FARGO — North Dakota State earned the No. 2 overall seed for the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs, edging James Madison which earned the No. 3 seed.
The Bison earned the automatic bid from the Missouri Valley Football Conference with an outright league championship. NDSU receives a first-round bye after playing games on eight consecutive weekends.
“We need some rest physically and mentally at this point," Bison head coach Matt Entz said. "We've been going for eight weeks straight."
The Bison have won eight FCS national championships since 2011. Sam Houston earned the No. 1 overall seed. The Bearkats are the defending national champion, earning a victory against South Dakota State in the FCS title game last May in Frisco, Texas. FCS committee chair Thorr Bjorn said the Bison got the No. 2 seed over James Madison due to NDSU's record against teams in the playoff field. If both make the semifinals that game would be played at the Fargodome due to the seeding.
“At the end of the day when you look at it, you say North Dakota State was 3-1 against the field, James Madison was 0-1 against the field," said Bjorn, the athletic director at Rhode Island. "Two great teams and that was the difference right there. Once we talked through that, we felt very good about where it all played out. We take that 2 and 3 seed very, very seriously.”
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- PHOTOS: Scenes from a decisive Bison home victory to clinch outright Missouri Valley Football Conference title
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The Bison (10-1) are assured to play a conference opponent in the second round. Southern Illinois and South Dakota play in the first round with the winner traveling to the Fargodome for the second round. The Coyotes are hosting Southern Illinois next weekend in the opening round. NDSU didn't play SIU during the regular season. The Salukis were one of the last two teams that made it into the playoff field.
NDSU defeated Missouri State, South Dakota and Northern Iowa, all playoff teams, with its lone loss to South Dakota State, which also made the field. James Madison lost at home to Villanova, which was the only playoff team the Dukes played in the regular season.
Sacramento State (4), Villanova (5), Montana (6), East Tennessee State (7) and Montana State (8) rounded out the top eight seeds. James Madison, Montana and East Tennessee State are the seeded teams on NDSU's side of the bracket. The MVFC got six teams in the playoff field, while the Big Sky Conference had five.
“The way they took care of business, we couldn’t keep any of them out," Bjorn said. "They really did a great job.”
After losing 27-19 at SDSU, the Bison had a strong finish to the regular season with a 49-17 win at Youngstown State and a 52-24 victory against No. 16-ranked South Dakota at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome to close out the regular season.
“I think we’re connecting on all cylinders. We’re all doing our part," said Bison wide receiver Christian Watson, who had a 43-yard rushing touchdown against USD. “When we are clicking on all cylinders we’re an amazing team.”
The Bison rushed for 454 yards on 45 attempts against the Penguins and followed that with 303 rushing yards on 47 attempts against the Coyotes. NDSU had six rushing touchdowns against USD.
The Bison won their first eight games in the regular season before losing the Dakota Marker game at SDSU. NDSU had wins against four ranked opponents during the regular season on its way to the MVFC championship. The Bison have won 10 league crowns since 2011.
NDSU has made 12 consecutive playoff appearances. The Bison have a 37-3 record in the FCS playoffs, including a 28-1 record at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
Bison quarterback Cam Miller, who started the final four games in the regular season, has completed 65 of 89 passes (73%) for 942 yards and 11 touchdowns with two interceptions.
"He's doing a great job," Entz said. "He's confident right now. We all know that when you believe, regardless of what you're doing if you truly believe in how you're playing and how you're approaching every game, it's hard to beat you."
The Bison are averaging 35.3 points per game, while allowing 12.1 points. They're averaging 271.8 rushing yards per game entering the playoffs.
“I think our offensive line has gelled a ton in the last month," Entz said. "The program is built around the 'rams' and playing good defense and if we can do that we have a shot every week."
Tickets for NDSU’s second-round playoff game will go on sale at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21, online at GoBison.com/tickets. Season ticket holders have until 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, to purchase their same seats for the game. NDSU student tickets are $6 with a valid NDSU student account and may be purchased online at GoBison.com/students starting at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21.
FCS bracket with opening-round games
- Florida A&M-Southeastern Louisiana winner at No. 3 James Madison
- Northern Iowa-Eastern Washington winner at No. 6 Montana
- Davidson-Kennesaw State winner at No. 7 East Tennessee State
- Southern Illinois-South Dakota winner at No. 2 North Dakota State
- Stephen F. Austin-Incarnate Word winner at No. 1 Sam Houston
- Tennessee Martin-Missouri State winner at No. 8 Montana State
- Sacred Heart-Holy Cross winner at No. 5 Villanova
- UC Davis-South Dakota State winner at No. 4 Sacramento State