Can you name the winningest Division I football program over the last 5 years. If you guessed Alabama, you’d be wrong. In all fairness it’s kind of a trick question as Division I includes both FBS and FCS programs, which makes the correct answer, the Bison of North Dakota State.
Since 2011, and including the games of this season, Alabama is 64-7 with 3 National Championships. Since 2011, North Dakota State is 73-5 with 5 straight FCS National Championships.
Much like a lot of schools within their state’s respective borders, there is a rivalry between the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State. There’s a saying that if you want to be a farmer you go to North Dakota State, but if you want to own the farm, you go to North Dakota. Actually, if you care about a winning hockey program (and who really does) you go to North Dakota, but if you care about winning football you go to North Dakota State.
Located in Fargo, N.D., just three hours west of Minneapolis, MN, North Dakota State claims 13 NCAA National Championships. The Bison won the 1965, 1968 and 1969 National Championships in the NCAA’s old “College Division.” When the organization realigned football in 1978 splitting into Division I, Division I-AA, and Division II, North Dakota State became a Division II program and won Division II National Titles in 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988 and 1990. The Bison then made the move up to the NCAA’s Division I FCS Division (then called I-AA) in 2004. Since then they’ve made themselves right at home. Since 1973, North Dakota State is 52-13 in NCAA playoff games and 57-14 all time in post-season play which includes appearances in something called the “Mineral Water Bowl” and the “Pecan Bowl”. They will enter the post-season this year with 20 straight post-season wins. They still have an overall losing record against North Dakota at 46-62-3, but the trophy case is what matters and since moving to the FCS in 2004, they’ve developed a rivalry with neighboring South Dakota. The two schools annually play for the “Dakota Marker Trophy”. Among the Bison’s two losses last year was one to South Dakota.
At the FCS Level, there tends to be a period of time where a program is dominant. Georgia Southern did it, Youngstown State took over, Marshall did it, and then Appalachian State really showed its dominance by winning 3 FCS Titles in a row. But, they can’t hang with North Dakota State. The Bison have made 5 straight national titles look easy, which they are clearly not and they are doing it with 63 scholarships split among 85 players. By contrast, the FBS schools can offer 85 full scholarships.
The FCS National Title game is held in Frisco, Texas every January. North Dakota State fans book their hotels and make travel arrangements as a matter of course and why not? The stadium in which the game is held has been mostly North Dakota State fans for the past 5 years as the Bison backers make their annual trip from the chill of Fargo to the mild January weather of North Texas. One hotel where a group of North Dakota State fans stayed for the National Title game a couple of years ago ran out of beer as the Bison fans drank it all. The school counts among its alums Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley, and Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz who was selected number 2 overall in this year’s NFL draft, making him the highest drafted player in school history and after one game in the NFL, making the Los Angeles Rams look foolish for picking Cal’s Jared Goff number 1 over Wentz in the draft.
As North Dakota State goes for it’s 6th straight National title, they are off to a 2-0 start, but is there cause for concern? They had to go to overtime to win both games, but the positive is that they were playing two of the better FCS programs in Charleston Southern and Eastern Washington. This week the FBS coach with the tightest butthole is Iowa’s Kurt Ferentz, whose Hawkeyes host North Dakota State on Saturday. During their run of FCS National Titles, North Dakota State has won 5 straight games over FBS opponents, 4 of those from Power 5 conferences.
In recent years, the trend has been for FCS programs to make the leap up to FBS. Georgia Southern and Appalachian State both did it, and Liberty is eventually going to do it, so the question is will North Dakota State do the same? That’s not my decision, but to me where they currently roam in FCS is doing much more for their school and program than jumping to a lower level FBS conference like the Sunbelt not to mention what it’s doing for the beer consumption in North Texas in January.
Moving now to week 3, and what week 2 lacked in good match-ups, week 3 gives back. The best of bunch comes tomorrow night in Norman, Oklahoma where Oklahoma can suddenly vault itself back into the playoff conversation by beating 3rd ranked Ohio State. There’s no disputing that these are two of college football’s “blue blood” programs, but it’s only the 3rd time they’ve ever played and the first time since a meeting in Norman on September 17, 1983. Ohio State is averaging 62.5 points per game but in 18 years, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has only lost 8 times at home.
