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!

 

Media Blog PostGame Show vs Sam Houston State

North Dakota State is heading back to Frisco for a fourth straight year. The Bison dominated in the second half outscoring the Bearkats 28-0 en route to a 35-3 sending the Bison to the FCS Championship Game for a fourth straight year.

Kyle Emanuel had one of the best games of his career, with 2.5 sacks and 11 tackles, just four days removed from winning the Buck Buchanan Award. Nick DeLuca had another great game with 13 tackles and his third pick of the season and John Crockett chipped in with 166 yards and three touchdowns.

NDSU will now play the winner of Illinois State and New Hampshire in the FCS title game on January 10th.


REMINDER: NCAA RESTRICTIONS PROHIBIT SHOWING ANY HIGHLIGHTS ON THE VIDEO BLOG


Sam Houston: breaking down the stats

By this time of the year, statistical analysis provides a rather comprehensive look at each team throughout the season. Normally, anyway. In the case of Sam Houston State, you can probably throw away the first seven games when Sam started the season 3-4 and take a look at the current eight-game win streak, the surge that got them to Friday night’s FCS semifinal game at the dome.

Overall, the Bearkats have a couple of deficiencies in a couple of departments: points allowed at 27.7 per game and total yards given up at 421 a game. Those are the 15-game totals but perhaps a more accurate reflection is to look at the last eight (and in reality I’m throwing out the 76-0 Houston Baptist game because, well, it’s Houston Baptist). In those seven wins, the Bearkats gave up an average of 24.7 points and 430.6 yards per game. The point total is slightly less than the season average but the Kats have given up more yards per game in the victory streak.

What’s that tell us? The offense has gotten better over time, at least ball control in critical times of games, and the team is finding ways to win. Much like the Coastal Carolina game, if the Bison want to get back to Frisco, they’ll have to continue their turnover-free offensive performances and find a few stops somewhere in the second half.

Here come the ‘Kats

Sam Houston State comes to Fargo on Friday as the hottest team in the FCS, many will look at SHSU and stare at the D2 loss to Colorado State-Pueblo, but since then the team has won 10 of 11 and found itself on the offensive side of the ball. This is a completely different team than Bison fans got to know in 2011 and 2012; Brian Bell, Tim Flanders and Richard Sincere all graduated last year, Willie Fritz left Huntsville for Georgia Southern. In came K.C. Keeler, former Delaware head coach and he brought a boatload of transfers with him.

Keyshawn Hill leads Sam Houston’s running attack into Fargo on Friday night.

17 transfers in fact; and some impressive ones in that. The one that jumps off the page is LaDarius Brown, wide receiver from TCU, who was dismissed for marijuana possession, he’s SHSU’s deep threat with 43 receptions for 780 yards and seven touchdowns. The quarterback is Jared Johnson, a dynamic threat with both his arm and his legs; he’s completed just 57 percent of his passes, but has thrown for 21 touchdowns, to go along with nearly 1,000 yards rushing and add in six touchdowns. Keyshawn Hill is Flanders’ replacement, he waited three years for his time and has shown he’s impressive, he’s over 1100 yards rushing with 18 touchdowns, going for nearly six yards a carry.

Defensively is where SHSU struggles, they are allowing nearly 28 points per game, giving up 22 rushing touchdowns and 30 passing touchdowns; to compare that with NDSU, the Bison have allowed just 21 touchdowns combined all year.

It may be oversimplifying things to say NDSU’s offense needs another strong game like what happened on Saturday, but stopping the Bearkats three headed monster will be the biggest key of a win on Friday night.

JUST IN: Kyle Emanuel was just named the Buck Buchanan award winner for 2014, that goes to the best defensive player in the FCS. Emanuel racked up 16.5 sacks during the regular season, becomes the first NDSU player to win an individual award since the Bison moved up to Division 1. Emanuel will be at Chris Klieman’s weekly press conference, that can be seen LIVE on WDAY’Z Xtra at 11:30 am this morning on Channel 29 on Cable One, 596 on MidContinent and wday.com

 

Bison Video Blog: National Championship PostGame Show

Well folks it’s been some kind of ride; what a terrific team performance from NDSU today in a dismantling of Sam Houston State to win the program’s 10th national championship and 2nd straight. This group found different things to motivate them from not being the consensus number one preseason pick to the loss to Indiana State, to having to play South Dakota State again in the playoffs to again facing the same team for the national championship and rose to each challenge. Join Eric, Jeff and I as we recap the game and put a bow on a terrific year of coverage of the 2012 team, we appreciate your faithful viewership of the blog and thanks to everyone who came up and said hello to us over the past 4 days!

Bison Video Blog: National Championship PreGame Show

Game day is here folks as the throng of NDSU fans have made it to Frisco, I think I met half of them last night at the Pep Rally at the baseball stadium. It’s going to be a great game, two evenly matched teams with terrific players on each side, please enjoy our final pregame show of the season, including plenty of props with Jeff, E and I! And includes comments from NDSU Head Coach Craig Bohl.

