Bison know what to expect from Jacks in second round of FCS playoffs

FARGO - South Dakota State is still blue and gold and North Dakota State is still green and gold. The Jackrabbits haven't changed their offense in several years and neither has NDSU.

FARGO – South Dakota State is still blue and gold and North Dakota State is still green and gold. The Jackrabbits haven’t changed their offense in several years and neither has NDSU.

SDSU will try to get Zach Zenner some rushing yards Saturday in the Division I FCS second-round playoff game at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The Bison will try and counter with their West Coast power offense.

No shock there.

For the second time in three years, the two Dakotas will hook up in a postseason game and the more things stay the same – well, the more things stay the same.

“They’ll do what they do,” said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman.


The Jacks advanced with a 47-40 first-round win at Montana State last Saturday, a game that saw Zenner run all over the place with 324 all-purpose yards. The Bison, the second seed in the playoff field, had a first-round bye and spent last week prepping for both the Bobcats and the Jackrabbits.

SDSU, however, got more attention as the week went on.

“Maybe that was the confidence in our league,” Klieman said. “Montana State is a good team, but I thought South Dakota State had a few too many weapons.”

Saturday’s first-round games were further proof that the Missouri Valley Football Conference carries the big stick in the FCS this season. The league went 23-1 in nonconference games, finished first in the Gridiron Power Poll by a good margin, and to back up the ratings, has five teams among the final 16 in the playoffs.

Two teams are guaranteed to lose this weekend. Besides the SDSU and NDSU game, Northern Iowa is at Illinois State in another second-round game. Indiana State visits the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

What was impressive, Klieman said, was SDSU and Indiana State winning on the road. The Sycamores defeated Eastern Kentucky of the Ohio Valley Conference 36-16.

After the Missouri Valley, the Colonial Athletic Association is not far back with three remaining teams in Villanova, Richmond and top-seeded New Hampshire. The Big Sky Conference has two teams left in Montana and Eastern Washington, and the Big South Conference has Liberty and Coastal Carolina.

“I think it will help us moving forward in the years to come,” Klieman said, “to make sure that when there’s a 7-4 Valley team against a 7-4 – I don’t care if you say Big Sky, CAA or Southland, all the good conferences – that they’ll choose the Valley team.”


Mike Kern, the associated director of MVFC, said the FCS playoffs have – right or wrong – historically become a measuring stick for the strength of a conference.

“This year, it’s right,” Kern said. “Valley Football’s historic season continued with a dominant first week in the opening round. Earning five spots in the remaining 16-team FCS playoff field validates how good we’ve been saying our league is in 2014.”

Other than linebacker Travis Beck, who was lost for the season against Youngstown State, NDSU should have its full slate of starters available for the Jacks. That includes cornerback C.J. Smith, who has missed almost all of the past two games with a knee injury.

“I think there’s more bounce in their step,” Klieman said.


Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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