In the SEC, Ole Miss tries to do something to a Nick Saban coached team that only Purdue has ever done and that’s beat Saban three straight times. Saban’s Michigan State team lost to Purdue three times in the 1990s. The only loss Alabama suffered last year was to Ole Miss, on a night when Ole Miss got every break conceivable. We talked about North Dakota State being the winningest Division I program since 2011, but since 2008, Alabama has won an even 100 games and their worst record in that time span was 10-3 in 2010.
There’s a top 10 game in Louisville as the Cardinals host Florida State in a high noon game. How big is this for Louisville? Well consider if they beat FSU, they are literally one game away from all but clinching the ACC’s Atlantic Division and could do so on October 1st when they visit Clemson. This is the first time two top 10 teams have met in Louisville since the old Big East days when No. 5 Louisville beat No. 3 West Virginia 44-34 in 2006.
There’s a little doubleheader on the farm in Palo Alto, California between Stanford and USC. Before the football game, the two school’s water polo teams face off. You have to love how they do things at Stanford. It’s a world class school with one of the most successful athletic programs in the country, but it’s also a place where they love to give their coaches fancy titles. For example, Head Coach David Shaw is officially called the “Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football.” Offensive Coordinator Mike Bloomgren is the “Andrew Luck Director of Offense” and Defensive Coordinator Lance Anderson is the “Willie Anderson Director of Defense.” The only title Stanford really wants is National Champion to get there beginning this weekend they’ll have to navigate a 5-week stretch starting with USC tomorrow, back-to-back trips to UCLA and Washington, home against Washington State and a mid-October game at Notre Dame. Do that and they are probably on their way to winning the PAC-12 and getting into the playoff.
And, one of the more amazing streaks in College Football continues this weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska hosts Oregon in front of the 350th consecutive sellout at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. The Cornhuskers have sold out every game since November 3, 1962. Since 2010, Oregon has 71 wins, trailing only Alabama among FBS programs.
I hate the term “trap game” so let’s just call what Tennessee is facing this weekend as a “better concentrate on this one” game. Sandwiched between the spectacle in Bristol (and I think there are still some people trying to get out of the parking lot at Bristol Motor Speedway) and what is without question the most important game of Butch Jones’ tenure as Tennessee hosts Florida next Saturday, comes the Ohio Bobcats. This is not a fly-by-night operation in Ohio. Far from it. Ohio has reached new heights as a football program under Head Coach Frank Solich. Solich, spent 30 years at Nebraska as a player, assistant coach and then head coach. At Nebraska he never won less than 9 games, spent 54 consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 (not Top 25) and played Miami for the 2001 National Championship in the Rose Bowl. What did that get him? Fired by an idiot athletic director who replaced Solich with some life-long NFL dude named Bill Callahan. How’d that work out? It didn’t and Callahan was replaced by Bo Pellini and that didn’t work out and so now Nebraska is trying to regroup with Mike Riley who went 5-7 in his first year.
Solich has found a home in one of the coolest little college towns you’ll ever visit, Athens, Ohio. In 12 seasons, he’s won 78 games since 2006, had the Bobcats bowl eligible for 9 of the last 10 years, won the school first bowl game in 2011 and took the Bobcats to 5 straight bowl games from 2009 – 2013. He’s also beaten rival Marshall 4 of 5 times, and bitter rival Miami of Ohio 9 of 10 times. Most remarkably, he’s had the same offensive and defensive coordinators for his entire 12 years at Ohio.
Speaking of offensive coordinators we go to Blacksburg where Va. Tech welcomes Boston College and former Offensive Coordinator Scott Loeffler back to town. I wouldn’t be too concerned with Boston College scoring a bunch of points. One thing we learned in 3 years with Loeffler calling the plays at Virginia Tech was his team had a real aversion to crossing the goal line. Having said that B-C has long been a thorn in Va. Tech’s side going back to the days in the Big East. Now Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Matt Ryan ran about 50 yards in the backfield avoiding Tech defenders in a Thursday night game a few years back before finding an open receiver for a game winning touchdown. Points may be at a premium in this one. B-C’s offense is again dreadful while their defense is one of the best in the nation. Va. Tech has fumbled the ball 10 times in two games, losing 9 of those.
