Bison, JMU head coaches say rest vs. practice balance important in FCS title game prep

North Dakota State fans anticipate the arrival of the Bison football team in last year's title game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — North Dakota State head football coach Matt Entz took a page from the Bison football history book on Friday when he was asked by a reporter how the program sustains success despite having different head coaches. The last two head coaches, Chris Klieman and Craig Bohl, were part of the discussion.

It goes back farther, Entz said.

“Probably going back to the ‘60s when coach Mudra came here,” Entz said. "There's been a high level of success. And there are certain things in this program that are nonnegotiable and they've been that way ever since I've been here."

That would be Darrell Mudra, the head coach who took NDSU from a winless season in 1962 to a small college national championship in 1965. That was the first of what would be 15 national titles for the program.

The Bison will be gunning for No. 16 on Jan. 11 when they take on James Madison University at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. The kickoff of sorts was Friday afternoon, Jan. 3, when Entz and JMU head coach Curt Cignetti were on a national teleconference.


North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz, center, has guided the Bison to the NCAA Division I FCS title game in his first season as the program's head coach. David Samson / The Forum

It’s the eighth trip to Frisco in nine years for the Bison and in each case, it appears they have produced a working formula on what to do between the semifinal and title matchups.

The Bison are 7-for-7 in FCS championship games.

The exact nature revolves around a balance of rest, practice and weight-lifting sessions. Entz said NDSU had to tweak it this year because of a 12-game regular season schedule, instead of the usual 11, and the fact the Christmas holiday was so close to the semifinal victory over Montana State. The Bison took four days off starting the Monday after the Dec. 21 Bobcats game and returned to practice on Friday, Dec. 27.

“We have a formula,” Entz said. “We need to balance days off with work days and the last thing you want to do is get heavy legs over the course of these three weeks. We followed a lot of the same protocol we’ve used over the course of my years at NDSU, but just because of the calendar we’ve had to tweak some things.”

Like all teams that have off weeks, NDSU used the time off to heal some wounds. Entz said receiver Phoenix Sproles, who missed the Montana State game with a shoulder injury, returned to practice.

“We have to make sure we’re as fresh and as healthy as we can be when we get down to Frisco,” Entz said. “We’re playing an outstanding football team and we sure as heck can’t be sluggish or slow or we’ll get run off the field.”


The Dukes, meanwhile, took a longer break from practice, coming back on Monday of this week. JMU defeated Weber State (Utah) on Saturday night, Dec. 21, in its semifinal game.

“Which is a nice, long break,” Cignetti said. “But we practiced every day this week and we’ll get three good ones next week. We shook the rust off a little bit on Tuesday and I think we’re back in the groove now.”

Cignetti had several stops as a Division I assistant starting in 1986 at Rice University. He also spent time at Pittsburgh, North Carolina State and Alabama, the last under Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban.

It’s hard comparing preparation for a bowl game like the ones Alabama was involved in, Cignetti said, because the FCS game this year is later into January. In his four years at Alabama, the Crimson Tide played one bowl game at the end of December, two in the first couple days of January and the latest a Jan. 7 BCS National Championship win over Texas.

“I don’t know if there really is a formula because this game has been moved back a week,” Cignetti said.

He said his decision on taking time off was a balance between giving the players a break vs. how much time do they actually need to practice. Like Entz, he said being ready to go for the title game is a priority.

“I’m a big believer, we want them to be prepared but we want them to be fresh and we felt like we could get it done with a full week this week and next week,” Cignetti said. “We want to get all of our quality work done up here, because once we get down there it will be a lot of functions so to speak and won’t get a lot done other than walkthroughs once we’re down there. But we’ll be ready, I feel good at where we’re at right now.”

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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