Bye-week blockbuster: Bison have won 26 straight games after an open date

FARGO — The streak has gone on so long that it started against an opponent that no longer has a football team. When North Dakota State defeated Northeastern University (Mass.) in 2006, it started a bye-week success rate that would be hard to match in any level of football.
The Bison have won 26 straight games when not playing the previous week, whether it be a regular-season open date, a first-round bye in the FCS playoffs or the postseason gap between the semifinals and championship game in Frisco, Texas.
“That’s an impressive statistic,” said Bison quarterback Easton Stick.
NDSU will try and make it an even more impressive 27 straight Saturday afternoon at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome when it hosts the University of San Diego in an FCS quarterfinal game. The Bison had last week off after getting a first-round bye by virtue of their No. 2 overall seed.
There were a few close calls over the years, like the 50-44 overtime win over Eastern Washington in 2016 or the 27-24 quarterfinal playoff win against South Dakota State in 2014. But for the most part, NDSU has rattled off convincing victories for the last 12 years since losing 20-14 to UC Davis in 2005. That was a homecoming game in mid-October and was part of a stretch in which the Bison lost three of four games.
Since then, an open date has been the precursor to success. One of the keys that both players and coaches point to: getting away from the game for a few days is good for all involved.
“One thing is getting guys healthy and getting guys mentally away from the game,” said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman, “so when they come back they’re re-charged not only physically but moreso mentally.”
That was the case for Stick over the Thanksgiving break, who went back home to Omaha, Neb.
“You clear your mind and come back with a new energy and a new excitement for the upcoming challenge,” he said.
By the numbers, the offense seems to have benefitted from an extra week of study averaging 36.3 points in those 26 games. The high was a 66-7 win over Prairie View A&M (Texas) in 2012 with the low a 17-10 win at Western Illinois in 2014 and the 17-6 FCS title game victory in 2011 over Sam Houston State (Texas).
Other than the Eastern game last year, the defense has been no slouch after an off week either giving up an average of 13.0 points per game.
“I just think the amount of time of preparation that we get,” said NDSU backup quarterback Cole Davis. “We get that much more time to prepare for whoever we’re going to be playing. When we get two to three extra practices, we’re that much sharper going into the game.”
Klieman said NDSU has not changed the format of open-week practices in his seven years at the school. It’s probably a safe bet not much changed from how former head coach Craig Bohl operated his open weeks from 2003 until he left after the 2013 season.
The Bison had two open weeks this year: the one prior to beating Robert Morris University (Pa.) 56-0 and last week.
“When you go on the grind like we did for nine weeks of playing games all the time, you’re just able to get your mind away from it and come back a little bit focused and re-energized,” Klieman said. “Just having 70 less snaps on you from Saturday really means a lot to those guys, especially the older they get.”
This year is the seventh straight season the Bison got a first-round playoff bye. It’s reached the point where the players hardly even have to ask about the schedule surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday. Klieman said that routine has also stayed the same.
“Honestly I think it’s the way our coaches have the practices set up,” said senior defensive tackle Nate Tanguay. “Once we come back it’s like, hey, we’re ready to go do something.”