Sam Houston coach says Bearkats on the cusp of being FCS elite program
FARGO — The vehicle so-to-speak that carries the FCS title-winning team to the south stage of Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, for the post-game awards ceremony has for the most part been a two-wheeled apparatus. Translation: Two programs in the last six years have been crowned champions.
Sam Houston State head coach K.C. Keeler feels like his Bearkats are on the verge of getting a new car.
“We feel like we’re the third wheel,” he said.
NDSU, of course, won consecutive titles from 2011-15. Last year it was James Madison and both the Bison and Dukes are in this weekend’s semifinals. NDSU hosts Sam Houston on Friday, Dec. 15, at 7 p.m. at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
JMU hosts South Dakota State, another program trying to knock the championship door down, on Saturday afternoon.
Sam Houston has never won an FCS title, although the Bearkats have been a constant threat in recent years. They finished runner-up to NDSU in the 2011 and 2012 title games and lost to the Bison in the 2014 semifinals.
“North Dakota State and James Madison have moved in, we’re that team right there on the cusp and we want to get over the top,” Keeler said. “To get over the top, that means playing the best team at their place. I truly feel they’re the best team in the country.”
JMU is the tournament’s No. 1 seed and the only undefeated team left in the bracket. Combined, the top four teams have a record of 48-4.
“Looking at the landscape of the FCS from the start of the season until now, I do believe the best four teams are playing,” said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman.
Keeler is no stranger to winning a championship. He took the University of Delaware to the 2003 title with a 40-0 win over Colgate. The Blue Hens had two runner-up finishes under Keeler falling victim to Appalachian State’s third straight championship in 2007 and losing a 20-19 nailbiter to Eastern Washington in 2010.
With SDSU, it’s the second straight year and third time in four years NDSU’s Missouri Valley Football Conference has put two teams in the semifinals. The Bison and Illinois State faced off for the 2014 title and Youngstown State was the national runner-up last season.
The Bison are playing in their FCS-record seventh straight semifinal game.
“I’ve said this before, we talk about North Dakota State like we talk about Alabama,” Keeler said. “They set the standards as the best football programs in the country. There’s a reason why they win. They win by design, not by chance.”