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NDSU gaining ground in an unpredictable FCS season

FARGO -- It wasn't that long ago when North Dakota State was leaving Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome feeling the low effects of the upset loss to the University of South Dakota. Moreover, the Bison sank in the FCS top 25 polls.

King Frazier of North Dakota State carries against Western Illinois during their football game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in the Fargodome.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Pierre Gee-Tucker of North Dakota State celebrates his touchdown after picking off a Western Illinois pass during their football game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in the Fargodome. (Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service)

FARGO -- It wasn't that long ago when North Dakota State was leaving Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome feeling the low effects of the upset loss to the University of South Dakota. Moreover, the Bison sank in the FCS top 25 polls.

Granted, No. 8 wasn't the end of the world and NDSU had more on its mind than polls, especially with senior starting quarterback Carson Wentz lost for the rest of the regular season with a broken wrist. But certainly, momentum was removed from the Bison football mojo.

It appears to have returned.

The 59-7 win over Western Illinois on Saturday was unexpected in its dominance. Nobody had come even close to doing something like that to the Leathernecks, who themselves had seen the top 25 polls a fair share this year.

"Our guys are playing with a lot of confidence," NDSU head coach Chris Klieman said.

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The Bison head to Youngstown State on Saturday back in the national spotlight. They moved to No. 2 in the STATS.com media and No. 3 in the FCS coaches top 25 polls after a weekend that saw an uncommon number of top 10 teams lose.

"There's great parity in the FCS," Klieman said. "It probably goes to show you what a wide open FCS it's going to be this year. It's a pretty wide open race."

In the STATS.com, No. 2 Illinois State, No. 3 Chattanooga, No. 4 Eastern Washington, No. 5 Richmond, No. 7 Sam Houston State and No. 10 Portland State all lost. All six were ranked in the top 10 in the coaches poll, too.

"It appears alarming that six of the top 10 teams lost on Saturday," said Craig Haley, FCS senior editor for STATS LLC, "but only Chattanooga losing to Mercer and Portland State losing to Northern Colorado were surprises. It just goes to show you how difficult it is to navigate the conference schedule. These conference teams know each other so well, so many are closer in talent that we often realize and there's little intimidation. And if you look at Saturday further, five of the six teams were on the road."

Jacksonville State (Ala.) is the unquestioned No. 1 team in both polls, a team that Klieman has some familiarity with because a friend of his is on the coaching staff.

"We saw them on film the year before, they have an unbelievable amount of athletes and talent down there," he said.

For many teams in the top 25, the last two weeks of the regular season will be a jockeying battle of sorts for spots in the playoff field of 24. Youngstown State will most likely have to win out and if it does 7-4 should be good enough for an at-large berth, especially with the Missouri Valley Football Conference's standing as the top league in the Gridiron Power Index. If NDSU wins out, the Bison would have a good shot at grabbing one of the top two seeds that would guarantee it home field advantage throughout the playoffs. At the worst, the Bison would be a top four seed that would keep them at home at least through the semifinals.

A loss at Youngstown and it would be a matter of when the Bison would have to hit the road--first round, second round or quarterfinals if they get that far.

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"You have to get to the playoffs and by no means are we there yet," Klieman said. "We have a lot of work to do to make the playoffs."

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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