100 Days To Go

The official countdown for 2015 is underway. Today marks 100 days until NDSU-Montana begin the new season in Missoula on ESPN in what will be the first college football game of the year.

The storylines around this game are probably too many to mention, it’s why I named it as the top game to watch in 2015. This will mark NDSU’s first game back to Washington-Grizzly Stadium since the “Miracle In Missoula” in 2003. I’m not sure if we’re going to have the same theatrics in late August, but the emotion in this one will be off the charts.

QUARTERBACK – This may be the only matchup this year with quarterbacks 6’6 or taller. Carson Wentz starts his second season against one of the few guys taller than him, Cole Gustafson (6’7). Gustafson has the tough task of replacing one of the Griz’s best at the position in Jordan Johnson. Gustafson can move better than you would think for a man his size (not like Wentz, but not bad). Wentz will have his work cut out for him as the Bison offense will have to go against 23,000 fans screaming in what Montana calls the loudest stadium in FCS. (I’m sure Bison fans have immediately taken offense to that) Curious to see how the signal caller handles that in that kind of environment.

DEFENSE –  Each team has to replace some great players on defense. We’ve listed who NDSU has to replace, I think we’ll find out how good NDSU linebackers are in this game, especially Pierre Gee-Tucker and MJ Stumpf in their first shot in primetime (More on this in Monday’s position preview). Montana has three all-conference players to replace from Zach Wagenmann at defensive end to Matt Hermanson at safety. Some signs point this to be a high-scoring game.

OFFENSE – Leading to this point. Each team has some tremendous offensive players, Ellis Henderson returns for the Griz at wide receiver, he missed most of last season with an illness, but he did play against NDSU, racking up four catches for 52 yards, including a 38 yarder that set up a Montana field goal right before the break (VIDEO BELOW).

NDSU’s offensive weapons are known, I’m curious to see how Lance Dunn performs in his collegiate game against a Griz defense that’s still getting its feet wet. Bob Stitt is known for his unique offensive schemes, which makes him going up against Klieman and Entz a tremendous matchup.

Everything about this game jumps off the page to me. Can’t wait to see it happen. There’s only 100 days to go.

Top 10 FCS Games for 2015 – Part 2

NOTE: This is part of the Bison Media Blog’s offseason coverage plans for 2015, which will continue until the start of fall camp in August.

Today we conclude our look at the top 10 games for 2015. Plenty of talk was generated with numbers 10-6 yesterday and I have a feeling plenty more will come from 5-1. Again in descending order:

NDSU and Northern Iowa meet for the 8th time as conference rivals on October 9th.

NDSU and Northern Iowa meet for the 8th time as conference rivals on October 9th.

5. Northern Iowa at NDSU (10/9/15) The biggest rivalry in the Missouri Valley was ramped up to another level last November when UNI ended NDSU’s FCS record 33 game win streak. It also ended NDSU’s remarkable 22 game road winning streak. But it was the way the game was decided, as the Panthers thoroughly dominated the game in a 23-3 decision. That’s make round eight so enticing with these two teams, to go on top of it being the home conference opener for NDSU, it’s also homecoming. UNI has a gauntlet of an early season schedule and the Panthers need to figure out what their quarterback situation is, but the intensity of this game won’t lessen up. Add in another Iowa native into this discussion as redshirt freshman running back Lance Dunn will be in the mix for the Bison at running back, he’s from Waterloo and had a UNI offer and that adds a nice subplot to this game. Should be later in the season in my opinion.

4. Eastern Washington at UNI (9/12/15) The second UNI entry and this is a terrific matchup, another reminder to the rest of the FCS that top conferences can play another! Each of these teams will be coming off playing FBS games, the Eagles at Oregon and UNI against Iowa State. This is the start of three straight years EWU plays a top MVFC school, as they’ll play NDSU as well in 2016-17. As mentioned with UNI, Eastern has to figure out its quarterback situation after Vernon Adams left for Oregon, but the talent back on offense is impressive led by All-American wide receiver Cooper Kupp. This game has the potential to be a shootout (as does every game involving a Big Sky team). The first of many Big Sky-MVFC non-conference games, which the Valley dominated last year. Chance for the Big Sky to prove itself and possibly help the league out come November. We saw last year how big the non-conference record for the Valley was in helping it get five teams into the postseason.

