Flying from Cheney to Eugene?

I know plenty come to this blog for Bison info, but I’d be remised if I didn’t post anything about the biggest story out of the FCS this week, which is Eastern Washington standout quarterback Vernon Adams taking a visit to Oregon this weekend about possibly transferring to the Ducks.

Vernon Adams may transfer from Eastern Washington to Oregon.

How is this possible? For NDSU fans, go back to 2012 when cornerback Andre Martin transferred from Northern Iowa to NDSU after he graduated from UNI and was going to grad school at NDSU since the school offered a grad program that Northern Iowa didn’t. Martin was immediately eligible and was a huge factor in the Bison winning the title that year, playing in all 15 games, starting 13, his only interception a huge 37 yard return against Sam Houston State. To tie into the Super Bowl; Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson used the same rule to transfer from North Carolina State to Wisconsin in 2011. The rule states that either the player or the inquiring school must ask permission before contact can be made between a school and player under scholarship at another school.

Back to Adams. He’s been dominant at the FCS since his arrival in Cheney as a redshirt freshman in 2012, tearing up the record books at EWU and the Big Sky, leading them to back to back FCS semifinal appearances in ’12 and ’13. He’s been the runner-up for the Walter Payton award for the last two seasons and if you need further proof? Look what he’s done against the PAC-12 the last two years:

  • 2013 vs Oregon State: 23-30, 411 yds, 4 TD, 107 rush yds, 2 rush TD
  • 2014 vs Washington: 31-46, 475 yds, 7 TD passes

Washington head coach and former Boise State coach Chris Petersen said of Adams after the game: “He looked real good. You see that all the time. He’s a heck of a player and he could probably play for anybody in the country, without question.”

Words that may come back to haunt Petersen, as many of you that read the blog know that Oregon has offered Adams a scholarship, he begins his visit in Eugene this weekend. The Ducks are in the market for a quarterback after Marcus Mariota declared he’s leaving for the NFL Draft. Eastern Washington released a statement saying “they granted the student-athlete the ability to see what opportunities may exist.” For EWU their responsibility was to make sure Adams graduated, which he will in June. For his teammates, you have to wonder how they feel about this. Just last week, I listed EWU as one of my top six contenders to win the national title in 2015, based mainly on the fact that Adams would be back. Perhaps the juiciest part of this entire story is the fact that Eastern Washington opens 2015 at Oregon.

Is this the start of college football free agency? Will other FBS programs start picking the best out of the FCS to fill a one year vacancy? My biggest question is if I’m Oregon, how do you know have a quarterback in waiting? The backup to Mariota is Jeff Lockie, who’s only thrown 41 passes the last two seasons. My feeling is if Oregon has offered you a scholarship you have to take it with probably some assurances from Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich that he’s got the inside track to the starting job. For fans of FCS football, it means we lose out on seeing one of the best and may start an interesting process for future players that have eligibility remaining.

Out of nowhere

It’s been a remarkable start for the Bison men’s basketball team, 12-6 on the season, 4-1 in the Summit League, made more remarkable by how young the team and the lack of depth on this squad, NDSU is playing just seven guys regularly. One of the main reasons why the Bison sit on top of the Summit standings is Bismarck’s Dexter Werner, who I profiled yesterday:

The Summit League standings heading into tonight:
NDSU: 4-1 (at IUPUI, at IPFW)
SDSU: 5-2 (at ORU)
ORU: 4-2 (vs SDSU)
USD: 3-2 (at WIU)
IUPUI: 3-2 (vs NDSU, vs USD)
Denver: 3-3 (at Omaha)
WIU: 2-4 (vs USD)
IPFW: 1-5 (vs NDSU)
Omaha: 1-5 (vs Denver)

Top 6 To Watch In 2015

I’m sure some aren’t ready to think about 2015 just yet, but in honesty the new season begins on February 4th on signing day. We’ve got some major offseason coverage plans coming that we’ll announce later this week, and today’s post begins that coverage. Last year I predicted six teams to watch in 2014, you can go back and look at that post here. I base these rankings off of what the teams have coming back and what their respective schedules look like. These teams listed are not in any specific order.

  • 1. NDSU - The four-time defending champions lose plenty of experience on the defensive side of the football, but return eight starters on offense, including four on the offensive line (also getting all-conference guard Zach Johnson back from missing all of this season). The Bison do not have an FBS game next year and their non-confernece schedule are all against Big Sky teams (Montana, Weber State and UND).

    Zach Vraa returns for a sixth season for NDSU.

