Bottom line: Bison need a win, and help from the Coyotes

Once again, NDSU could be involved in a regular season league tiebreaker situation, only this time, there’s more on the line. Recall in November when the Bison football team got the Missouri Valley Football Conference autobid after finishing tied with Illinois State, a team it did not play. The Valley tiebreaking procedures went all the way to the third and final criteria, which was the Gridiron Power Index. NDSU had the higher rating, thus got the nod — although it really didn’t mean much because both teams were virtually guaranteed spots and first round byes in the FCS playoffs.

Basketball is different, and here’s what NDSU needs this week: a win over Oral Roberts and a South Dakota State loss at South Dakota. Anything different and the Jackrabbits will be declared regular season champions and here’s the significance: the regular season champ gets an autobid to the N.I.T. should it fail to reach the NCAA tournament. If NDSU and SDSU both win this week, the Jacks would get the nod because the criteria goes to whichever team had the better record against the next-highest finisher, in this case the team that matters would be South Dakota. NDSU split with the Coyotes while the Jacks would have swept. The other two teams in the top five, Fort Wayne and ORU, would both be moot in the discussion because NDSU would have swept ORU and both split with Fort Wayne. Sixth-place Denver and IUPUI, both at 5-9, are out of the discussion.

By the way, this is unofficial. Nothing surprises me in tiebreaker criteria.

Here’s the schedule this week:

  • SDSU (12-3) is at USD (8-6) Saturday
  • NDSU (12-3) is at Oral Roberts (8-6) Thursday
  • Fort Wayne (8-6) hosts Omaha Thursday and Western Illinois Saturday
  • Oral Roberts (8-6) hosts NDSU Thursday and Denver Saturday.
  • USD (8-6) hosts Denver Thursday and SDSU Saturday

Last home games for L.A.? Hard to believe

Lawrence Alexander

Lawrence Alexander

Hard to believe that Lawrence Alexander is down to his final two games at home. One thing about a nine-team league, the home games go fast. Today at practice, junior forward Kory Brown was asked about IPFW being L.A.’s last game in Fargo. “It’s sad that it’s L.A.’s last game here at home,” he said. “Ooh, man, thinking about it kind of gives me shivers so I’ll just let that one go for now.”

Alexander has put this team on its back, the No. 1 reason the Bison are two wins from reaching 20 for the season. Nobody, absolutely nobody, expected this group to be in position to reach that seasonal victory milestone. Alexander is averaging 19.3 points per game and is third in the country in minutes per game at 38.3 a night. It will be a lonely Senior Night on Saturday with Alexander being the only one on the team. He came in with Chris Kading and Joel Lindberg, but Kading redshirted and Lindberg had his career cut short by injury.

More than that, he’s been rock solid around us media types for four years. I can see why Saul Phillips and now Dave Richman love coaching the guy. So, on Saturday afternoon, give it up for this guy. He deserves it.

West Carolina departure Part II: There are no cheap options anymore

NDSU leads the country in FCS national titles in the last few years. And the Bison probably lead in the number of buyouts it’s had to endure. First it was Montana State that pulled out of a 2013 game and now Western Carolina said goodbye to a 2016 game at the Fargodome. Before that, Montana said no to the back half of a home-and-home that started in 2003 with NDSU going to Missoula. In the case of Western, I’m hearing the Catamounts simply mailed a check for $200,000 to NDSU without much of an explanation and the cash was sitting in the Bison athletic mailbox when they got back from Frisco. Whether you break up with a text message, phone call or formal letter, I guess it doesn’t matter.

The price of success is nobody really wants to play you and that’s why I would be shocked if anybody comes to Fargo for less than $250,000, approximately what Prairie View A&M got in coming here. It negotiated hotel rooms and who knows else what because it knew NDSU was between a rock and a hard place for opponents. We’ll never know how desperate the Bison are right now because those negotiations are private, obviously

On that note, I’m further convinced NDSU’s days of scheduling a winnable FBS game are over. The Mid-American Conference has long not answered a 701 area code. I think you can add the lower division teams of the power conferences, too. It took awhile, but they finally figured it out: in this day and age of the spread offense, there are not many physical teams out there anymore and that matchup is something FBS schools want no part of. You can’t blame them. Moreover, that’s only going to drive the price up of a guarantee to another FCS school. They know NDSU’s options are probably limited.

