FARGO – The first FCS playoff crasher was The Citadel, which upset The South Carolina 23-22 to most likely give it an at-large berth to The FCS tournament that will be announced today.
There was no such drama Saturday at The Gate City Bank Field at The Fargodome. It was The Blowout.
That of course was no surprise given that Missouri State is in the first year of a rebuilding job that will take longer than a few months. You knew it was going to be a long day for the Bears when they took the field to nobody booing them; that had to be a first in dome history. Bison fans were already in a compassionate mood before the kickoff.
By halftime, nobody cared with NDSU up 41-0. The final was 55-0 but the real show this weekend starts Sunday morning on ESPNU. It's the FCS Selection Show that will unveil whether the Bison will be the No. 2 or 3 seed for the 24-team tourney that starts next week.
NDSU will get a first-round bye ... and I'm not sure why I have to explain the format anymore in these parts since it's become such second nature.
There are two keys heading into postseason: One, is the team playing well? Two, is the team healthy? The Bison are sitting pretty in both categories, winning five straight to close the season. The scrimmage against the Bears came at the right time because, with the bye, most of the Bison starters will have essentially gotten two weeks off heading into the second round.
"I told our seniors, 'We have 14 guys who have the heart of a champion,' " said head coach Chris Klieman. "We're not going to let this thing go down. The last five weeks was as good of a focus as any team that I've had. Each day we talked about winning the day. We just didn't win on Saturday the last five weeks but we won every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to give us an opportunity to play well on Saturday."
NDSU played without its starting cornerbacks because of injury, but that never mattered anyway because nobody in white could block any of the defensive linemen in green. By halftime, you had to feel for Bears starting quarterback Brodie Lambert, who may wake up in the middle of night with nightmares of Greg Menard smacking him. The Bison defensive end is just a sophomore, but he's doing things that Kyle Emanuel used to do. Not everything, but look out.
The game was barely a couple of minutes old when almost everybody on the Bison defensive line was all over Lambert on a third down pass. Menard forced the fumble and Caleb Butler fell on it in the end zone for a 7-0 lead. About the only suspense after that was which of the 14 seniors would get the best on-field curtain call.
Put it this way, Missouri State had two players that looked like FCS players: receiver Malik Earl and running back Ryan Heaston. There's some work to be done with the other 20 positions. This Bears team left Fargo as a candidate for the worst Missouri Valley team I've seen, right up there with the Indiana State team of 2013.
"This shows how much work we have to do in the offseason to get to this level," said MSU head coach Dave Steckel.
It's doable. The Sycamores came back to make the playoffs the following year. You never know in this subdivision, and the same will go for today's FCS pairings. It's a mess.
The only thing that mattered to the Bison players late Saturday afternoon was the thought of getting a week off, although receiver Zach Vraa said online research of the rest of the FCS playoff field would probably be imminent.
"Right now I haven't been (researching), but I'm sure some guys will get into it and figure out where we might be," he said.
In the spirit of bracketology, here's a best guess:
The top four seeds in order will be Jacksonville State, NDSU, McNeese State and Illinois State. After that it will be the toughest year for the FCS Playoff Committee since the Bison first reached postseason in 2010. For instance, South Dakota State lost to Western Illinois, which may have knocked the Jackrabbits from a top-eight seed and a first-round bye. Or perhaps the committee will value an FBS win over Kansas and a victory over Illinois State and say that's good enough for a top eight seed.
With its five-game winning streak, 9-2 record and high power poll ranking, NDSU won't have to sweat the first-round bye argument on Sunday.
Oops, I meant The NDSU.