NDSU's run of Valley football titles has been historic
FARGO — It was on Sept. 7, 1985, when Missouri State and Southern Illinois played the inaugural conference game in what was then known as the Gateway Football Conference. The league has seen several changes over the years, including a new name and a change in subdivision label from Division I-AA to FCS.
Nobody saw it coming in the first three decades, but the 35th year of the Missouri Valley Football Conference begins Saturday with one member reigning supreme above all others. North Dakota State’s run of eight straight titles, either outright or shared, has reached NCAA historic proportions.
That’s tied for the fifth-best streak in all of Division I football.
“It’s nuts to think about all the unbelievable college football programs there are across the country at every level and to think we’re even in the conversation is absolutely crazy to me,” said Bison assistant coach Nick Goeser.
Goeser is the only member on the Bison coaching staff to be a part of all eight. For the most part, being a part of a conference title is all he’s known. He came to Fargo in 2010 after three years at Minnesota-Duluth, two of those teams which won Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference titles. Before that, he coached on two conference-winning teams at Augustana College (Ill.).
EMBED — GD graphic 10/5
The NDSU run, however, takes the cake.
“It’s hard to even think about,” Goeser said. “It’s hard to imagine doing something like that in this league. This league is so tough and it challenges your depth and your physicality and all of that stuff and for us to do it that many times in a row is absolutely crazy.”
Oklahoma is the leader winning 14 straight Big 8 Conference titles from 1946-59. Montana is the FCS leader winning 12 consecutive Big Sky Conference championships from 1998-09. Montana State and Eastern Washington ended that streak in 2010 in a year when EWU won the FCS national championship.
In a testament to how quickly things can change, the Grizzlies have won just one title since 2011.
Brigham Young won 10 straight Western Athletic Conference titles from 1976-85. The WAC dropped football after the 2012 season. Florida State took nine straight Atlantic Coast Conference crowns from 1992-00 and NDSU is tied with Nebraska and its Big 8 streak from 1910-17.
That’s some pretty heady company.
What’s the common denominator?
“If you could put your finger on it, you would be a millionaire,” Goeser said.
Goeser points to one of the oldest cliches in the book for NDSU’s success: Take the Valley schedule one game at a time. Look ahead and anybody can beat you.
It hasn’t happened often. Indiana State upset the Bison 17-14 in 2012 and South Dakota surprised the Bison 24-21 in 2015, both at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. Other league losses in that eight-year stretch to the likes of Northern Iowa, Youngstown State and South Dakota State were not totally unexpected.
“You have to put everything into that next opponent,” Goeser said. “And if you don’t look at every formation, every set or whatever, you’re going to get yourself beat. It’s making sure our guys understand the game plan and making sure our kids play really hard on Saturday.”
UNI is still the overall kingpin with 16 Valley titles, although the Panthers have the advantage of being a charter member from 1985. Thirteen of those championships came before NDSU entered the league in 2008.
Southern Illinois made a run toward top-dog status with Jerry Kill as the head coach winning five conference championships between 2003-09.
“The teams that have been the most successful in our league over time have made a strong commitment to football,” said Mike Kern, associate commissioner for the Missouri Valley. “There’s an investment into the program, into the coaching staff and a buy-in from the campus. The support outside of the program — the fan base and corporate community — is certainly a key factor.”
Included in NDSU’s conference excellence were two impressive streaks and one that is still going heading into Saturday.