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Kolpack: Bison football outlook for this season? Keep that cowboy hat handy

Not many questions for defending national champions with fall practice at full speed

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North Dakota State players Logan Hofstedt, Hunter Luepke and Jake Kava ready for photos during Bison Football media day at the Fargodome on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum
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Times have changed with North Dakota State’s annual football Media Day. In the old days, thanks to booster Jewel Roningen, everybody was treated to a steak lunch and the first day of practice was a roll call of sorts as to who is on the team.

In the day of instant communication, when Bison head coach Matt Entz addressed the media on Wednesday, the team’s personnel was almost old news. It was as if everybody knew the two-deep depth chart even though one hasn’t been released.

What hasn’t changed is addressing expectations.

Rare was the question in Jewel’s day of reaching McAllen, Texas, or Florence, Ala., the site of NDSU’s five Division II national championships in the 1980s and 1990. On Wednesday, nobody asked Entz about Frisco, Texas, the site of the Division I FCS national title game.

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North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz talks about the upcoming season during Bison Football media day at the Fargodome on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

It would be wise for a player not to talk about it in practice, either.

“Not unless it’s one of our offensive lineman talking about a hamburger from Hardee’s or something,” Entz said. “But no, no one ever talks about it. It’s about getting better that day.”

I’ll talk about it, however.

The question in the last several years at this time of the year is no longer how will the Bison be this season? It’s more along the lines of what are the chances of reaching Frisco again? And those numbers are usually somewhere north of 50%, if not 75% with a program that has won the Division I FCS national championship in nine of the past 11 seasons.

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North Dakota State wide receiver Braylon Henderson strikes a pose as teammate Oscar Benson looks on during Bison Football media day at the Fargodome on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

I’m putting this year’s team at a 70% chance of boarding a charter plane for Dallas Love Field Airport in early January. That’s an extraordinarily high number in mid-August, considering it’s a physical game where injuries can make a difference and the bet is against the rest of the field in the FCS. I'd put South Dakota State at 50/50.

Both are loaded.

With NDSU, start with the offensive line, where nine of the top 10 players return. Quarterback Cam Miller is back along with every running back. Tight end Noah Gindorff returns. The defensive line has players. Entz said the defensive backfield is as deep as it’s ever been.

Questions need to be answered at linebacker, wide receiver (who can go deep) and kicker. And at this point there is no cause for alarm at those three spots.

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North Dakota State defensive back Michael Tutsie wheels in his daughter, Sarai, to the delight of his teammates Oscar Benson, RaJa Nelson, TK Marshall and DJ Hart during Bison Football media day at the Fargodome on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

The schedule is favorable. The Bison have South Dakota State, Illinois State and North Dakota at home. They have Western Illinois and Indiana State on the road. They don’t play Northern Iowa and Missouri State because of the alternating Valley schedule.

They don’t have the nonconference gauntlet they had in 2016 when NDSU hosted No. 6-ranked Charleston Southern and eighth-ranked Eastern Washington before a road game at Iowa, ranked 11th in the FBS at the time.

There are a couple of potential traps. The Bison travel to South Dakota on Sept. 24 in their Missouri Valley Football Conference opener, a week after a 10 p.m. (CST) kickoff at Arizona. NDSU will most likely get back to Fargo from that game in the 6 a.m. (CST) range on Sunday and then have to bus to Vermillion the ensuing Friday.

Moreover, in the past, the Bison have normally played USD later in the season when depth was often an issue with the Coyotes. It was one of the last two regular-season games in four of the last five seasons, not counting the pandemic-delayed spring 2021 year.

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North Dakota State offensive lineman Cody Mauch poses for photographer Zach Lucy during Bison Football media day at the Fargodome on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

The overlooked opponent could be Indiana State. The Bison travel to Terre Haute on Oct. 8, a week before the Dakota Marker game against SDSU. Then again, NDSU has rarely been guilty of overlooking anybody.

All of the questions at this point can be answered with depth. It’s the one element of FCS football that the Bison have had on everybody. It’s how you win national titles. Will the Bison get back to Frisco?

I’d make sure that cowboy hat doesn’t get too deep into storage.

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North Dakota State's Spencer Waege takes direction from Stacey Anderson and photographer Matt Hopper from WDAY television during Bison Football media day at the Fargodome on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum
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North Dakota State's TK Marshall checks his look before photos during Bison Football media day at the Fargodome on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum
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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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