UND's season-opening opponent presents a lot of unknowns

Body: 

GRAND FORKS—The Mississippi Valley State football program is known for alums Jerry Rice and Deacon Jones.

As for the 2018 Delta Devils, who knows?

The official website still doesn't have a 2018 roster and the Southwestern Athletic Conference school in Itta Bena, Miss., has a first-year head coach in Vincent Dancy.

When the University of North Dakota faces Mississippi Valley State on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Alerus Center to kick off the season, Bubba Schweigert and the Fighting Hawks aren't going to have a ton of intel on the opponent.

"I'm sure they'll be really excited to play and it should be a good college atmosphere," Schweigert said. "The first games are always a little of the unknown. You don't really know how teams will change or adjust. It's about keeping the focus on UND, executing our offense, defense and special teams."

According to the gambling website 5dimes, UND is a 41.5-point favorite.

The Delta Devils were 2-9 overall last year and 1-6 in the SWAC East. After the season, MVSU cut ties with head coach Rick Comegy, who was 6-38 in his four years.

MVSU has not had a winning season since 2006.

One of the most troubling statistics for the Delta Devils a year ago was team rushing, where the group ran for minus-103 rushing yards. Part of that issue was the 56 sacks allowed by MVSU, which accounted for negative-400 yards.

MVSU played two Missouri Valley Football Conference opponents in 2017. North Dakota State beat MVSU 72-7 while Southern Illinois claimed a 55-3 victory.

In 2016, Montana beat MVSU 67-7.

MVSU has a returning quarterback with experience in Chris Fowler, who was one of three quarterbacks to see time for the Delta Devils last year.

"We're preparing like both teams are 0-0, with optimism in the start of the season," Schweigert said. "That's what's great about this sport. You hopefully learn about your past and move to the next year. There's lots of optimism in camps, including ours. We're excited about our team. We stayed healthy in fall camp."

Schweigert noted a number of UND players will be making their first starts for the program in Week 1.

Expected first-time starters on offense include right tackle Bennett Helgren, fullback Graham DeVore, quarterback Nate Ketteringham and wide receiver Garett Maag.

The first-time starters expected on defense include inside linebacker Noah Larson and safety Tykeise Johnson.

"We always say there's no way to replicate live action but the better you prepare the better you're going to feel out there for your first snap," Schweigert said. "If you're well-prepared, you should have some level of confidence."

SEASON OPENER

Who: Mississippi Valley State at UND

When: 6:30 p.m., Thursday

Where: Alerus Center, Grand Forks