FARGO — The sun did rise in Fargo on Sunday morning, although any calming effect for the North Dakota State football team was probably provided by the FCS Selection Show on ESPNU. The Bison are still playing.
They’ll host familiar foe Eastern Washington in the first round of the 16-team playoffs at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. Routinely a top 1 or 2 seed, the Bison will go into this postseason unseeded and not favored to win their fourth straight national title and ninth in 10 years.
The game will be televised on ESPN3 with attendance at the dome restricted to 25 percent capacity because of NCAA guidelines, which will be approximately 4,600 fans. Season ticket holders who want to request tickets must do so by 4 p.m. Monday at gobison.com. Tickets will be awarded based on the school's priority points system.
The underdog role came via South Dakota State, which dominated the Bison in all phases in a 27-17 win Saturday to claim the Missouri Valley Football Conference title and the league’s automatic berth. It ended a string of nine straight conference titles by the Bison as well as a 32-game home winning streak.
NDSU got one of six at-large berths along with Valley members North Dakota, Missouri State and Southern Illinois. The Valley was the clear winner in the selection show with five entrants.
"It was tough, we didn't have a lot of data necessarily from non-conference games like we traditionally do," said FCS playoff committee chair Kyle Moats, on the selection process. "We had to observe the teams and watch them play to make our determination because most of our data was within conference."
The Bison, 6-2, will be making their 11th straight playoff appearance with the last 10 all being games at home. The Bison-Eagles winner will take on the winner of Sam Houston State and Monmouth (N.J.).
If NDSU is to make a return trip to Frisco, Texas, for the May 16 title game at Toyota Stadium, it may have to hit the road.
SDSU will take the No. 1 seed into the playoffs followed by No. 2 Sam Houston State, No. 3 James Madison and No. 4 Jacksonville State. NDSU has had experience with all four teams in the playoffs facing Sam Houston and JMU twice in the title game.
The Jackrabbits will host Holy Cross, the Patriot League champion. The winner will take on the winner of the Southern Illinois at Weber State first round game. SIU was considered a bubble team and perhaps the surprise entrant into the bracket.
On the opposite side of that bracket, Colonial Athletic Association champ Delaware will host Sacred Heart and Jacksonville State will host Pioneer League winner Davidson, making a playoff appearance for the first time since 1969.
Also new to the field is Virginia Military Institute, which won the Southern Conference title. VMI will travel to JMU in its first round game.