NDSU scheduled the 2016 game at Iowa in September of 2011. It is now 3 1/2 years later and there is no hint of another FBS possibility. And you have to wonder how big the pot is for FCS opponents in 2016.

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Woodside is 1A. But is Lawrence Alexander approaching 1B? Or 1A-minus?

I have a story addressing this issue going in Thursday’s newspaper, but one of the factors that has helped the Bison men to a 13-7 record despite not having a very deep roster is an adjustment in how head coach Dave Richman is handling the practice schedule. He’s not beating them up.

Guard Lawrence Alexander is fourth in the country in minutes played at 38.3 a game, which means it takes you longer to go get a soda at Scheels Arena than it does for Alexander to sit on the bench. What Richman has done to help that situation is get more out of his team in less time in the gym — there is no sense in making guys go up and down the floor for three hours. “We’ve tweaked some things in how we practice,” he said.

Asked if he’s concerned Alexander could wear out, Richman said, “Yeah, there’s always that concern but we’ve tried to alleviate some of that concern but what he does or doesn’t do in practice. Because on game nights, we’re going to ride or die a little bit with him.”

Alexander, by the way, passed Ben Woodside for the NDSU career record in minutes played. That seems crazy to me since Woodside was one of those guys that never came out of the game. You never wanted him out of the game. Still the career leader in points, Woodside is still the best point guard in Bison history. But question is this: at this rate, if Woodside is 1A, is Alexander 1B? He did lead the team, after all, to a rare NCAA tournament win for a Summit League team. Alexander wasn’t the scorer that Woodside was his first three seasons, although he’s showing what he can do this year when he’s leading a team that needs him to score. He leads the Summit in scoring average at 18.1 a night and 3-point field goals made per game (2.9).

Dome expansion: What to do

It was interesting to say the least to listen to Fargo architect Terry Stroh go through various future expansion possibilities at the Fargodome on Wednesday, with options ranging from rather basic (adding bathrooms mainly) to the very cool (the structure pictured above) addition to the west side. Here is my story. It would include more banquet room space than the current east side addition, a rooftop patio, bathrooms, suites overlooking the field and club room space. Constructed over Albrecht Avenue, the lower level would be a climate controlled space that could be enclosed with garage doors. The white pillars seen on the street entrance would be capable of going up or down depending on if the that part of the facility is in use.

The difference, of course, is the cost. The high-end model picture here is estimated at $21.5 million and would be paid for be the dome reserve fund which is around $35 million or north of that. The trigger in all of this is the proposed convention center in Fargo and whether it will be built downtown or adjacent to the dome. My guess if it goes downtown, than the dome will probably, and should, sway toward the higher end cost of the addition in an effort to stay current. If the convention center is connected to the south end of the dome, than perhaps a less expensive west side addition would be in order. At its most basic, it would include bathrooms that could be closed off to the rest of the dome but accessible by tailgaters.

My preference would be this: If the convention center is built on to the dome, I would go with this option, which includes suites in the dome, the canopy over Albrecht Avenue with that climate controlled space that can be used by tailgating, boat shows, ag shows or whatever. Stroh said radiant heat would make it comfortable even in 20 to 30 degree days. Approximate cost: $13.9 million. Of interest: Albrecht Avenue by the dome is not claimed by the city or the dome (it’s just sort of there I guess) so there apparently would be no issues of closing it off at times.

If the convention center goes downtown, spend the money. Go with the castle version at the top of this post. It’s been proven in America over and over that if you build it, they will come. The best thing Fargo ever did was build the dome and it’s the next generation’s job to keep it one of the top venues in the Midwest.

Football fans will wonder about seating. Stroh and Fargodome general manager Rob Sobolik looked at all viable options and at best said the most that could be added would be around 1,200. That would be enough. I’m of the mindset that you don’t add seats when you’re smack dab in a dynasty; wait a few years and see what happens. Fargo will never be a major FBS school and around 20,000 capacity will suit this school just fine for many years to come.

Also, to answer a couple of reader questions: new video boards are being phased in as part of an overall video upgrade. We will get into more detail with all of this Saturday morning on Kolpack and Izzo when Sobolik joins us in studio at 10 a.m. on WDAY-AM or WDAY.com.

A good natured NDSU-ISU family time

Last week we ran a story on Illinois State graduate Terry Delaney, who is an NDSU Team Maker and season ticket holder. He wasn’t the only one with conflicts.