    That’s where I see NDSU figuring out what they’re going to have on defense next season. The Valley doesn’t have Zach Zenner or David Johnson and the Bison bring back potential player of the year candidate Carson Wentz. NDSU needs to figure out who replaces John Crockett and who can step up at linebacker, but there are plenty of pieces back for the Bison to be contenders again in 2015.

  • 2. Illinois State - It was a break thru season for Brock Spack’s team and it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere in 2015. Both Tre Roberson and Marshaun Coprich are back to torture Valley defenses next season, but will need to find out who can replace Roberson’s receiving weapons as Leichen Neblett, Cameron Meredith and James O’Shaugnessy all graduate. Defensively ISU should be in good shape, as two of the Valley’s best are back in Teddy Corwin and Pat Meehan on the defensive line and linebacker. ISU opens the year at Iowa, will go to SDSU and Youngstown and of course don’t play NDSU in 2015. Everything is set up for the Redbirds to possibly be the preseason Missouri Valley favorite.
  • 3. Sam Houston State - Bison fans got a first hand glimpse at the Southland favorites in 2015 and understand why they’ll be a national contender. KC Keeler’s team brings back a majority of its squad, especially on offense, quarterback Jared Johnson will be just a sophomore next year and standout wide receiver LaDarious Brown (held in check by NDSU) will be a senior. The Bearkats offensive line is nearly intact, they play at Texas Tech for their FBS game and the Southland will start a nine-game conference schedule in 2015, but they are the clear-cut favorites in that league, with the potential to be challenging for Frisco again.
  • 4. Eastern Washington - Sorry FCS fans Vernon Adams is still around. The man who’s been runner-up for the Walter Payton the last two years will be the preseason pick for the award this season. The Eagles are as talented as they’ve been on offense with Adams and All-American wide receiver Cooper Kupp. Defense is always the issue with EWU, fans that watched Illinois State play them saw Coprich gash them on nearly every play. Beau Baldwin loves to play everyone and that’s the case again in 2015, the Eagles open the season at Oregon, then go to Cedar Falls to play Northern Iowa in the start of a home and home. They also play Montana State in a non-conference game. EWU will be the favorite to win the Big Sky, but I think the race for that title will be a lot closer than in past seasons.
  • 5. Coastal Carolina - The Chanticleers opened my eyes and a lot of other people last year in what they did in the postseason. Plenty of fans ripped on me for rating CCU where I did during the season since their schedule wasn’t nearly as difficult as anyone in the Valley or Big Sky, and if they had not lost the season finale to Liberty, they would have been a top two seed. Quarterback Alex Ross was the second best quarterback NDSU saw last year (behind Roberson) and he’s back for another season, along with outstanding running back De’Angelo Henderson. Joe Moglia has something special going on in Myrtle Beach, they’ll have a chance to pull an upset to start the year, facing Kent State and will test themselves with an upstart Western Illinois team. Their biggest league challenge will come again from Liberty, but there’s no reason to think that the Chants won’t be a top six seed for the FCS playoffs next November.
  • 6. Villanova - What could have been for the Wildcats. Walter Payton winner John Robertson missed Villanova’s quarterfinal game with Sam Houston with concussion-like symptoms and they ended up getting beat. Robertson is back for one last run and his supporting cast returns for the most part, including his standout wide receiver. The Wildcats open the year with another winnable FBS game, playing at UConn, remember Villanova lost in double OT to Syracuse to start this year. Because of the unbalanced CAA schedule, they don’t play New Hampshire again, which means their path to the title is considerably easier. Keep an eye on ‘Nova as the east coast team to make some waves.
  • BONUS TEAMS - Youngstown State is the most intriguing team in all of FCS. The addition of Bo Pelini at coach makes the Penguins a must-watch in 2015. Hunter Wells is just a sophomore at quarterback and Martin Ruiz is a junior and very talented at running back. YSU plays Pittsburgh in its FBS game, and get Illinois State, SDSU and NDSU all at HOME. The Penguins make the FCS playoffs in 2015, ending a nine year drought. James Madison was the hottest team in the nation outside of Northern Iowa over the second half of the season. Vad Lee is a must-watch at quarterback, he makes the Dukes go and will terrorize CAA defenses next season. JMU does not play an FBS next season and gets Villanova at home, they’ll be the biggest challengers to the Wildcats run at the CAA.
There you have it folks, my six to watch in 2015, bookmark this page, save it and let’s have a laugh in November!


