Around 6:20 p.m. Tuesday, I was having a tough time deciding if I should watch ESPN or ESPN2.
On ESPN2, a roundtable of NFL experts were discussing if former North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz is the most impressive rookie so far this year. On ESPN, a feature story was shown on current Bison running back Chase Morlock with camera shots of downtown Fargo, NDSU’s campus and the Fargodome.
It’s a good thing DVR exists, because honestly, my mind was numb to even remember either of the segments.
Seeing NDSU on national television and websites isn’t anything new. But the amount of coverage just keeps on growing.
It was cool when NDSU’s botched PAT snap turned into a 2-point conversion during the second FCS title game and made SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays. The national spotlight seemed to peak the next sports season when NDSU beat Kansas State, hosted “College GameDay,” won its third straight FCS national title in an undefeated season and then its men’s basketball team upset No. 5 Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament.
The national spotlight hit an all new high this year after the Bison won their fifth straight national title because of Wentz. The amount of material being published about Wentz, Bismarck, North Dakota and NDSU between that game in Frisco and the NFL Draft seemed impossible to top.
Then last weekend happened.
Wentz is 2-0 with no turnovers and has the NFL’s No. 1 selling jersey. And the Bison football team, despite losing Wentz, went ahead and grabbed the program’s biggest win in history.
NDSU upset No. 13 Iowa. NDSU bullied No. 13 Iowa. NDSU took half a million dollars from No. 13 Iowa. And it was on a last-second field goal to win 23-21.
And America was loving it.
Maybe lost in all the hoopla was the Bison were simply the better football team Saturday. And they have no reason to be. That’s what’s made America fall in love with the Bison again.
There’s nothing “small-time” about the NDSU football program. But everything on paper says the Bison are “the little guys” compared to the FBS teams they are now 9-3 against.
NDSU had 22 less scholarships against a Big Ten team that prides itself on being physical. Yet it was the Bison who outplayed the Hawkeyes all game, outgaining them 363-231 yards on offense, 239-34 yards on the ground and holding the ball for 13 more minutes.
According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz gets paid $375,000 per game. NDSU head coach Chris Klieman’s yearly salary is $390,000. Yet it was Iowa that got out-coached in the fourth quarter. Klieman decided to go for two points after a touchdown to make it 21-20 with less than four minutes left.
A little soon, some thought. The two-point conversion failed. Iowa decided to run the ball twice for no gain on the ensuing possession. Then NDSU sent a safety blitz for a sack on third down and the Bison only needed to use one timeout. They then marched down the field in a calm manner and perfectly set up a kick as time expired.
Iowa’s strength and conditioning coach gets paid $515,000 a year, the highest in college football. Yet it was the Bison in the fourth quarter that overpowered Iowa for more than 100 rushing yards and held Iowa’s offense to negative rushing yards. It was the same story as Kansas State in 2013. The opposing team had players cramping and puking while Jim Kramer’s guys were getting stronger.
Iowa plays in the beautiful Kinnick Stadium that sat 70,585 fans against NDSU. Yet the consistent noise and environment was disappointing in such a close game compared to the Fargodome, which seats around 19,000.
It’s a story that keeps on giving. And the best part is there was nothing cute about it. The headlines have gone from “How the little guys in Fargo keep shocking the nation” to “NDSU would do just fine in the Big Ten West or Big 12” to “Can someone tell FBS teams to stop scheduling NDSU” to (mostly tongue in cheek) “NDSU avoids upset against Iowa with last-second field goal.”
Before this Iowa win, only one of NDSU’s five straight FBS wins since 2010 came against a team that finished the season with a winning record. After beating the defending Big Ten West champions and a team that returned several starters off of a Rose Bowl appearance on Saturday, and the way they did it, the Bison gained some respect from those who weren’t willing to give it.
NDSU had 74 votes in this week’s AP Poll, which is tied for No. 27 in all of college football.
The national love has again reached a new height. It’s tough to imagine a better week for NDSU Athletics. But if we’ve learned anything in the last seven days, there’s no such thing as a peak when it comes to the Bison.
Herder is a 2015 graduate of NDSU who covered the 2012-2014 FCS title seasons for the campus newspaper, The Spectrum. He will provide insight on the Bison’s quest for a sixth straight national championship.
Herd following The Herd won first place in the 2016 NDNA Better Newspaper Contest for sports column in its circulation category.