FARGO — I was 1,400 miles and a whole lot of Football Championship Subdivision success off in my prediction of who North Dakota State's football team would schedule for a destination game in Minneapolis in 2023.
The Bison did not consider the school I predicted would be their opponent, Division I newbie-to-be St. Thomas in St. Paul. Instead, NDSU and Eastern Washington are working toward playing a game at U.S. Bank Stadium in two years.
Sources in Washington say the schools have agreed in principle to play. NDSU is working on a deal with the stadium, which is home to the NFL's Minnesota Vikings.
As is always the case when talking about college football scheduling, I will add a qualifier: Until the ink is on the contract, nothing is guaranteed. Which is exactly what NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen said when I asked him directly about Eastern Washington being the Bison's opponent.
Can I buy tickets yet? 68% We'll see how things look closer to the game 18% Zzzzzzzzzz .... 13%
If you're a Bison fan, how excited would you be for a game at U.S. Bank Stadium between NDSU and Eastern Washington?
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Can I buy tickets yet?
We'll see how things look closer to the game
Larsen said he will not comment on any potential U.S. Bank Stadium game until contracts are signed.
"We've talked to a lot of schools," he said.
One of the reasons he doesn't want to talk about any tentative deals is that they could still fall through.
"Many things can change," he said, which is the same theme Larsen stressed in 2016 when I learned NDSU was working on a game at Target Field in Minneapolis and asked him about the possibility.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Bank Stadium late last year told me management doesn't discuss with whom it is talking because of confidentiality agreements.
NDSU has two open dates in 2023, on Sept. 2 and Sept. 23. It's likely the Eastern Washington game would be scheduled as the season opener on Sept. 2 because the NFL season doesn't begin until after Labor Day, which falls on Sept. 4 that year.
The game would be a matchup of traditional FCS powers that met in the national title game after the 2018 season. NDSU won that game 38-24.
The Bison and Eagles have an entertaining decade-long history. Eastern Washington beat NDSU in the playoff quarterfinals in 2010 in Cheney, the Bison won 50-44 in overtime at the Fargodome in 2016 and NDSU won again the next year in Cheney by a score of 40-17. Then came the national championship game in Frisco, Texas.
Eastern Washington plays in the Big Sky Conference and won a national title after the 2010 season, the last before NDSU began its historic run.
U.S. Bank Stadium holds 66,860 for football and while it's not likely an NDSU-Eastern Washington game would sell out, it's realistic to think the game could draw more than 40,000 because of it features two of the top brands in FCS.
When the Bison played Butler at Target Field in 2019, the game was seen as a resounding success. More than 35,000 fans nearly filled the Minnesota Twins' baseball park in downtown Minneapolis and Trey Lance's debut as the Bison's quarterback was impressive as NDSU rolled to a 57-10 victory on a perfect late August afternoon.
It was also a profitable day. Between ticket sales and merchandise, the revenue NDSU generated at Target Field (upward of $600,000) helped the bottom line.
The Bison have FBS games scheduled in 2022 (at Arizona, $425,000 guarantee) and 2024 (Colorado, $700,000 guarantee).
After the success of the Target Field game, Larsen and head coach Matt Entz said the Bison wanted another game in Minneapolis. Games in Minneapolis benefit the program and fans. The Twin Cities is the closest large metro area to Fargo and is a prime recruiting area for NDSU. It is also home to the university's largest alumni base.
NDSU, with eight national championships in nine seasons and multiple victories over Power Five FBS schools, wants to continue to build its brand and play on larger stages.
U.S. Bank Stadium opened in downtown Minneapolis in 2016. Aside from serving as the Vikings' home stadium, it's hosted Super Bowl LII in February 2018, ESPN's X Games in 2018 and the NCAA men's basketball Final Four in 2019.