in today's game. It could be that way for a while as they transition into the Frontier and face the challenge of further improving an already great program.
It's difficult to use season openers as an example -- especially considering DSU's track record in those games -- but the Blue Hawks have opened their past six seasons against either Rocky Mountain or MSU-Northern and came away winners only once, the 25-21 victory over Rocky Mountain in the BAC ribbon-cutting game last season. This season, the Bears won 38-3.
While there will undoubtedly be growing pains, a quick history lesson will show that the same was true for the DSU football team's transition from the North Dakota Collegiate Athletic Conference into the Dakota Athletic Conference in 2000.
In both their first and second seasons in the DAC-10, the Blue Hawks finished fourth in the league with a 6-4 overall record.
DSU then proceeded to win four consecutive conference championships and seven overall, including outright titles in 2003, 2008 and 2010.
If the Blue Hawks can beat Carroll today, it would not only be a banner win for the program in what is supposed to be a rebuilding season, it would signal they are ready to venture into that new Frontier.
If the Saints win? Well, they aren't the No. 3-ranked team in the nation for nothing folks.
Monke is the Sports Editor of The Dickinson Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at monke.areavoices.com.