FARGO — The end of three straight FCS national championships and a run of eight titles in nine years ended near the north end zone of Bowers Stadium at Sam Houston State. That was last spring and North Dakota State left the state of Texas on the losing end of its last game of the season for the first time in the Division I era.

The semifinal loss ended a spring season at 7-3. There was very little that went smooth in those 10 games. For starters, in the first time in a decade, the Bison did not have a host of veteran leaders to show the way.

Of the 85 players, about 70 percent were in their first or second year in the program.

“Those kids have gone through the process,” said Bison head coach Matt Entz. “They understand now just because you wear the green and yellow that doesn’t mean you win games so I’ve seen a re-commitment to demanding excellence in everything we do and I look forward to getting on the field and seeing it become a part of our daily preparation.”

The daily preparation begins Friday with the first day of practice. Certainly, there are question marks starting with quarterback, where returning starter Cam Miller, Virginia Tech transfer Quincy Patterson II and incoming freshman Cole Payton are expected to compete for the starting job. Naming a starter, Entz said, “could be 10 days or 10 minutes before the first game.”

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“We’re not in a rush now,” he said. “We need to make sure all of our quarterbacks get equal opportunities, the same reps and we want the same feedback daily. We’ve been extremely fortunate at NDSU that we’ve had tremendous quarterback play over the course of the last 12 to 15 years. This decision can’t be made hastily; it needs to be made with the vision of the program in mind.”

Other starting decisions are most likely already made. On defense, NDSU returns all-Valley preseason first team players Spencer Waege at defensive end, James Kaczor at linebacker and Michael Tutsie at strong safety.

“We need to get better, we weren’t as good as what we expected in the spring,” Entz said of his defense. “Just in general terms, we need to get better and I look forward to it.I know the kids on defense have high expectations.”

On offense, the first teamers were fullback Hunter Luepke, receiver Christian Watson, offensive linemen Cordell Volson and Cody Mauch and Watson as the return specialist.

“We have some exciting players coming back,” Entz said.

Receivers Phoenix Sproles and Zach Mathis are back after missing the spring with injuries. FBS transfers like cornerback Jerodd Vines (Eastern Michigan), tight end Gabe Lloyd (Wisconsin) and running back TaMerik Williams (SMU) and FCS transfer offensive lineman Luke LaCilanto (San Diego) are expected to provide immediate help.

Still, the vast core of the team returns from the spring when the Bison played 32 redshirt freshmen or true freshmen. Fifteen started at least one game.

“They all have a year of experience and reps,” Entz said. “Now those kids add essential depth needed to play in the Missouri Valley.”

Here's a look at the schedule for the Kicking Through COVID series:

July 30: Illinois State

July 31: Indiana State

Aug. 1: Missouri State

Aug. 2: North Dakota

Aug. 3: North Dakota State

Aug. 4: Northern Iowa

Aug. 5: South Dakota

Aug. 6: South Dakota State

Aug. 7: Southern Illinois

Aug. 8: Western Illinois

Aug. 9: Youngstown State