Frisco, Texas

Hope you like watching football games between North Dakota State and James Madison.

There's likely to be a lot of them in the coming years.

There's likely to be another (or two or three or more) at Toyota Stadium in this Dallas suburb.

Sorry to the rest of the teams in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, but this is the truth. You might beat the Bison or Dukes on any given week, you might even bump them from the playoffs once like Colgate surprisingly did to JMU last season.

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In the long term, though, the NDSU and JMU programs are just bigger and badder.

"I think both programs are unique and positioned to be successful. And when you look at the Division I level, there's not many schools that can say that, even at the FBS level," Dukes head coach Curt Cignetti said. "You look at Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia. There's very few schools really positioned to be successful year-in and year-out."

That's why Saturday's title game, the second championship game between the schools in the past three seasons, is not only a rewind of past matchups but a preview for the future. The teams also met in the playoff semifinals in 2016, a game won by the Dukes at the Fargodome, ending NDSU's string of five straight national championships.

JMU won the title that season, but lost to the Bison in the championship game the following season. Saturday's game is expected to be a battle royale between the two best FCS teams.

Sensing a pattern here?

NDSU vs. JMU late in the playoffs has become a thing.

That's because JMU has emerged as the biggest threat to the Bison's dominance of FCS. The school in Harrisonburg, Va., was something of a sleeping giant during the early years of NDSU's historic run of seven national titles in eight years. Bison fans and media were looking to Eastern Washington, Sam Houston State, Jacksonville State and, of course, South Dakota State for programs that might be legitimate challengers to NDSU's throne. Instead, the Dukes awakened.

NDSU and JMU began the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2. That didn't change for four months. And here they are, the last two teams standing in Frisco.

"Both programs are very similar in a lot of ways, like the way we play football, our style of football," NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen said. "We've all talked about it and to me that's the recipe for being in this game — play good defense, run the ball, time of possession, all those things that lead to here.

"We're very much mirror images and I think other folks are still trying to find their identity a little bit in terms of what works best for them. When it comes to playoff time, can those other philosophies win at a high level? I don't know if those other philosophies can do that consistently."

Larsen is exactly right, but there's more to it when it comes to these two programs. Of the 126 FCS teams that took the field in 2019, only NDSU and JMU check every box when it comes to what it takes to get to Frisco year after year after year.

Financial commitment, facilities, institutional support, fan backing, staffing, talent, depth and media coverage.

"I think if you look at the test of time, those are all really important factors," JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne said. "The support piece, whether it be institutional or from donors and fans, is foundational in regard to long-term success on a consistent basis.

"It's a long-term commitment. Even though it's rough year-to-year for us to get there every year, commitment-wise our institution made that commitment years ago to make sure we were relevant in football."

It's become fashionable for coaches that play the Bison to remark on NDSU's decided edge in "resources," known more commonly as money. It's true NDSU has an advantage over regional rivals because it spends about $5.5 million a year on football. Eye-opening fact: JMU has an annual football budget of about $10 million.

You'll hear neither Larsen nor Bourne apologize for their budgets, even when opponents gripe about the advantages the Bison and Dukes have. Montana State coach Jeff Choate complained during the playoffs because NDSU offers cost of attendance to recruits to help allay the price of college.

"We've made a concerted effort and decision to try to get back to this game as much as we can. We play by the confines of the NCAA rules just like everybody else does," Larsen said. "The tough part of the cost of attendance piece for me is that it's no different than people building new facilities or investing in coaching staffs.

"We're trying to do the best we can to beat everybody else. That's our job as an administration. I think sometimes that piece gets lost in some of the comments made by people. Our job is try to beat you every single year. That's what we're trying to do."

NDSU and JMU are better than the rest of FCS in that department. There's no reason to think it'll end anytime soon.

Let's do it again next year, shall we?