FARGO - It's 10 straight weeks, now. It's 10 consecutive football games for North Dakota State where there will be no more thinking about going home on the weekend to help on the farm or driving the country roads looking for a place to hunt.
It's all business now. And it starts at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, when the Bison host the University of North Alabama at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. NDSU will go into it virtually healthy as it can be, perhaps minus a nagging hamstring injury to backup running back Seth Wilson.
"It's going to be many Saturdays coming up, it's not just going to be whether we play well or not this Saturday," said head coach Chris Klieman. "There are a lot more things on the horizon. We're in for 10 weeks in a row where you're going to get beat up. You're going to get nicked up. You're going to have guys missing games. You're going to have guys missing practice over the next 10 weeks. How do you respond to that adversity? Who steps up?"
The Bison spent a good chunk of their off week trying to find out which backups, if any, are ready for prime time. The depth chart for the Lions game remained relatively unchanged with the exception of wide receivers Christian Watson and Desmond Cain, both of whom moved into the No. 2 spots. Watson is returning from a foot injury and Cain served an in-house one-game suspension.
After that, it's been a battle of the No. 3s and beyond. And who is capable of challenging for playing time?
"We're still trying to find the next guys, whatever position, behind the guys that you all know about," Klieman said. "And that's where we're not ready to step on the table and say, this is the guy who is going to come in if so-and-so goes down. And we're going to continue this week to work on that extra phase to find out which guys come late October or November we're going to have to have."
Klieman said he still plans on dressing at least 12 true freshmen on Saturday, which is about the same number who went through warmups in the season opener against Cal Poly. From there, it's a "we'll see how things go" mentality, he said.
"We'll see what the game dictates," he said.
True freshman wide receiver Phoenix Sproles will continue to play. It's tougher for a first-year player to crack the depth chart on defense, however, with about the only available slots for those guys being on special teams.
"There's not enough defensive snaps because of all the veterans we have on all three levels of the defense," Klieman said, referring to the defensive line, linebackers and secondary.
In North Alabama, the Bison will see a program in its first year of a four-year Division I reclassification. So far, so good for the Lions, who knocked off defending Big Sky Conference champion Southern Utah 34-30 in the opener in Cedar City, Utah.
They came back with a 25-20 win at Alabama A&M. After NDSU, the only remaining FCS games on UNA's schedule are Campbell University (N.C.) of the Big South Conference, Jackson State (Miss.) of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and The Incarnate Word (Texas) of the Southland.
As for the Bison, they have Delaware next week and the eight-game Missouri Valley Football Conference gauntlet.
"It gets really hard. The mental grind as well as the physical grind, because from weights to practices to meetings to class, it just becomes wear and tear," Klieman said. "The older guys are probably used to it. We're going to find out an awful lot over the next four to six weeks about some of the younger guys that are in the mix. Can they last and can they hang on mentally as well as physically? We hope we have enough depth where nobody is playing 80 plays, but there is a grind on your mind of being able to bounce back every week."