Heading Out

NDSU’s roster turnover for 2015 began on Tuesday as three players will exit before spring football. Quarterback Derek McGinnis, tight end Justin Axelson and wide receiver DeSean Warren will all be leaving the team.

Derek McGinnis becomes the tenth player from the Class of 2012 that has left NDSU.

McGinnis came to Fargo as part of the 2012 recruiting class, he was a two-time first team quarterback out of Crete, Nebraska and at that time was going the fourth quarterback on the roster. As fall camp began, Esley Thorton moved from quarterback to linebacker as McGinnis redshirted that season, behind Brock Jensen and Carson Wentz. McGinnis rarely saw the field in his two years on the active roster, never throwing a pass during that time and when he was passed on the depth chart by redshirt freshman Cole Davis during fall camp of this past season and with Easton Stick on the way, you figured his time was short at NDSU.

DeSean Warren also was part of the 2012 class, NDSU honored its commitment to him despite an ACL tear for Warren during his senior season in Overland Park, Kansas. Warren came to Fargo in August of 2012 and promptly tore his other ACL, causing him to miss the season. His return to the field never happened in 2013 as he missed the entire season with injuries that year; and played in just one game this year against Incarnate Word, without registering a catch.

Warren and McGinnis are just two more of a disappearing 2012 recruiting class, and reports are that Dee Gray is also leaving the team, leaves the ’12 class with just eight players remaining:

  • (10 GONE) Brett Pierce, Zach Riopelle, Sam Hahn, Derek McGinnis, Chuks Amaechi, Marcus Brantley, Dee Gray, Jacob Davis, DeSean Warren and Justin Arp are all gone.
  • (8 LEFT) Landon Lechler, Jack Plankers, MJ Stumpf, Andrew Smith, Zach Johnson, Carey Woods, Bo Liekhus and Austin Farnlof.

Attrition happens to all college football teams, but this is an alarming number of players that have left, granted the ones that are still here have turned into solid players (Johnson has been All-MVFC; Plankers and Lechler were very good this year) but this puts a lot of pressure on the 2013 and ’14 classes to not only be good, but also provide depth.

The upcoming group of seniors from the Class of 2011 also has been filled with attrition. NDSU announced 20 players that had signed that day, but just eight remain with two being walk-ons:

  • (19 GONE) Andrew Okland, Josh Colville, Lyle Norman, Joe Sonnenfeld, Frank Veldman, Joe Horvath, Matt Jones, Josh Lisenby, Nick Scoliere, DeShawn Dinwiddie, Derek Lee, Brandon Chrest, Dylan Dunn, Alex Lavoy, Leighton Talmadge, Dan Wood, Berkley Grimm, Ryan Stanford and Dannell Miles.
  • (8 LEFT) Carson Wentz, CJ Smith, Luke Albers, Jordan Champion, Ben LeCompte, Joe Haeg, Andrew Bonnet and Brian Schaetz.

You can argue the ones remaining more than outweigh the ones that left considering what Haeg and Schaetz have become as walk-ons, while Smith and Bonnet have turned into all-conference players and Wentz could be preseason player of the year in the Missouri Valley.

So where do you see it? Is it something to be concerned about with players leaving or depends on who stays?

He’s coming back

“The decision” didn’t take too long. NDSU senior wide receiver Zach Vraa maintained all year he wasn’t going to decide upon using his sixth year of eligibility until after the season was done. The season had been done for about 24 hours when that tweet went out on Sunday. Vraa will use his sixth season of eligibility and play for the Bison in 2015.

How is this possible? Vraa came in as a true freshman in 2010 after winning Mr. Football in Minnesota and it was looking like he was going to get a real shot at playing until he broke his collarbone and was lost for the season.

Optimism was high in 2011 as Vraa had a tremendous fall camp and was eager to show his talents, and in the first game against Lafayette showed his great hands, making a diving reception along the sidelines. But it was on that play that Vraa broke his other collarbone after just two receptions. Vraa was lost for the rest of the regular season and as the playoffs neared, the questions mounted about a possible Vraa return. The week before NDSU was to play James Madison in the FCS playoffs, Vraa re-injured the collarbone since it wasn’t fully healed. Another lost season.

I visited with Vraa in fall camp of 2012 and you could sense he was frustrated, but eager to show his talents, that story is here. Vraa played in 13 of 15 games, he scored his first career touchdown against Prairie View and we saw the deep play ability that he and Brock Jensen could possess. He caught the game winning touchdown pass from Jensen in the quarterfinal win over Wofford and led the Bison with 606 yards despite missing two games with an AC shoulder sprain.

