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McFeely: Bison’s non-conference snoozers should pay off in the end

North Dakota State's Nate Jenson carries the ball while working out with the tight end corps during Bison football practice. David Samson / The Forum

North Dakota State fans were treated to the school’s most entertaining non-conference schedule in the 121 years of Bison football last year. The season opened with a nationally televised game at the Fargodome against No. 7-ranked Charleston Southern (a 24-17 overtime victory for NDSU), took a week off, followed with a home matchup against high-flying No. 8 Eastern Washington (a 50-44 OT victory for NDSU) and then — the crown jewel — a contest at the Big Ten’s Iowa, the 13th-ranked team in Football Bowl Subdivision. The Bison beat the Hawkeyes 23-21 on a game-ending 37-yard field goal by Cam Pederson.

While delightful for Bison fans, particularly since their team beat Iowa, the schedule was a grind for NDSU. Fall camp started early because of the Week Zero game against Charleston Southern, the three opponents were high quality, two of the games went overtime and the Bison didn’t have any depth after losing so many players to graduation following a fifth straight national championship in 2015. Then it was on to the weekly pounding in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

It took a toll.