Last weekend, the Scholl family had similar thoughts. ISU graduate Julie Scholl (far left) is from North Dakota and her father attended NDSU. She has a host of family members who are NDSU fans, including Fargo North graduate Steve Ratti (far right). Well, they tailgated in peace together at Toyota Stadium before the FCS title game. In the end, Julie’s uncle, Frank Ratti from Fargo, won a bet on the winner gets a cap of the winning team.

 

 

 

 

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The No. 1 ‘drive?’ You tell us

Brock Jensen celebrates vs. K-State

NDSU’s drive on Saturday that started with just over a minute remaining and ended with Carson Wentz scoring from the 5-yard line that gave the Bison their fourth straight FCS title will go down in the history books. But where does it rank? Below are what I believe to be the top 10 “drives” in the Division I history of the program. Curious to see how you rank them. Or, are there any others not listed?

  • NDSU’s win over Illinois State in 2014 FCS title game
  • Georgia Southern semifinal in 2012
  • The 80-yard bomb that beat Cal Poly in 2007
  • The last drive that capped a 24-point comeback against Davis in 2006
  • The winning march against Ball State in 2006
  • The Kansas State long, methodical march last season
  • The SDSU playoff game this year, ending with pass to Urzendowski
  • The Steve Walker and Kole Heckendorf ’07 miracle against Sam Houston
  • The 2007 drive vs. Minnesota that ran out the clock
  • The 2013 game-winner vs. UNI that erased a 23-10 deficit

John Majeski  scores the game winner at UC Davis, completing a rally from 24 down

Top 10 plays of 2014: No. 1

(Note: As part of our coverage of the FCS Championship game, we are counting down the top 10 plays of the 2014 season.)
No. 1 is pretty easy, it was a game-winning play in the final minute in a big game against an inter-state rival school. NDSU trailed South Dakota State 24-20 in the second round of the FCS playoffs when the Bison got the ball at the Jackrabbit 24-yard line with just under three minutes remaining. This was Carson Wentz’s chance to show what Brock Jensen did in his time at NDSU: drive his team to a victory. A 29-yard pass to freshman R.J. Urzendowski got the Bison to the SDSU 21, but that wasn’t the biggest play for those two. A pass interference call on the Jacks gave the Bison a first-and-goal at the 5, but an illegal procedure penalty moved it back to the 12. But on second down, Wentz’s perfect toss to Urzendowski in the corner of the end zone stamped both players’ names in Bison postseason history with 54 seconds left, and NDSU took a 27-24 win.

Top 10 plays of 2014: No. 2

(Note: As part of our coverage of the FCS Championship game, we are counting down the top 10 plays of the 2014 season.)
John Crockett showed his explosiveness in the season opener at Iowa State. He showed it again on ESPN prime time in the FCS playoffs, this time with a 70-yard touchdown run that got the Bison rolling against Coastal Carolina. That wouldn’t be the first time he delivered. No. 2 comes when the Bison needed it the most: his 45-yard touchdown run midway in the fourth quarter that snapped a 32-31 Coastal lead. The Chanticleers were a different team this time around in the playoffs and had visions of the upset at the Fargodome, until Crockett erased NDSU’s first deficit of the game taking a handoff to the left side, finding daylight and outsprinting the CCU secondary down the left sideline. In these top 10 plays, it’s not so much the dazzling play but when the big play was made. Note: NCAA restrictions prohibit us from using playoff video.

Top 10 plays of 2014: No. 4

(Note: We’re counting down the top 10 plays of the NDSU football season as part of our FCS Championship coverage.)
Iowa State looked like a Big 12 Conference team playing an FCS foe when it took a 14-0 lead on NDSU in the season opener, the second touchdown on a drive that took just two plays to go 51 yards early in the second quarter. In perhaps one of the biggest booster-cable plays of the season for NDSU, John Crockett turned the tide of the game on the Bison’s first play following the kickoff. Getting a big kickout block from guard Austin Kuhnert, on a play where the Bison had both fullbacks in the game — Jedre Cyr led the initial surge of blocking after Andrew Bonnet went in motion as more of a tight end, and he helped take care of a Cyclone safety, Crockett found plenty of space up the middle and outran the Cyclone secondary for the touchdown. It was the first six points of 34 unanswered that got NDSU’s season off to a start in a big way.