3. Eastern Washington at Oregon (9/5/15) Some readers may scream out and say, “Wait a minute this isn’t FCS vs FCS!” But there’s no way to ignore this game, if nothing had happened this offseason, it already would have been a terrific game to start the year, but then Vernon Adams decided to transfer. Adams of course transferred to Oregon, making this game now a “must-see”. It’s not a foregone conclusion that Adams will be the starter that day in Eugene, but he didn’t transfer to ride the bench, he’s going to be given every chance to win the job. Beau Baldwin has said all the right things publicly about Adams leaving, but you have to imagine there’s some inspiration there for the Eagles to beat ol’ VA. As for the remainder of the Eagles team, this game has been circled for a long time, and it’s the first one out of the chute, so you’re guaranteed to have a game filled with emotion. To quote Bart Scott: “Can’t Wait!”.

2. North Dakota at NDSU (9/19/15) It’s back. I have never experienced anything in sports which has such divisive feelings on each side. I’ve heard from plenty of Bison fans that say “We don’t need the game and never should play it!” to UND fans who are upset that NDSU isn’t coming to Grand Forks. Lucky for us we still have another four months to hear that. Regardless of where you stand on if the game should be played, it is back and when two teams have played since 1894, it’s meaningful. It’s made even more meaningful that the two teams haven’t played in twelve years. Add in the fact the two schools haven’t played as Division 1 teams, and for the numerous North Dakota natives on each roster that grew up hearing about the Nickel, now they get to play in it. Two former Bison players Cole Jirik and Kyle Emanuel both told me, “We wish we got to play in this game, it’s going to be fantastic for the guys in it.” The atmosphere for it on social media is already at an all-time high, one can’t imagine what it will be like during game week. You could argue that the game shouldn’t be on here since it may not be all that close. I argue that for the magnitude in the FCS, besides Montana-Montana State is there a better rivalry in this division? It’s a must-see for 2015.

1. NDSU at Montana (8/29/15) The first college football game of 2015 is also the top game for me to watch this year. ESPN hand-picked NDSU for the second straight year (they wanted the Bison in 2014, but NDSU didn’t want to move a game before Iowa State) and now they get them. Montana enters 2015 with lots of questions, including a new head coach in Bob Stitt, who comes from D2 and the Colorado School of Mines and his flashy offense. The Griz are thinking about going with 6’7 quarterback Brady Gustafson, giving us the potential of the tallest matchup at QB in recent memory with NDSU countering with the 6’6 Carson Wentz. The Bison have not played in tough many hostile road environments (FCS only, excluding the FBS games) during this unreal five year stretch, Northern Iowa is the only place that comes to my mind. That will not be the case in Missoula, where there will be 23,000 fans on what should be a beautiful late August Saturday on national TV. The Griz have some re-tooling to do on defense as well as Big Sky defensive player of the year Zach Wagenman has graduated and this will be a great test for a young Bison defense that’s going to be split out and spread out all over the field by Stitt’s offense. It all has the makings of a terrific game and the one I’m most excited for as the new season closes in.

Alright there you have it. I’m sure there are some you think I missed. Feel free to comment away, that’s why we have these lists.

Top 10 FCS Games for 2015 – Part 1

NOTE: This is part of the Bison Media Blog’s offseason coverage plans for 2015, which will continue until the start of fall camp in August.

Today we start a two day preview where we look at the potentially ten best FCS games for the upcoming season. Some will argue there’s too much of a Missouri Valley slant to this, but it’s hard to look past what has been the best league in the country the last few years. So here we go; in descending order:

10. Sam Houston State at McNeese State (11/21/15) – This game is slated for the final Saturday of the regular season and very well could determine the Southland championship. SHSU showed in year one with KC Keeler that they aren’t going anywhere, with Jared Johnson back at quarterback for another season, I expect a big jump this year. McNeese underachieved last year to a 6-5 record, but in my mind they’re the biggest challenger to the Kats this year. Also, remember that the Southland begins a 9 game conference schedule this season, making this a must-see at the end of the season.

9. Jacksonville State at Chattanooga (9/5/15) A rarity in the FCS, top conference winners squaring in a regular season game. See CAA it can be done! JSU was the third overall seed in the FCS playoffs last year, but fell flat at home, beaten by what we now know a terrific Sam Houston team. Eli Jenkins is back at quarterback for the Gamecocks, and will face off with another terrific quarterback in Jacob Huesman. The Mocs made it to the Elite Eight last year, leading UNH on the road in the 2nd half before the Wildcats rallied for the win. Chattanooga will be the favorite again in the SoCo, much like JSU in the Ohio Valley, making this a great game to watch.

