FARGO, N.D. — About the only thing that can stop the Bison buzz is a bye week.
North Dakota State has a break in its schedule after enjoying an unprecedented three-day stretch on the national stage. The Bison first knocked off another big-time football power when they defeated Iowa on the road with a last-second field goal in a nationally televised game. The next day, they nearly became the first Football Championship Subdivision team to crack the Top 25 .
And finally, the Bison faithful watched their prized alumnus, Philadelphia Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, dominate both the airtime and the Chicago Bears in a Monday night win.
“I was trying to count how many times North Dakota State was uttered during the Monday night broadcast,” said Bison athletic director Matt Larsen, “but there were so many that I lost track.”
Wentz, of course, has been watching his Bison and he saw the Iowa upset.
“I had it recorded,” he said. “I got home and watched the whole thing. I was pretty excited. Pretty excited for those guys. You know, a lot of those guys are my best friends so I was really excited for those guys and at the same time I really wasn’t surprised.”
No one should be, not by now.
The 23-21 victory at Iowa was North Dakota State’s sixth in a row over a Bowl Subdivision team and the fifth over a Power Five conference school. While college football pundits have for years been warning FBS teams about scheduling the five-time defending FCS champion, this one came against a ranked team that had playoff hopes.
Larsen, Bison coach Chris Klieman and others associated say beating the Hawkeyes is the high-water mark of FBS wins for the Fargo school.
“Given where their program is, the year they had last year coming off the Rose Bowl appearance, and being ranked as high as they were, and it was televised in over 100 million homes … all those things combined, really does make it the biggest FBS win that North Dakota State has had to date,” Larsen said.
Mike Kern, associate commissioner of the conference, said the game had the look and feel of the team’s previous signature win, over Kansas State in 2013. Both times, the Bison used ball control and a dominating fourth quarter to come from behind.
“The K-State game was an eye-opener in that it announced to the world that Bison nation has arrived,” Kern said. This past weekend’s game was more of a statement of, ‘We are still here and as good as ever.'”
The Bison received 74 points in the AP poll, the 27th highest total for the week and most ever for an FCS program. Ten FCS teams have received votes in the poll since 2007, after Appalachian State’s victory at Michigan prompted the AP to declare that voters could include teams playing in what was once called I-AA.
It was also only the fourth time that an FCS program has beaten an FBS team — and the first time for the Missouri Valley Football Conference, which last season sent five teams to the playoffs that have long been a staple in the FCS.
With the Bison entering conference play, they likely won’t have a chance for another eye-popping win this season. Still, Larsen said it was humbling to receive the recognition and called it “more of a bonus” than anything.
It also revived the usual round of questions.
Are the Bison considering a move up to FBS? They are not. Have the FBS teams on the Bison schedule — Oregon in 2020 and Colorado in 2024 — asked to buy out their contracts? Not yet. And will this allow the Bison to steal a bevy of recruits from FBS teams in the region?
Probably not, Klieman said.
“Let’s be real on this. We’re still not beating Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin on recruits,” the coach said. “You would like to think we’re in the conversation, but it’s still difficult. It’s just hard to beat a Big Ten school. You hope it allows us to compete better with the people we need to compete with, which are the high level mid-majors.”
For now, though, Klieman and his team will enjoy the weekend off — and the hoopla.
“From a football standpoint, it’s as big as it’s been,” he said. “Not as big as the Carson Wentz of last year, throughout the winter and the spring and the draft. But obviously our players and our coaches deserve all the attention they’re getting because of how well the plans were and how well the guys played.”
AP freelance writer Patrick Rose contributed to this report.