When College GameDay turned its trailers north from College Station to head to North Dakota State, it wasn't doing so in order to cover this upcoming weekend's most intriguing game.
The Bison will crush Delaware State on Saturday. The hapless Hornets are 0-2, coming off a 49-7 defeat at the hands of Towson. NDSU is 2-0, coming off a 56-10 win over Ferris State. North Dakota State is favored by 40. This will be a beatdown, much like the majority of the time the Bison square off against FCS competition.
This isn't about the matchup: it's a celebration of an incredible football story that often goes unnoticed because of the letter "C."
Calling NDSU a good FCS team is disrespectful. It implies it's in a pack in college football's second tier, rather than that tier's undisputed leaders. Calling its Week 1 win over FBS Kansas State an upset is disingenuous. It implies anybody should've been favoring the depleted Wildcats by all that much to begin with.
So let's take a moment to enjoy all things Bison.
1. Yes, the No. 1 Bison have won two straight national titles and are favored for more. They claim 10 over the history of the program, although these are the first two since transferring up from Division II in 2004. There have been back-to-back FCS champions before -- Georgia Southern has done it three times, Youngstown State once won three out of four -- but only Appalachian State has ever managed to pull the three-peat. (It was funny because the Mountaineers beat Michigan, but rest assured: your team probably would have lost to Appy State too.)
2. If you had to guess which North Dakota city is NDSU's home ... yeah, it's in Fargo, how'd you guess, you cheating jerk? They play in the aptly named FARGODOME. In my head, I picture domes as lifeless, antiseptic environments for college football, perhaps because I'm imagining schools in far-too-large pro arenas like Minnesota and Tulane and Syracuse's barricaded Carrier Dome.
The Fargodome is not like this. For starters, it's not a dome. Initial plans to have a bubble fell through, and there's just a hard roof. And it's 19,000 seats, which leads to packed, roaring crowds. If you think football indoors can't be an awesome environment, think again. From the Bison's home opener this year:
Fargodome's capacity is listed as 18,700. Attendance for this game was 18,979. North Dakotans love NDSU enough to get squished.
My attempts to get the Fargodome nicknamed "The Woodchipper" have been unsuccessful thus far, although, to be fair, this is my first attempt.
3. NDSU's most notable alum -- you know, excepting various Dakotan politicians -- is possibly Alf Clausen. You may remember Clausen from such songs as "The Monorail Song," "Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart," "Chimpan-A to Chimpan-Z" and virtually every other song featured on The Simpsons, as he's the show's primary composer. (The signature theme was written by Danny Elfman, who is not from North Dakota.)
[Edit: Rodger has now learned that WWF great Bob Backlund was a star North Dakota State wrestler, but Rodger is too young to know who Bob Backlund is.]
4. The Bison's win over Kansas State was their fourth straight victory over an FBS opponent. Since the move to FCS, the Bison are 7-3 against FBS squads, boasting 2-1 records against both the Big 12 and Big Ten. Scheduling NDSU is all the difficulty of playing a regular old FBS team -- it's ranked No. 51 among all college football teams in Jeff Sagarin's computer ratings, making it better than well over half of FBS teams -- with all the shame of losing to a team with fewer scholarships than you. Why teams keep doing it, I have no clue.
5. I'm pro-Bison, but sadly, NDSU does not have a live mascot. There is Thundar, a guy in a Bison suit based off the team's "Thundering Herd" nickname. You will hear them play "Thunderstruck" a lot, which is excellent for drinking and excitement purposes.
6. About drinking, excitement and the song: NDSU fans like drinking heavily and early. A Fargo affiliate captured this video of fans tailgating for the Kansas State game. It doesn't seem notable until you realize it was shot at 10:30 a.m. for a game with a 7:30 p.m. local start time over 600 miles away from campus.
Although many NDSU fans are thrilled to host GameDay, there is a vocal group angry that the show will be broadcast from downtown, in a plaza in front of historic Fargo Theatre, rather than near the stadium, where fans could both tailgate and show up in the GameDay crowd. The school's athletic director went so far as to release a statement rallying fans to forgo some of their regular pregame activities:
It'll be more than worth it to sacrifice three hours of tailgating to head downtown, support local businesses and provide the best welcome ESPN College GameDay has ever received. You are the strength of the Herd!
These fans are serious about pregaming.
7. The Bison haven't been perfect, going 14-1 each of the last two seasons. In 2011, they lost to Youngstown State, and last year, they lost to Indiana State. And there's a clear No. 2 -- Sam Houston State was the runner-up in each of their title wins, but neither championship game was particularly close, with NDSU winning 39-13 over the Bearkats last year.
8. The key? Defense. Yes, they have effective, dual-threat senior QB Brock Jensen, and a ground game capable of moving the ball like this on a game-winning drive against Kansas State, but what keeps the Bison elite is their ability to keep teams from moving the ball. They led the FCS by allowing just 207 yards per game last year, about 46 yards fewer than the closest competition. For reference, Alabama gave up 250 yards per game last year. Only once did the Bison allow an opponent to score more than 20 points last season, and that was when they beat Northern Iowa, 33-21.
9. Considering the Bo Pelini situation at Nebraska, some Huskers fans are swooning over the idea of Craig Bohl taking over. A Lincoln native, Bohl played for the Huskers in the '70s before returning as an assistant coach, taking over linebackers under Tom Osborne, and being promoted to defensive coordinator under Frank Solich. He left (editor's note: was fired) in 2002 to take the Bison job, where he has gone 91-32. Those Huskers fans should temper their swooning with the knowledge that he just reached a contract extension through 2020.
10. Let us take a moment to clarify the difference between North Dakota and North Dakota State. It is a distinction that needs clarification, seeing as the NCAA accidentally sent the 2011 FCS championship banner to the wrong school. North Dakota State's teams are the Bison. North Dakota's teams are the ___________, as their "Fighting Sioux" nickname was dropped in 2012 after threats of postseason bans by the NCAA led to a referendum in which over two-thirds of voters elected to drop the nickname. (YOU SEE, RICK REILLY?!?!?) North Dakota can't have a new nickname until 2015. The two schools used to play annually for the Nickel Trophy. However, when NDSU moved up to the FCS in 2004, it left behind the __________. The __________ too moved up in 2008, but the teams have not played since.
NDSU's rivalry game for now is against conference foe South Dakota State, for ownership of the Dakota Marker. The Bison have beaten the Jackrabbits three years running.
11. NDSU is in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. This is not to be confused with the Missouri Valley Conference, which sponsors non-football sports and features some of the same schools. For most sports, NDSU is in the Summit League. This makes sense, somehow. Wikipedia describes the history as "convoluted."
Now you know about the Bison.