FARGO — The world of ESPN will descend on Brookings, S.D., this weekend, a weekly three-hour ode to the popularity of college football in this country. It promises to be the biggest thing to hit the small town just off of Interstate 29 since the local university decided to make the jump to Division I athletics.
Meanwhile, about three hours north at the school just off of I-29 in Fargo, North Dakota State is going about its business. That’s the attitude that Bison head football coach Matt Entz portrayed on Monday.
He said something similar to the phrase “we’re not going to make it more than it is” a few times in his weekly press conference.
What is it? No. 1-ranked NDSU travels to third-ranked South Dakota State on Saturday for a showdown that will determine sole possession of first place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Moreover, the game could have postseason implications down the line in November when the 24-team FCS playoff field is announced.
The fans think it’s a big deal. The game is sold out with the final tickets leaving the SDSU ticket office Monday morning and with a good weather forecast of sunny skies and highs in the low 60s, SDSU could break its single-game attendance record of 18,130.
That was the number of fans at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium (capacity 19,340) the last time these teams met in 2017. That’s when the Jacks handed NDSU its last loss 33-21 on a day when the Bison committed five turnovers.
On the flipside, NDSU has won five of its last six road games against teams ranked in the top 10. That includes 37-3 at No. 6 Illinois State on Oct. 5 and two games at SDSU in 2015 and 2013: 28-7 over No. 5 SDSU in ‘15 and 20-0 when the Jacks were ranked sixth in ‘13.
“My tone is we need to go about our business as we did the last six weeks, as we have the last six years,” Entz said. “I think we have a good process set in place for us right now in preparation. I think the things you saw on Saturday we can continue to improve upon. I don’t think there was anything as far as can’t be fixed with practice.”
What Entz saw in a 22-0 win over Missouri State that improved the Bison to 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the Valley was an offense that failed to complete drives in the second and third quarters and one that generally didn’t have enough production on first down.
“We weren’t as sharp as we had been the previous two weeks,” Entz said. “And is that just because we weren’t ready to go? I thought we had a good week of practice leading into the game. It’s hard to get up every week and it’s hard to make every game the most important one. It’s probably a great learning experience for some of our younger players.”
Getting up for the 6-1 Jackrabbits shouldn’t be an issue compared to Missouri State, which fell to 1-5. SDSU has scored at least 38 points in four of its six wins and came within a play or two of knocking off the University of Minnesota in the opener.
Saturday will be the third time the Bison have been part of the “GameDay” show. The school hosted it in 2013 and 2014 in downtown Fargo.
Entz, however, said his team is not scheduled to be part of this year’s show. He downplayed the event when asked if “GameDay” presented more flavor to the game.
“That I’m really excited to get to practice today and just take care of our business,” he said. “I’ll let them worry about ‘GameDay.’ We’re going to try and go about it as status quo and not going to make it anymore than what it is. We don’t need to get overly excited right now, we know it’s a really good football team. I think if we start looking ahead to Saturday, we’re going to miss a lot of opportunities to get better during the course of the week.”