SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - In many ways, Springfield is much like Fargo except with the hub of country music just down the road in Branson. The populations are similar, the size of the local state universities are in the same ballpark and the football teams play in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
One team just happens to be better than the other right now.
How do the locals feel about their Missouri State Bears? At least there is a sense of anticipation for the 2 p.m. game against North Dakota State at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 8.
It's a contrast from the first four times NDSU made the trip here starting in 2008, with all four played in November and by then the Bears were playing for pride.
They are 3-1 now including a 1-0 record in the league. It's the first real home game for the Bears with the last one over a month ago against NAIA school Southwestern College out of Kansas. That would be akin to NDSU opening its season against the University of Jamestown (N.D.) at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
It was a year ago when head coach Dave Steckel took over the Missouri State program and among his plans was to build a sense of excitement with the students and the Springfield community. One of his hopes is a gathering point for students and fans called BearFest Village, located just outside the stadium to the north.
Steckel once joked on a conference call that he wouldn't mind if alcohol was consumed by students of age at the site. His point, of course, was more about creating a festive environment than consuming alcohol.
He may get that on Saturday. The school is advertising a promotion for buy one ticket, get one free in the bleacher section, which is almost like giving them away in this day and age of college football. Two years ago, Weber State did something similar when the Bison traveled to Ogden, Utah, for a nonconference game, which ended up drawing 14,577 fans. It looked more sparse than that.
It remains to be seen if the local folks will show up in Springfield. Six students were asked near the BearFest location on Friday if they were looking forward to the game. Five weren't sure if there was a game, even though the Missouri State band was practicing on the field.
The sixth, Missouri State senior Derek Walters, said there is much more optimism this season after last year's 1-10 mark.
"It just feels like it," he said. "Coach Steck is in his second year and it feels like his plan is coming together. There was a lot of doubt with the student body last year. I think everybody was expecting something like 10-0, which was rather unrealistic."
In a switch from previous years, the Bison offense worked on the silent count this week in practice before a Missouri State game. You could have counted the attendance one by one in 10 minutes in previous games at Plaster and certainly weather was a factor. The first game was played in a cold rain. Snow flurries were prevalent two years ago.
It's expected to be sunny and 70 degrees on Saturday. If ever there was a time for Missouri State fans to make a difference, this would be it.
"A big game, North Dakota State is rated first," Walters said. "This may sound bad but after three or four games last year everybody stopped caring."
No. 1 North Dakota State at Missouri State
When: 2 p.m. Saturday