2013 was the season Vraa had been waiting years for, he had a monster year racking up 67 receptions (third in school history) and 15 touchdowns, a school record. His value was never higher than in the matchup with Northern Iowa, catching a 4th and 6 pass from Jensen for a touchdown to get NDSU back in the game, which they eventually won. He caught a pass in every game, his value never higher than in the playoffs, catching bombs from Jensen against Coastal Carolina and New Hampshire, he finished with 1,191 yards and showed Bison fans he was worth the wait.

2014 was supposed to be the next step for Vraa, and the season started off well with a long 48 yard reception from Carson Wentz against Iowa State in the season opener. But Vraa couldn’t find the end zone, his receptions streak ended against Southern Illinois. He bounced back with a two touchdown performance against Indiana State, there were flashes of brilliance with Wentz, and then he injured his hamstring against SDSU in the playoffs. We saw Wentz return yesterday in the FCS Championship Game, and I asked him right after the game if he had made up his mind, he said he hadn’t yet.

I had maintained all year that Vraa was going to go, what else could he do and six years in college is a long time. But as the weeks went on and Vraa was out of the lineup, I got the feeling that maybe he would come back. Now NDSU has a bonus at wide receiver for 2015, a guy who has played a ton of football, a guy who has been big in big games, something that Wentz and offensive coordinator have to love.

Top 10 plays of 2014: Number 3

(Note: As part of our coverage of the FCS Championship game, we are counting down the top 10 plays of the 2014 season.)

Number three comes from the second game of the season at Weber State. The gauntlet had been laid down before the game that if NDSU beat the Wildcats, “College Game Day” would return for a second straight season. The game started out well for the Bison, driving down the field for an early 7-0 lead. WSU played inspired tying the game shortly after, then picking off Carson Wentz two separate times stymieing Bison drives to keep the game at 7-7.
The second interception gave Weber the ball at its own seven and then the Bison defense went to work. On third down, Kyle Emanuel (who was having a monster game, finishing with three sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss) hitting Weber quarterback Billy Green, forcing a fumble. The ball sat on the turf for a bit before Carlton Littlejohn scooped it up and returned it the seven yards for a touchdown. NDSU grabbed the momentum back and went into the locker room with a 14-7 lead and didn’t look back, winning 24-7, starting 2014 with two road wins.

Top 10 Bison Plays of 2014: Number 5

(Note: We’re counting down the top 10 plays of the NDSU football season as part of our FCS Championship coverage.)

Number five is our second defensive play of the countdown, this comes from the showdown with Montana. NDSU struggled to find the endzone that day, limited to four goals and a 12-10 halftime lead. The Bison drove down the field to start the 3rd quarter and finally scored a touchdown as Carson Wentz zinged a pass to Kevin Vaadeland for a three yard touchdown to give the Bison a 19-10 lead.

Montana responded by driving down the field, inside the red zone when Christian Dudzik made the play of the game, intercepting Jordan Johnson’s pass in the end zone and giving the Bison the ball back. NDSU took the momentum back and Dudzik did what he always does, change the game. Dudzik has NEVER missed a game since coming to NDSU, he’ll play in his 61st career game on Saturday, one shy of the all-time FCS record.

Top 10 Bison football plays of 2014: Number 7

(Note: As part of our coverage of the FCS national title game, we’re counting down the top 10 Bison plays of the year).

If there was one moment or play that was an award winner for NDSU this season, it came on November 15th at Missouri State. NDSU came into the game with the Bears off their first loss in 33 games and the game with Mo State did not start out well, with Carson Wentz throwing two interceptions.

NDSU had rallied to score two late first half touchdowns and built a 21-3 lead into halftime, and scored again to go up 28-3. The Bison defense had been swarming Mo State quarterback Kierra Harris all day and finally the defensive line got to him and Kyle Emanuel came up with his “Buchanan” moment. Emanuel picked off Harris pass, then gave a stiff arm for all-time in returning the pick 27 yards in setting up another Bison touchdown.

Top 10 Bison Football plays of 2014: Number 9

(We’re bringing you the top 10 football plays of 2014 as selected by the Bison Media Blog staff as part of our coverage of the FCS Championship)

Number nine comes from homecoming this year against Southern Illinois. NDSU led SIU 24-10 in the fourth quarter, in a game that had gone back and forth, the Bison had started to pull away on a great Carson Wentz touchdown pass to Luke Albers, they extended the lead in the 4th, when Wentz hit senior Trevor Gebhart on a 75 yard bomb for a touchdown that blew the game open, leading to a 38-10 Bison win.