Shama: Former Gophers coach recalls talent on 2011 NDSU football team

By David Shama

Special to Forum News Service

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — How impressive is the North Dakota State football program that has won seven national NCAA Football Championship Subdivision titles in eight years and is riding a 25-game win streak? Impressive enough to win the praise and admiration of former University of Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill who has coached at both the Football Bowl Subdivision and FCS levels.

Kill spent much of his head coaching career at the FCS level including seven seasons at Southern Illinois. In his last five years, from 2003-2007, the Salukis were 50-14 and made five consecutive FCS playoff appearances. Although Kill went back into coaching last week as an assistant at Virginia Tech, he was recently the athletic director at Southern Illinois where the Salukis and the other teams in the Missouri Valley Conference annually try to figure out a way to compete with the Bison who several years ago had a 33-game win streak.

In Kill’s first season as Minnesota coach in 2011, NDSU defeated the Gophers 37-24 in Minneapolis. The coach saw talent he envied and knew those players could compete in the Big Ten. “There were about five of them, six of them, when we played them I’d have taken in a heartbeat,” Kill said in a telephone interview. “Shoot, the year we played them I might have taken the whole damn team.”

The Gophers haven’t played the Bison since 2011 but did take on another Valley power in their opening game on Aug. 29 in Minneapolis. No. 4-ranked South Dakota State gave Minnesota fits before losing 28-21 in the fourth quarter.

Kill was asked how the Bison might perform playing in the Big Ten.

“Jumping from that league and jumping all the way to the Big Ten is a huge jump,” Kill said. “(But) North Dakota State is a Division I (FBS) program.”

College football authorities raise the question of whether an FCS power like NDSU has enough quality depth to survive the physical pounding of a nine-game schedule in a conference like the Big Ten. “I don’t know,” Kill said. “I am not ever going to say North Dakota State can’t do anything because they beat K-State. They beat Minnesota when I was there. Shoot, they beat just about everybody they played.”

That’s for sure. Power Five Conference teams think twice about playing NDSU after the Bison have defeated Iowa, Kansas State and Minnesota (also in 2007) on their home fields. No wonder Bison fans have circled dates on future calendars when their team plays at Oregon next year and visits Arizona in 2022.

The Bison’s phenomenal success (not even duplicated by Alabama or Clemson on the FCS level) is built on shrewd recruiting and player development. The Bison roster this season lists 36 Minnesotans including new star quarterback, Trey Lance.

“I think it started with (coach) Craig Bohl,” Kill said about the success in recruiting Minnesota. “Craig Bohl was real good at taking those in between kids that may not be quite ready to be in a Power Five (program). They did a great job of developing players.”

Bohl left for Wyoming after the 2013 season. His successor, Craig Klieman, departed for Kansas State following last January’s seventh national title. But the program rolls on under new head coach Matt Entz, with the latest triumph last Saturday’s 27-16 win over No. 4-ranked UC Davis. The week prior the Bison played on the road at No. 18 Delaware and won 47-22.

The Bison and South Dakota State have byes this week before starting Missouri Valley schedules Oct. 5. After the Minnesota loss, SDSU has won games by scores of 38-7, 38-10 and 43-7. The Bison and Jackrabbits play Oct. 26 in Brookings, S.D. Call it a Valley showdown or matchup of two teams that could play in a FBS league like the Mid-American Conference, or just know it will be a special football game.

Wolves owner praises Wiggins’ effort

For many observers the Minnesota Timberwolves player to watch in preseason and beyond this fall will be enigmatic 24-year-old forward-guard Andrew Wiggins. The franchise opens training camp Oct. 1, and in the Upper Midwest the five-year veteran’s name is synonymous with unfulfilled potential.

So flashy his nicknames have included Junior Jordan, Wiggins can prompt gasps from spectators because of his athleticism. He has a career scoring average of 19.4 and that is exceptional by NBA standards. The rest of his stat line, though, is pretty blah and his numbers in categories like assists (2.2 per game) and rebounding (4.3) hint at Wiggins not being a player who makes teammates more productive. His many critics see a high potential player who lacks the focus and intensity to be a star on both offense and defense.

Waiting on Wiggins to consistently perform at a high level seems like part of the franchise DNA. This season he gets a fresh start with new instructors, a revised coaching staff led by Ryan Saunders in his first full season as head coach. Directing from the top is Gersson Rosas, the new president of basketball operations.

How Wiggins prepared for this season may provide a clue as to things could go in the coming months. Team owner Glen Taylor said he likes the approach of Wiggins who he rewarded with a five-year contract in 2017 that reportedly approaches $150 million. He said Wiggins has invested more effort this offseason than in at least a couple of years.

“Everything has really been positive,” Taylor said. “He’s stayed around (Minneapolis and) worked. Done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s working on the things that we thought were important.

“If he has a tough year (in 2020), or a good year…he has put in the effort. That was the first big step. If he didn’t put in the effort we would really be concerned. Now we’ve gotta see, does that effort translate into results?”