FARGO — The game had just ended and for one of the very few times, if ever, the students at the University of Northern Iowa stormed the field in celebration. Their Panthers had just finished off a 23-3 win over North Dakota State that ended NDSU’s FCS-record 33-game winning streak in 2014.
The players knew it. The fans knew it. Afterward, a Forum sportswriter wrote 33 in a row will never be done again. Chris Klieman, then the head coach at NDSU, said it.
“That was a big burden on those guys … shoot, that has been 30-some games,” Klieman said. “That’s something I don’t think will ever be done again. To win as many games as we have in a row, I would be hard pressed if any FCS school would be able to do that again.”
Well, one school did do that again. NDSU.
The Bison are at 38 in a row heading into the Missouri Valley Football Conference spring season opener Sunday afternoon against Youngstown State. NDSU eclipsed a couple of Yale 37-game winning streaks when it defeated James Madison for the 2019 FCS national title.
No. 38 was last fall against Central Arkansas, a 39-28 Bison win that gave them a 1-0 record heading into the eight-game Valley season.
What’s next? The University of Washington won 40 straight from 1908-14 and the all-time Division I record is 47 by the University of Oklahoma from 1953-57.
The Bison are already in some elite company with the two streaks in the 30s. Of course, head coach Matt Entz would rather listen to fingernails on a chalkboard for two hours than talk about a winning streak.
Asked if moving the Valley season to the spring and the COVID-19 pandemic in general has taken some of the attention off the streak, and he didn’t know.
“I don’t think about it very often,” Entz said, “so I’m not sure if that has.”
But for NDSU to beat Oklahoma’s streak, and assuming the schedule isn’t interrupted by COVID-19 protocols, it would need to go unbeaten in the Valley and win two FCS playoff games.
It would have been more doable if the coronavirus didn’t exist and NDSU played in the fall. The Bison would have had quarterback Trey Lance along with left tackle Dillon Radunz. Those two are projected high NFL Draft picks this spring.
They would have had more depth on defense, especially in the interior. But having two seasons in one calendar year has the Bison streak more vulnerable than ever. NDSU most likely will play more of its depth chart to avoid overusing players over the course of a spring and fall season.
There are a few opponent obstacles in waiting, as well. The young Bison play at Southern Illinois, a veteran team, in the second game on Feb. 27. The last three games are a potential gauntlet at South Dakota, at home against South Dakota State and at Northern Iowa.
The DakotaDome can be a tough place to place, the Jackrabbits have for years been NDSU’s toughest foe and at UNI on the road is never easy.
The 2014 Bison team can attest to that. NDSU ran for just 43 yards, quarterback Carson Wentz hurt his ankle against SDSU the prior week and wasn’t himself and the Bison left Cedar Falls with a convincing defeat.
They righted the ship with six straight wins and a 29-27 win over Illinois State in the national title game.
The Oklahoma streak was ended at home by Notre Dame in a 7-0 game. Ironically, the last loss before the streak was in 1953 to the Fighting Irish.
NDSU’s last defeat was Nov. 4, 2017, a 33-21 loss at SDSU in a game where the Bison committed five turnovers. The NDSU defense had issues with Jackrabbit quarterback Taryn Christion and tight end Dallas Goedert, who caught seven passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.
The closest the Bison came to a loss after that was a 17-13 victory over James Madison in the FCS title game that season, a 21-17 victory over SDSU in the 2018 regular season and a 9-3 win over Illinois State in the 2019 FCS quarterfinals.
But several of the stars the Bison had during those 38 games are no longer around. Quarterbacks Easton Stick and Trey Lance moved on to the NFL; Stick with the Los Angeles Chargers and Lance prepping for the draft. Linebacker Jabril Cox transferred to LSU. Tight end Ben Ellefson is with the Jacksonville Jaguars, defensive end Derrek Tuszka is with the Denver Broncos and guard Zack Johnson is with the Green Bay Packers.
Offensive tackle Dillon Radunz is following Lance’s NFL path. The Bison had running backs Bruce Anderson and Lance Dunn and receiver Darrius Shepherd. A talented supporting cast contributed to a 15-0 season in 2018 and a 16-0 year in 2019.
Life has changed significantly, on and off the field. With the threat of positive protocols affecting the spring season, an all-time college football winning streak probably isn’t a major story at this point.
For NDSU, finding its next generation of impact players is on the front burner.
“I’m waiting to see, too,” Entz said. “I think because of some of the inexperienced players we have, week to week it could be someone different and I don’t want to put that load on any of those guys right now.”