UND football faces biggest game in Division I era
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- The University of North Dakota football team will play its first game with the Fighting Hawks nickname in the biggest matchup of the program's Division I era.
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - The University of North Dakota football team will play its first game with the Fighting Hawks nickname in the biggest matchup of the program’s Division I era.
UND (6-4 overall) faces Cal Poly (4-6) at 7:05 p.m. at Alex G. Spanos Stadium with postseason hopes hanging in the balance.
“This would be a huge step,” UND second-year coach Bubba Schweigert said. “It would help in recruiting and exposure for our program. People would see some of the good things taking place on the field.”
UND hasn’t advanced to the FCS playoffs in its Division I era and a win against the Mustangs would put the Fightings Hawks in the conversation. The FCS playoffs features 24 teams, including 10 automatic bids for conference champions and 14 at-large bids.
The selection committee will announce the field Sunday at 11 a.m. The first round of the postseason is played at home sites, which are determined through a bidding process. The committee typically attempts to pair teams regionally.
“We know inside the walls (at Memorial Stadium), there are good things going on, but to have a signature season to get in the FCS playoffs would be huge at this time,” Schweigert said. “It’s so important that we go out and perform well.”
Schweigert’s rebuilding project has played out quicker than many expected.
UND was 3-8 in Chris Mussman’s final season in 2013 and bounced back with a 5-7 record in Schweigert’s first year.
“We really didn’t have a timeline,” Schweigert said. “We were going to do it as quick as we can and put the best team out there. We felt we could get the program going quickly, and we’ll keep approaching it that way.”
Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh was complimentary of UND’s rebuilding project during Wednesday’s Big Sky Conference coaches’ conference call.
“They’ve made a big jump,” Walsh said.
Walsh said UND took off after a 34-9 loss at North Dakota State in Week 3.
“That game against North Dakota State was probably a good wake-up call,” Walsh said. “They’ve played extremely well since. I think they’re a very different team than five, six weeks ago.”
Walsh noted UND’s youth. UND quarterback Keaton Studsrud is a sophomore, while running back John Santiago is a true freshman and safety Cole Reyes is a sophomore.
“That’s not an old football team,” Walsh said. “This game has significance for them for 2016, 2017 and 2018. (Schweigert) has done a great job to get them to take steps. They haven’t been baby steps, either. They’ve been big steps.”
UND can’t win the Big Sky’s automatic bid to the postseason with a league championship, but four teams (Southern Utah, Portland State, Montana and Northern Arizona) remain in the hunt.
If Southern Utah beats Northern Arizona in the season finale, the Thunderbirds will win the conference outright. If Portland State defeats Eastern Washington, the Vikings could win the title with a Montana win over Montana State and a Northern Arizona win over Southern Utah. The Vikings can also win with a victory of its own and a Montana State win over Montana.
If Northern Arizona, Montana and Eastern Washington win, the Grizzlies would receive the automatic bid. If Montana State, Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington win, the Lumberjacks would win the bid.
Southern Utah is guaranteed at least a share of the conference title, regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s games.