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.

Writing a book: if dad could do it, I guess I can, too

It was over a year ago when my two older brothers started seriously pinging me about writing the sequel to dad’s book, which is a historical perspective of Bison football from the mid 1960s to the early 1990s. My standard answer was this: If they win four in a row, then I’ll do it, not thinking NDSU would win four FCS titles in a row.

Well, they did.

So a week later, after returning from Frisco, I held my word and started it. The goal was simple: try to do something every day, whether it was one sentence or a couple of hours. Just go with it. I did not research or Google “how to write a book.” I went into it with no preconceived ideas; just start writing. At the time, a college friend of mine sent me the following quote from Winston Churchill:

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”

Where am I on this journey? Probably somewhere between master and tyrant — I’m about 55,000 words into it. I can’t wait for the monster phase. My first call was to Joe Chapman and it was returned within a day. I called Gene Taylor not long after hoping he had plans to return to Fargo sometime this spring, since his daughter still goes to school here. He didn’t, so we decided to set up a phone conversation at some point. So what happens? NDSU makes the NCAA basketball regional in Seattle, the same bracket as the University of Iowa, where Taylor is deputy athletic director. Gene’s hotel was two blocks from mine. Some things are just meant to be. I still have yet to contact the architect of the dynasty, Craig Bohl, but let this serve as a public notice that I’ll be calling.

The genesis of the story is the Division I years, although it seems the Montana win in 2003 is the general starting point. I’m not sure what the finish line is, but I’ll know when I’ve reached it — hopefully it will be in the next couple months. I don’t have a firm plan in publishing it, either, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to write dad’s sequel  and keep me financially out of the picture as much as possible. I don’t want to be peddling books. Maybe strictly Kindle is the way to go; I don’t know. Somebody asked if dad’s book was still available; I believe they can be found on Amazon but not sure how many. His title was “Bison Football: Three Decades of Excellence.” I still haven’t really put much thought into what I’m going to call this monster, although the thought right now is “Horns Up,” and then some sort of dynasty subhed. I’m taking suggestions so please don’t hesitate to comment.

Over a decade ago, I had a nice conversation with Christina Baker Kline, the best-selling author who married my high school classmate. We talked about books and writing and all that and I essentially left thinking I could do a project within a year or two. Well, Christina, it took a lot longer but here it goes.

Even the quarterbacks subject to getting pancaked this spring

The defense will have to lay off Carson Wentz, but everybody else is fair game this spring.

The defense will have to lay off Carson Wentz, but everybody else is fair game this spring.

It was last year in spring football when there seemingly were more starters held out than starters on the field. It was a result of two things: a lot of “maintenance” type surgeries that several players underwent — like bad shoulders — and a group of players that played the equivalent of four seasons worth of games in three years. They almost were approaching NFL-length seasons. So the coaching staff made the decision that even veterans who were somewhat healthy were going to be held out of contact drills.

Here was the inactive list for the 2014 annual Spring Game: C.J. Smith, Adam Keller, Colten Heagle, King Frazier, Jedre Cyr, Carlton Littlejohn, Travis Beck, Alex Hahn, Zack Johnson, Nate Moody, DeSean Warren and Luke Albers. A few other veterans hardly played at all in that game. The inactive list for the 2013 game was worse: Trevor Gebhart, Ryan Smith, Zach Colvin, Cooper Wahlo Jr., Derek McGinnis, Colten Heagle, John Crockett, Joey Blackmore, Darius Anderson, Francisco Hardacker, Tyler Gefroh, Ryan Drevlow, Josh Colville, Jason Pomerenke, DeSean Warren, Kevin Vaadeland, Taylor Nelson, Brett Pierce, Cole Jirik and Austin Farnlof.

I don’t get the sense that is the case this year and evidence of that is the number of players who are not going live in Saturday’s first intrasquad scrimmage. One. And that would be quarterback Carson Wentz, who probably given the choice would prefer to go live but head coach Chris Klieman is not about to mess with his franchise player. “We will not have him live all spring,” he said, with an obvious-statement tone to his voice. Interesting, however, that backup quarterbacks Cole Davis and Easton Stick are going full boat, something that hasn’t happened in recent years. These scrimmages always meant the quarterbacks wore the red jersey (or in the case of the Spring Game a white jersey), meaning two-hand touch on them.

That backup quarterback battle will most likely go into fall camp. If pressed now, Klieman would probably go with Davis because of the number of reps he’s had in the last two years. “But Easton’s athleticism is so intriguing,” Klieman said, “that we want to see him in a scrimmage situation. We’ll have those two quarterbacks in particular live in the spring, which we haven’t done in the past.”

