Technically, North Dakota has won 10 of its last 15 games against North Dakota State.
No, really! In the ’90s, the Fighting Hawks took over. Between 1993 and 2003, they defeated the Bisons 10 times and led the series 62-45-3. After a 28-21 defeat in 2003, NDSU withdrew from Division II and officially became North Dakota State, the FCS’ superpower, and the two programs have only played each other twice since.
It’s strange to realize that the only power in the FCS didn’t appear until 2004 and the first title didn’t come until 2011, but that’s how global the Bisons’ power has been in the past decade: He erased history. Saturday, history can come back to haunt them: If they put UND in the Fargodome, they will do so as a losing team.
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In its first year in the Missouri Valley, North Dakota controls its own destiny.
No. 2 North Dakota State, No. 4 North Dakota State (3:30 p.m., ESPN+).
The Hawks are already 4-0 against teams currently ranked fifth (Southern Illinois) and sixth (South Dakota State). In a packed and noisy MVFC, they rose to the top with a combination of defense and chances. They are allowing just 17.3 points per game, fifth among teams with at least three games, and enjoying a surge of luck in the turnover department. They caught all five opponents and intercepted five passes.
They only had three more yards than SIU and SDSU, but a plus-7 turnover differential allowed them to score 34 points. The turnovers have not been as numerous since the wins over South Dakota and Western Illinois, but the offense has gained momentum. Otis Weah ran 16 times for 163 yards and two scores against a USD team that was in that spot until last week; it worked against a struggling WIU, as Weah and Luke Scocna ran for 196 yards and quarterback Tommy Schuster ran for 328 yards and three scores.
The Hawks are having an excellent season, even though the competition has increased dramatically. The 2001 national division champion and alma mater of Phil Jackson, Eddie Belfour and Chuck Klosterman followed NDSU to the FCS level in 2012, a year after the Bison won their first title. There was only one winning season in the first six years, but there were signs of growth. In 2015 they beat Wyoming and in 2016 they won 8-0 for the first time in the playoffs. They went over .500 twice in a row during the 2018/19 season and are back in the playoffs in 2019, but have yet to bounce back from their first win. Nevertheless, despite switching from the FCS to the SEC version, they are playing themselves into the playoffs this year.
UNDOF formed an action team with each unit, which intensified its work as needed. In a typical 11-game season, Weah has 1,200 yards on the ground, Schuster 2,300 yards on the ground and 19 touchdowns, 6-foot receiver Garett Maag nearly 1,000 yards on the ground, linebacker Jaxson Turner nearly 10 sacks and Jordan Canady 5-6 interceptions. But teams generally have to be more than resourceful and on time to beat North Dakota State.
If NDSU has a solid fifth gear, now is the time to show it.
It’s like we’re living in two parallel universes now. In one, NDSU is about to celebrate its second first-round selection in six years. On the other hand, NDSU has some serious offensive weaknesses.
Trey Lance only played in one fall game and chose the spring to prepare, according to fourth-year senior Todd McShay. This meant an earlier than expected succession plan, and the results were not impressive. While the Bison running game was decent – Kobe Johnson, Jaylen Bussey, Dominic Gonnella and Cam Miller rushed for 658 yards (5.6 per carry) and five scores – Lance’s replacement, Zeb Noland, completed just 54 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and four interceptions. Iowa State Transfer Rate: 109,8.
Worse, these bad stats are not the result of a bad start, and things are not getting better. Noland defeated Illinois State 21-13 for 72 yards and two scores last weekend. Miller, a freshman, landed and went 5-for-7 for 61 yards (plus 57 rushing yards) and a late TD strike. Coach Matt Enz told local media Monday that he’s not sure who will start Saturday against UND.
Although the defense had some problematic moments in the loss against SIU, the Bison have allowed just 20 points in their other three spring games. They caught Illinois State quarterback Bryce Jefferson after 9:26, and the Redbirds needed a little luck to get as close as they did.
What a moment for your first TD, Cam Miller. pic.twitter.com/BDcPUyao4g
– NDSU Football (@NDSUfootball) March 13, 2021
As the playoffs approach and the importance of these games increases, we’ve seen enough of NDSU as an underdog against North Dakota State that it’s not entirely surprising that the Bison would make it to the title game. But that will be very difficult without a solid QB. Does Enz trust the reins to Miller, despite his youth? Does he keep Noland on and try to crack something like a 14-10 win? The decision could determine if NDSU’s 31-game winning streak is still alive Sunday.
Predictable outcome: NDSU 20.0, UND 16.5 (NDSU -3.5, Plus/Minus 36.5).
Coach Prime (and VMI) See: Ranking!
19 VMI v. Samford (1 p.m., ESPN+).
There were some changes in the Stats Performance rankings this week after teams on fourth (Northern Iowa), sixth (Villanova) and seventh (Nicholls) lost, and second-place Weber State nearly did the same. James Madison remained at #1 after the change and UND replaced WSU at #2, but the two most notable teams appeared further down.