Bison Video Blog – Frisco Day 2

Welcome back everyone to Frisco, Day 2 is halfway done, NDSU held its practice this morning, Sam Houston State goes in a couple hours, we’ll hear from the Bearkats tonight on our 10:20 sports and in tomorrow’s paper, Jeff, E and I talk about Grant Olson’s health, Andre Martin’s presence and why Kolpack wasn’t in the team photo!

Bison Video Blog: Frisco; Day 1

Well hello everyone from the Lone Star State, word of advice, bring a coat, it’s cold down here, much colder than last year. Each of the teams are here and ready to go the official media activities start tomorrow and we’ll be ready for full coverage. Just a heads up on a piece of information, NDSU AD Gene Taylor told me tonight it looks highly unlikely that Western Carolina will come to Fargo next September 21st; meaning the Bison now need to replace that game, it’s worth noting that the University of North Dakota has that as an open date for next season. You may begin.

A Look Back and A Look Ahead

NDSU preps for 2012 FCS Title Game

No Sunday Night Ramblings tonight, but had a few things I wanted to share, first NDSU lost one of it’s football founders tonight in Dr. Denis “Izzy” Isrow, I only met Izzy once but I know he was one of the most well-respected men on the NDSU campus and I’m sure Jeff will have more on Izzy later this week in the paper.

As we start the now 3 week buildup to the National Championship Game in Frisco, each team knows exactly how to prepare for what’s to come down in Texas. NDSU will give its players some time off before starting the grind, I already know the coaching staff hasn’t missed a beat already out recruiting trying to finish up the 2013 class. I have been told that NDSU will be the ROAD team for the title game, there was a coin flip held before the semifinal round, Sam Houston State won that, meaning that likely the Bison will not wear their gold jerseys as they’ve done all playoffs long and wore in last year’s title game, it appears they’ll be in their customary road whites. More on that when it becomes available.  Tonight I dug up some preseason stuff I did both for TV and the radio with each team previewing the season and seems fitting to look back tonight, so for your enjoyment or distraction, here’s my preseason interview with Craig Bohl talking about expectations and SHSU Head Coach Willie Fritz about getting back to Frisco from Dizzo’s Den.

As far as looking ahead, tomorrow or later this week could be a huge day in college basketball circles, already we’ve seen the 7 non-football schools break away from the Big East to start their own league and more are certain to follow, watch for Butler, Xavier and St. Louis just to name a few. There’s also one another huge school to look for and that’s Creighton. The Missouri Valley Presidents were holding a conference call tonight to address what will happen if the Blue Jays decide to leave, which would seriously hurt the MVC, they are a known commodity nationally. Several reports I’ve seen has 3 schools already lining up for the Valley from VCU to Illinois-Chicago to Oral Roberts. ORU may fit the best, the two sports the Valley is traditionally good in are basketball and baseball and those fit ORU to a tee. I have to believe NDSU is somewhere on the Valley’s radar screen and a 2nd title game appearance has to help, but I just dont know how high they are on it. This article explains the presidents meeting this weekend. Much more on the title game coming later this week, doing some re-charging tonight!

A Common Thread

NDSU at Eastern Washington, December 2010


On the eve of one of the biggest games in Bison football history, I thought it was interesting to note that NDSU has history with the other 3 semifinalists in a rather large way, and it happened in a short time, which makes it even more impressive.

Georgia Southern – This one speaks for itself obviously with last year’s game in Fargo and with the result sending a message to the rest of FCS that NDSU is for real and here to stay. Overlooked though was the first game the two teams played in 2006, when the Bison dominated GSU in Statesboro as well, part of another 10-1 season then.

Sam Houston State – The national championship game will stand out for everyone for a long time especially with NDSU’s defensive performance in that game, but the previous two games between the two teams were also hearstoppers, the 2007 game here in Fargo may have been the most exciting game in Dome history and the 2009 game in Hunstville could be described as one of the worst defensive performances in Bison history, it’s been a long time since anyone came close to 600 total yards against NDSU like the Bearkats did that day.

Eastern Washington – I’ve seen 6 years of Bison football and next to the 2007 SHSU game, the Eastern game was by far the most exciting game I’ve seen. Add to it it was a playoff game with a Bison team that barely snuck into the playoffs, had already won 2 games and it seemed like it was playing its best football of the season. The game had everything you could want, blocked field goals, 2 kickoff returns for touchdowns, a pick 6, a comeback, snow and a controversial ending. To go on top of it the game was played on a red football field. I have a sneaking suspicioun that if the Bison win tomorrow night that the fans would like to see Eastern Washington in Frisco.

If there’s another common theme among these four teams, it’s stability and great recruiting. These teams are built for the long haul and are set up to be making repeat trips to the final four and championship games for the next few years.