Western Carolina is out

NDSU is back in the business of looking for a football game. That’s after the news we broke yesterday that Western Carolina had bought out of its 2016 date in Fargo, instead scheduling a game against East Carolina for September 3rd, 2016. NDSU was scheduled to host WCU on September 1st.

NDSU and Western first agreed on a game back in August of 2011 to play it during the 2013 season. Problems arose in late 2012 when WCU scheduled three FBS opponents for the following season. The official announcement came in February of 2013 that Western had moved the game to 2016. Things seemed to be set for that date, until this came out yesterday:

NDSU Athletic Director Matt Larsen confirmed that WCU had bought out of the game with the Bison about a month ago, using the 200,000 buyout to get out of the game. That price tag had been upped by 50,000 dollars after NDSU moved the game in 2013.

Now NDSU has an opening for 2016, and already with a home date set for September 10th against Eastern Washington and September 17th at Iowa, you have to figure that this would be a home game. Home and homes seem to be the new scheduling policy for NDSU, inking deals with Weber State and EWU in recent years, but already with a road trip guaranteed in 2017 to EWU, it likely wouldn’t happen that year. The only other game that’s set beyond that is the 2019 home game with UND.

It’s also possible that NDSU goes with just a straight up game, but those have proved to be pricey in recent years. A look at what the Bison have paid to get games:

  • 2012 – Prairie View A&M – $250 K
  • 2013 – Ferris State – $180 K
  • 2013 – Delaware State – $200 K
  • 2014 – Incarnate Word – $190 K
NDSU fans will remember the 2013 dates came in the wake of two scheduling woes; first the Delaware State game was scheduled after WCU moved out and Ferris State had to come in after the Montana State fiasco. Now NDSU has 200K to throw at someone from the Western buyout, I’m curious though where NDSU goes with this. And just so we can get it out of the way, North Dakota is playing at Stony Brook that weekend.

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. 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.

Top 10 Bison plays of 2014: No. 6

(Note: As part of our coverage of the FCS national title game, we’re counting down the top 10 Bison plays of the year).
No. 6 provided one of the more entertaining post-game press conferences of the year when Bison running back John Crockett was not shy about joking about his arm strength. “Johnny Rocket the rocket ball,” he said. It was in reference to his 16-yard halfback pass to Carson Wentz that tied it up at Western Illinois 10-10 early in the fourth quarter in a hard-fought 17-10 NDSU win. The Bison struggled for a good chunk of the day before finally breaking through. Wentz handed the ball off to Crockett on an apparent sweep right, but Crockett pulled up and rifled a pass to a wide open Wentz for the score.

Top 10 Bison football plays of 2014: Number 8

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

No. 8 was not so much of a stunning, game-changing play but more of a statement. NDSU was leading 7-0 over Youngstown State at the Fargodome late in the first quarter, a touchdown on a pass from Carson Wentz to Zach Vraa thanks to a Christian Dudzik forced fumble and a Carlton Littlejohn recovery. Another Dudzik play, an interception and return to the Penguins’ 20-yard line put the Bison in prime position. On the second play, Wentz set the tone for the rest of the day, a 17-yard touchdown run where instead of running out of bounds near the goal line he literally ran over a Penguin defensive back and into the end zone. YSU was hit in the mouth and never recovered in a 38-14 Bison win. “We saw some things on tape where we could utilize Carson in the running game more,” head coach Chris Klieman said in his post-game press conference. “He wasn’t going to be denied a victory for these seniors today.”

Top 10 NDSU football plays of 2014: No. 10

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

No. 10 wasn’t so much of a game-changing play as it was a sign that Carson Wentz showed he had the athletic ability to assume control of the Bison offense. Early in the third quarter against Iowa State, with the Bison offense in control after the Cyclones grabbed a 14-0 lead, Wentz took off for a 20-yard run that included leaping an ISU defender. It was an impressive sight considering Wentz is 6-foot-6 and a play that showed he had some speed, too. Wentz finished averaging 4.8 yards per carry and completed 18 of 28 passes for 204 yards in the 34-14 NDSU win. After four years of Brock Jensen, it was clear the Bison had somebody to be the successor.

FCS Pick ‘Em – Quarterfinal round

Simply put, last week was a disaster for me in the Pick ‘Em. Similar to the Mets collaspse in 2007 and 2008, my four-game lead is gone and we’re tied up heading into the final three weeks. The Nickel is up for grabs!

                                                                           DOM   (144-51)     JEFF (144-51)

  • (8) Chattanooga at (1) New Hampshire      UNH                 UNH
  • Sam Houston at (6) Villanova                      Nova                Nova
  • (5) Illinois St at (4) Eastern Washington     Ill St.                 EWU

  • Army at Navy                                                  Navy                Navy

  • Concord at MSU Mankato                       Mankato               Mankto
  • West Georgia at CSU Pueblo                 CSU-P                   CSU-P