First, VMI, which hasn’t had a winning season since 1981 — 40 years!!! — for the first time since then, 3-0. The Keydets went just 6-38 in head coach Scott Wachenheim’s first four seasons and are 5-7 in 2019. But they beat Mercer 41-14 last week to finish 19th this week. They are one of two unbeaten teams in the Southern Conference, along with Chattanooga (2-0).
To keep the momentum going, they will have to stop a Samford team that has a history of stopping games. The Bulldogs suffered two defeats by seven points (including one in OT), and defeated #20 Wofford 37-31 last Saturday. Quarterback Liam Welch passed for 359 yards – including 178 on seven carries for Ty King – and contributed to a 30-7 run that led to a double-digit deficit.
Predictable outcome: Samford 33, VMI 30 (Samford -3, Over/Under 63)
No. 24 Jackson State vs. Alabama (4 p.m., ESPN2).
Five places below is the team that made the most noise this spring: Jackson State Tigers Deion Sanders. On Sunday, they defeated Mississippi Valley State 43-7 to take a 3-0 lead and stay in good position in the SWAC race. For a storied program that hasn’t won 3-0 since 2011 and hasn’t won a title since 2007, this is of great importance.
Of course, this is no joke – MVSU has been bad for years, and another victim, Edward Waters, is an NAIA school. Tennis’ victory over Grambling State was somewhat overshadowed by last week’s loss against Prairie View A&M.
Jackson State hasn’t gone 3-0 since 2011, but Deion Sanders hopes to lead the Tigers to new heights. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
Yet they have the look of the room. Quarterback Jalon Jones combines passing for big plays (nearly 14 yards per completion) with solid contributions to an efficient game. Defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman’s unit attacks the ball and gets contributions from a variety of players – nine players have at least 1.5 tackles for a loss or two deflected passes. Sanders made headlines by bringing a lot of talent to Jackson State, both in the form of FBS transfers on the field and coaches like Thurman, the former NFL defensive coordinator, on the sidelines. While they don’t have many of his transfers, the Tigers look very different this spring than the team that went 4-8 (and was just three points ahead of MVSU) in 2019.
The litmus test will take place on Saturday. JSU travels to Montgomery to take on an Alabama State team that has only played one game, a 24-21 defeat against the preseason South Division favorite. The Hornets took over in the fourth quarter and split the yardage with the Jaguars. Their defensive line has two vertical blocks – 363-pound Christian Clark and 311-pound Maryland transfer Brandon Gaddy – that could help contain JSU’s run.
Predictable outcome: SPU 26.0, ASU 19.5 (SPU-6.5, Over/Under 45.5)
More games to watch
Saturday afternoon: Chattanooga #11, Furman #13 (noon, ESPN+). Another undefeated Saucon, Chattanooga, faces a tough test. The Mocs are the underdogs against a Furman team that has only lost to VMI.
Saturday afternoon: South Dakota State, Southern Illinois (Nos. 6, 5) (1 p.m., ESPN+). MVFC currently has four of the top six teams in the country, which is insane even for MVFC. The team that loses this game 3-1 will be looking for one of the many playoff spots.
Saturday afternoon: Dixie State, 9 Kennesaw State (1 p.m., ESPN+). A moment of gratitude for Dixie State, UBU FCS – an independent Utah that had to feed its opponents in the odd season. After a tie with Tarleton and nearly beating NMSU FSU, the Trailblazers travel to Georgia to take on a dynamic CSU team.
Saturday afternoon: 16 SE Louisiana v. 22 Incarnate Word (3 p.m., ESPN+). UIW is still facing McNeese and Lamar, but the difficulty is going up now: Three of their next four opponents are currently ranked.
Saturday night: Missouri State, 10 North Iowa (5 p.m., ESPN+). UNI remains in the top 10, but the Panthers can’t afford another loss after SIU knocked them out last week, falling to 2-2.
Saturday night: No. 7 Houston State v Lamar (7 p.m., ESPN+). Lamar just beat McNeese State in Lake Charles, but it probably won’t end here. However, they will face the wildest offense in the FCS. SVSU scored 71 points against Nicholls, a top-10 team, last week. Eric Schmid has 794 passing yards and eight touchdowns in two games, while Jaques Ezzard has 236 yards on just six catches. The Basque is in an explosive state.
Sunday afternoon: Southeast Missouri State, Jacksonville, 8 (3 p.m., ESPN+). JSU continues to improve, with the Gamecocks already at 3-0 and 6-1 in the spring, while SEMO is perhaps the best 1-3 team in the country with two three-point losses and, last week, a double-overtime loss against Austin Peay.
Sunday afternoon: State of Tennessee: No. 25 Murray State (3 p.m., ESPN+). It was a moment of recognition for TSU kicker Antonio Zita, who made a 62-yard field goal to give the Tigers a late lead against Eastern Illinois and then made the 35-yard field goal for the win minutes later.
Zita sets the @OVCSports record for longest field goal with 62 yards to give TSU the lead against Eastern Illinois! #BigBlueRising pic.twitter.com/L8krwwO1GHC
– Tennessee Football (@TennStateFB) March 14, 2021
He celebrated like he had won the Super Bowl. So do you.
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