The Hokies’ in-state neighbor Virginia completes a 6,000 mile coast to coast road trip this Saturday with a visit to U-Conn. This is only the third meeting between these schools and first since 2008, but they have a lot in common. U-Conn head coach Bob Diaco spent three years on the staff at Virginia, his defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter played at U.Va. and remains one of the fans’ all-time favorites, co-Defensive coordinator Vincent Brown is a former Virginia assistant and quarterbacks Coach Wayne Lineburg – in addition to be the son of Virginia High School coaching Legend Norm Lineburg, who helped launch Frank Beamer’s coaching career – is a U.Va. grad and former quarterback. The familiarity doesn’t stop there. Diaco’s first game as a head coach at U-Conn was against Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall when Mendenhall was coaching at BYU.
This week’s the A-D should be fired for scheduling this game goes to Miami A-D Blake James who somehow has scheduled his team to visit Boone, North Carolina and Appalachian State. Seriously? I assume this is one of those we’ll come there 1 time in exchange for you coming here 3 times, but Miami at Appalachian State? There are coaches who refuse to do things like this. I remember West Virginia coach Don Nehlen telling me one time that as long as he was coaching at WVU, they’d never go to a Mid-American Conference Stadium. As soon as he retired, they did. So I guess give Miami some credit for doing this, but this appears to be walking right into a buzz saw. Appalachian State drove Tennessee nuts on the road. Now, they get Miami at home in the first ever meeting between the schools. And, by the way as a person whose been there, I can tell you that you can’t get to Boone, North Carolina from anywhere. It’s gorgeous, but it’s in the boonies.
For our FCS game of the week, we usher back into college football the beginning of New England Tailgating season, also known as Ivy League Football. The season for Ivy League teams begins tonight with Harvard hosting Rhode Island. This is the 143rd season of Harvard football. The Crimson are the two-time defending Ivy League champs and have won 13 of their last 15 season openers. Harvard doesn’t participate in the FCS post-season so 10 games and a conference title are all that’s there for them. Practices are open to the media and head coach Tim Murphy has a found the ultimate in football coaching job stability. He made what looked like an odd-move leaving Cincinnati to go to Harvard. He’s been there 23 years now with a record of 156-63.
Division II also features a Friday night game as we go to Worchester, Massachusetts where the Assumption College Greyhounds host Southern Connecticut State. Assumption is 2-0 on the season and ranked 17th in Division II, their highest ranking in school history. Last year they won the Northeast 10 championship and made it to the second round of the Division II playoffs. It’s a private liberal arts college that counts among its alums, Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly.
Division III takes us to Crawfordsville, Indiana where the Little Giants of Wabash College host the Allegheny Gators. Wabash is one of Division III’s powerhouses, although they’ve yet to make it to Salem for the D-III title game. They probably will eventually. Since 2005 Wabash is 108-18 and you can’t beat the mascot who is named “Wally Wabash”. Wabash also has the distinction of being only one of the country’s 3 remaining male-only liberal arts colleges.
For our NAIA game of the week we go to Mitchell, South Dakota where the 14th ranked Dakota Wesleyan Tigers host the 5th ranked Doane College Tigers from Nebraska. Dakota Wesleyan is 3-1 and Doane is 2-0, but the site of this game is best know for an arena in town. Mitchell, South Dakota is the home of the world famous “Corn Palace.” The murals and designs on the outside of the arena are made of corn and replaced every year because well corn just doesn’t last forever. Dakota Wesleyan plays its home basketball games in the arena and the Corn Palace is also home to the local high school basketball team known as the Mitchell High School Kernels. You can’t make this stuff up.
Enjoy a beer or two or a case or two, and the games because after working for 5 days and dealing with the b-s we call life, you deserve it.