8. Villanova at James Madison (11/21/15) This is another game on the final day of the FCS season and you can bank on it being on NBC Sports Network and probably will have a ton on the line. In my mind these are the top two teams in the CAA and each have something to prove this year. Each have terrific quarterbacks, the Walter Payton award winner John Robertson is back for ‘Nova, and after having to sit out the FCS semifinal loss to Sam Houston, you have to think he’s ready for perhaps a bigger 2015. Vad Lee is the best quarterback that fans in the midwest may not know, he powers the JMU offense that won seven straight before losing in the first round to Liberty. Everything points to this being a fabulous game.

Coastal Carolina and Liberty will be one of the can't miss games in 2015.

Coastal Carolina and Liberty will be one of the can’t miss games in 2015.

7. Coastal Carolina at Liberty (11/21/15) Sensing a theme? Another on the final day of the season (I get a sense the Nickel could be decided this day) and payback will be on the Chants minds. Liberty blocked a game winning field goal to seal victory last season and ironically helped lock up the two seed in turns out for NDSU and send CCU to Fargo again. The Flames just kicked off two starters from its team today, but everything points to Liberty being good again. As for the Chanticleers, Alex Ross returns to lead an experienced and talented team that has the second most wins in FCS over the last two years (24). This is a massive rivalry game in the Big South and likely will determine the autobid to the playoffs.

6. Illinois State at Youngstown State (10/10/15) Our first entrant from the Missouri Valley, this game should be charged with emotion. Bo Pelini being in the league alone with give everything some extra juice, but trying to see how the Penguins shut down Tre Roberson will be fascinating. YSU has a pretty good one-two punch at quarterback and running back with Hunter Wells and Martin Ruiz and YSU has been aching for a huge home win. They don’t get much bigger than this and later in the year when NDSU comes to the Ice Castle. A lot still depends on what happens with Marshaun Coprich, but this will be a good one.

Alright so there’s 10-6. Tomorrow we’ll unveil 5-1, any guesses on what will be on the list?

Bison Video Blog: Softball update, special teams position previews

Join WDAY sports director Dom Izzo and The Forum’s Jeff Kolpack for the latest Bison Video Blog. Jeff and Dom will update you with a few notes about Bison softball, breaking news on Missouri Valley all-star facing a drug-related suspension and finally preview NDSU’s special teams unit.

The Road Ahead

Now with spring football and the NFL Draft in our rearview windows, the football offseason truly is here, but as people that follow this blog know there never really is any down time and the Bison Media Blog won’t be slowing down either. We’ve got some ambitious plans that we’ll be bringing out this summer and some dates to look forward to.

Lucas Albers leads a group of athletic tight ends into 2015.

Lucas Albers leads a group of athletic tight ends into 2015.

Position Group Preview (May 11th – June 29th): Starting Monday, Jeff and I will be breaking down and looking at each position group each week; from special teams to quarterbacks.

Preview Top 10 Games in FCS in 2015 (Mid-May): Pretty self explanatory here, but a look at the can’t miss games this upcoming season.

15 To Watch in ’15 (VIDEO; July 13th-July 31st): The second year of the highly popular series that Jeff and I did last year; where we daily discuss the most important players on the roster for the upcoming season.

Preview Missouri Valley Football Conference teams (VIDEO; August 10th-21st):  An inside look at each of the teams in the top conference in the FCS, and how they’ll shake out this year.

There are some other treats along the way, but those are the biggies that we’re going to be tackling (sorry for the pun) this summer. I understand not everyone is huge on football and we won’t be ignoring the other sports, you can trust me on that.

Jeff and I will be heavy into the Fargo Marathon this week, but our regular coverage will return later this week for the Summit League softball tournament.

Dome sweet dome?

After Kyle Emanuel went in the fifth round to the Chargers, the other Bison in the mix got into the free agent frenzy. I thought John Crockett going to the Green Bay Packers was a good fit, in that the Packers seem to use those tougher, West Coast offense-style runners with the penchant for getting a 10-yard burst. Crockett has shown the ability to catch the ball, which fits with the Aaron Rodgers scheme, and is decent at pass protection.

The interesting no-signing was kicker Adam Keller getting invited to mini-camps with the Vikings and Saints. They are both dome teams and NDSU sports information director Ryan Perreault tweeted out a stat that would make the Izzo Nerd Stat collection jealous: Keller was 42 or 51 on field goals booted indoors with a long of 50. Maybe Keller can find the right fit, also.

Emanuel drafted by the Chargers

Kyle Emanuel will get a chance to chase quarterbacks in the NFL.

The FCS All-American and Buck Buchanan award winner was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday by the San Diego Chargers.

Emanuel was the 153rd overall pick in the draft.

It’s the second straight year a Bison player has been drafted, joining Billy Turner who was taken in the third round last year.

