FCS powerhouse NDSU poised to keep its perch

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — At least one ticket broker advertising upcoming events for the Fargo area is promoting prices at $68 for O.A.R., $71 for Jason Mraz, $90 for Toby Keith, $93 for LeAnn Rimes, $103 for Blink 182 — and $122 for the college football game between Delaware and North Dakota State.
Welcome to the Football Championship Subdivision capital.
The Bison are commanding top dollar because they have won six of the last seven FCS titles, including last season’s victory over 2016 champion James Madison. And this season sets up favorably for a team with 24 seniors, 13 returning starters and the possibility of playing 10 of 15 games at home before the title game in Frisco, Texas.
“We’ve created quite the monster here for the last seven years and our kids know it,” Bison coach Chris Klieman said. “But in the same respect, what you’ve done in the past doesn’t help you as far as what you’re going to do this year.”
North Dakota State is No. 1 in two preseason FCS polls , is favored to win the Missouri Valley Football Conference and has seven players named to the STATS FCS preseason All-America team. Two of them, senior running back Bruce Anderson and senior strong safety Robbie Grimsley, were named to the first team.
“It’s cool to have your work being looked at and you feel honored by it, but you know it’s not good enough,” Anderson said. “You have to keep grinding. We don’t take anything for granted.”
The Bison start the season with four straight home games, opening with Cal Poly on Sept. 1. It’s certain to be a hot ticket as well.
“The fan base here is second to none,” said Grimsley, a four-year starter on pace to play 59 career games. “I can’t express that enough.”
The big stick
Senior quarterback Easton Stick returns for his fourth year as starter after completing his most productive season. He completed 62 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,466 yards and 28 touchdowns. He is 34-3 as a starter and has moved into third place on school career lists for pass attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns. Klieman calls Stick an extra coach on the field.
“He just understands everything about the game of football,” Klieman said. “He’s always been one of the best leaders we’ve had here. He makes everyone around him so much better.”
Runners rampant
Anderson will have plenty of company at running back. Lance Dunn was leading Division I in touchdowns and on pace for a school record last year before he was sidelined with a hip injury. Ty Brooks missed 4½ games but finished as the team’s second-leading rusher with 700 yards, including an average of 9.2 yards per carry and seven TDs. Demaris Purifoy, Adam Cofield and Seth Wilson are also in the mix.
“We just have to find different ways to get them on the field and get them the football,” said Klieman, adding that some will play wide receiver at times.” But we’re excited about the depth we do have there now.”
DL of DL
One person not listed as a returning starter but could be the team’s top NFL prospect is defensive end Greg Menard, who missed last season after he tore his ACL in a non-contract drill during the first week of fall camp. Klieman said the two-time All-America pick has been “cut loose” for full contact.
The replacements
The Bison have several news faces on special teams, where they will replace a punter, holder and long snapper, and try to shore up one of the team’s worst showings in that department in years. Klieman calls it a “big concern for us, without question” and coaches are spending extra time in fall drills working on it.
Big boys stay away
For the second straight year, the Bison were not able to find a Bowl Subdivision team willing to play them. Administrators love those games for the payday and national exposure, and players want them because FBS teams, as Anderson said, “kind of look down upon us and then we go and smack them in the mouth.” North Dakota State is 9-3 against FBS schools, including six straight wins, since it moved up to Division I in 2004.
“I think that FBS teams know they are going to have their hands full no matter who they schedule in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, but North Dakota State has some interesting history there,” conference Commissioner Patty Viverito said. “I can understand why some of those teams might be a little gun shy.”