It marks the first time since 2008-09 that the Bison had players drafted in back to back years (Joe Mays and Nick Schommer).

Emanuel finished with 19.5 sacks in 2014 and 32 tackles for loss.

The Draftees

The NFL Draft begins tonight in Chicago, it’s highly unlikely any FCS players are selected tonight, the first likely off the board according to most mock drafts I’ve seen is Samford safety Jaquiski Tartt. 18 players from FCS schools were selected last year, I think we’ll see more this season. Here’s a list of players that NDSU has faced in recent years that will likely get picked over the next three days:

Garrett Grayson – Quarterback, Colorado State

Remember Grayson? He was the starting quarterback for the Rams when NDSU when to Fort Collins in 2012, and had a terrific start throwing a 69 yard touchdown pass to Crockett Gillmore, giving CSU a 7-0 lead a 1:30 into the game. That turned out to be on the only touchdown they would score in the game, as Grayson finished 13-24 for 171 yards with an interception (Marcus Williams) as well. He’s been rocketing up draft boards lately, likely a third or fourth round pick.

Tyler Lockett – Wide Receiver, Kansas State

Bison fans will remember Lockett’s speed, he hauled in a 56 yard touchdown pass from Jake Waters early in the third quarter that gave KSU its first lead of the game at 14-7. Lockett finished the game with seven receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown, he was the best player on the field that night for the Wildcats. He has a terrific burst, something teams covet, Lockett we’re hearing is a third round projection.

E.J. Bibbs – Tight End, Iowa State

Bison fans will always needle me for how much I talked/written about Bibbs heading Dinto the game, asking Chris Klieman the week of the game, “How do you stop Bibbs? Klieman: “We don’t have a matchup for him.” Well clearly they found a matchup, holding Bibbs to just one catch for eight yards. Bibbs finished the year with 45 receptions for 382 yards and eight touchdowns. Most projections have Bibbs as day three pick.

Malcom Agnew- Running Back, Southern Illinois

Agnew isn’t the first player on SIU that you think of as being drafted, but has had some solid workouts to raise his value. Agnew was one of the few rushers to go over 100 yards against NDSU in the past couple of years, he ran for 117 yards in the game in Fargo this past season. He was hampered by an ankle injury that cost him the final three games of the season, part of a huge running back class in the Valley.

David Johnson – Running Back, Northern Iowa

He likely will be the first player taken out of the Missouri Valley, Johnson should have never played at UNI, his talent always screamed Big 10 or Big 12. He was dynamic all season long, then had a terrific week at the Senior Bowl. Johnson ran for 138 yards and added another 36 yards receiving this year against NDSU, to go on top of his sensational 80 yard touchdown run against the Bison in 2013. He was nearly unstoppable in that game before he injured his ankle. I think Johnson is a Day 2 selection, he’ll go in the third round.

Zach Zenner – Running Back, South Dakota State

You take away his career games against NDSU and he’s the all-time leading rusher in FCS history. I know you can’t do that, but his body of work speaks for itself. First player to ever run for 2,000 yards in three seasons, he too had a solid week at the East-West Shrine Game. Zenner’s running ability I think translates well to the NFL, I think Zenner gets picked somewhere in the 6th or 7th round.

MyCole Pruitt – Tight End, Southern Illinois

Just look at his touchdown reception against NDSU this past fall and you’ll see why he’s coveted by NFL teams. Pruitt has good size at 6’2, 251 pounds and his receiving ability is unquestioned, the conference record holder in receptions and touchdowns by a tight end. Pruitt had a solid East-West Shrine Game, Bleacher Report has Pruitt going in the 4th round to Baltimore.

Zach Wagenmann – Defensive End, Montana

Wagenmann was the rarity in the Big Sky, a standout defensive player. He had a tremendous career in Missoula, a three-time All-Big Sky player, he was held in check against NDSU back in September with just three tackles, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup. I watched him though against Wyoming and he was tremendous in that game, consistently in the Cowboys backfield. A broken foot will hurt his draft stock, but still expect him to be drafted.

Xavier Williams – Defensive Tackle, Northern Iowa

Williams is the player that Kolpack believes UNI will have a harder time replacing than Johnson. His game against NDSU screams that. Williams was a man on the defensive line, racking up 7 tackles, a tackle for loss and a sack. He had eight sacks total from D-tackle, which is tremendous. Another guy that will be drafted in day three.

On to the fall

I want to first congratulate my friend and colleague Jeff Kolpack on his writing venture, I have read his dad’s book, a copy resides in my office at WDAY, was mandatory reading when I started in Fargo in 2006. I look forward to reading his version, including the part where I made him and Big E TV stars with the video blog in 2011. Anyway on to today’s post.

Chris Klieman says an updated depth chart will come out later this week, I wanted to focus on five players that helped themselves this spring and five that need to do some more work to get into the regular rotation.


1) MJ Stumpf – The junior linebacker by all accounts had a terrific spring. The coaching staff raved about his ability to pick up the playbook and adjust to a full-time role. Stumpf adjusted well to the will linebacker spot, as I wrote at the end of March it was a big month and the Harvey native responded. The big key now is taking this momentum into the fall, but Matt Entz can feel good that two pieces of his linebacker core are ready to go.

2) Lance Dunn – The redshirt freshman running back stood out during the spring game rushing for 76 yards and two touchdowns, but it was the bulk of the spring that impressed me. Dunn showed a tremendous burst and shiftiness that the other two running backs likely don’t possess. Kolpack said on my radio show last night he believes by the third game of the season he could see Dunn getting the majority of carries in a game. One thing’s for certain, Dunn has inserted himself into the conversation at tailback.

3) Jalen Allison – The redshirt freshman corner was pretty close to playing as a true freshman last year.

Jalen Allison has earned more playing time this fall.

Jalen Allison has earned more playing time this fall.

He stepped up in the final week of the spring after CJ Smith injured his knee to get a lot of first team reps, he finished with four tackles on Saturday. Allison’s speed is tremendous, he may take the mantle of “fastest guy on the team” which we have bandied about over the past three years. Allison said he’s picked up the defense and now the game has slowed down. He’ll be on the field August 29th in Missoula.

4) Aaron Steidl – Perhaps the next to step up in the line of great walk-ons is the redshirt freshman from Alexandria. Steidl got rave reviews on the scout team last year on the defensive line and we saw glimpses of it this spring. Saturday he stood out with three tackles, including a big tackle for loss in the first half. His size is good (6’2, 265 pounds); defensive tackle coach Nick Goeser told me on my radio show last night he has all the tools to become another Brian Schaetz. If Steidl can get to that level, NDSU will have hit another home run.

5) Dan Marlette – Marlette was a tackling machine all spring long and showed it on Saturday, leading the team with six, two for loss and a sack. His athleticism was on display all month long, he told the assembled media after the spring game he wasn’t pleased with how he or the defense played, but make no mistake Marlette impressed this spring. He’s listed as the backup at will linebacker to Stumpf, but he’s definitely in the rotation for playing right now, we’ll see how big August is for him and earning more playing time.


1) Levi Jordheim – Jordheim had flashes where he impressed at the SAM linebacker spot and you could see the potential to be a big playmaker. He still has some learning to do at that spot, and that’s why I see the fall as being a huge month for him. Don’t count him out from seeing the field this fall.

2) Khayvon Hawkins – Another redshirt freshman, every time I saw Hawkins on the field he made a catch on the sidelines and went over the middle. He scored a touchdown in the spring game, where he took a tough hit right in front of the goal line. I don’t believe he has that much work to do before he’ll be on the field, and after the departure of Carey Woods, he’ll have to produce in the fall.

3) Tanner Volson – The offensive lineman from tiny Balfour, North Dakota had a great spring, according to offensive line coach Conor Riley.

Tanner Volson had a big spring, with a chance to get on the field this fall.

Tanner Volson had a big spring, with a chance to get on the field this fall.

Volson has good size too, at 6’4, 291 pounds and he was starting at left guard for the last couple weeks of the spring with Zack Johnson out with a knee injury. Volson has shown the ability to be a solid lineman and if you saw the spring game, that offensive line was pushing the D-line around. If Johnson’s knee continues to be an issue, watch for Volson to be in the mix in the fall.

4) Stanley Jones – Another North Dakota kid, his spring was hampered by a broken bone in his foot that prohibited him from participating in a majority of the practices. He did return for the final week and for the time I got to see him, he’s certainly bigger and has the build to be a good defensive end. Jones will need to stay healthy during the fall, but he’s already listed as the backup to Brad Ambrosius. With the departure of Alex Hahn at defensive end, the door is open for Jones to grab a spot in the fall.

5) Tyler Wrice – Wrice enters his third year in the program and in my opinion the time is now for him to step up and be a factor in the offense. We’ve seen Wrice get attempts on the jet sweep to mixed success (the fumble against Youngstown was costly last year) but haven’t seen his ability as a pass catcher yet, just two receptions for 20 yards. In an offense that appears to have a bunch of weapons, there’s still a spot for Wrice to be a factor in the old “Ryan Smith” role.