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McFeely: Bison should roll to a No. 2 (or higher) playoff seed

After 52-24 stomping of South Dakota, NDSU's resume better than that of other teams vying for homefield advantage

North Dakota State's Jalen Bussey greets young fans after the win over South Dakota at the Fargodome on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — If Saturday's game between North Dakota State and South Dakota was viewed as some sort of Missouri Valley Football Conference championship showdown, then the gap between the league champion Bison and everybody else is as wide as the Red River Valley.

The Coyotes came to the Fargodome with a crack at cinching a share of their first Valley title.

They left looking like Wile E. Coyote, as usual. Instead of the Roadrunner dropping the anvil, it was the Bison.

The final score was NDSU 52, USD 24 in the regular-season finale and it wasn't even that close. The Bison, coming off a goofy spring Football Championship Subdivision season during which they lost three games and had the rest of the subdivision rubbing their hands together with glee at the empire's downfall, are 10-1 and rolling into the postseason.

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  • McFeely: Bison should roll to a No. 2 (or higher) playoff seed After 52-24 stomping of South Dakota, NDSU's resume better than that of other teams vying for homefield advantage

North Dakota State's Courtney Eubanks tackles South Dakota receiver at the Fargodome on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
Forum Communications Co.

Hate to tell you this, FCS community, but the road to Frisco, Texas, and the national championship game should again go through Fargo.

It might not, given the vagaries of the FCS playoff committee, which will announce the 24-team postseason field Sunday morning.

But it should. NDSU has the resume.

This opinion will have the Bison's friends in Harrisonburg, Va., a touch upset, but despite also being 10-1 and being a clear threat to win a national title, James Madison's resume doesn't measure up.

NDSU's head coach and one of its top players claim to not be worried about where the Bison wind up in the seedings.

"I don't know," coach Matt Entz said when asked if his team deserved a top-two seed. "It doesn't matter. We're going to be ready to play."


North Dakota State's RaJa Nelson skips past South Dakota kicker Mason Lorber on a return at the Fargodome on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
Forum Communications Co.

But it does matter, and Entz knows this. If NDSU gets the No. 1 or No. 2 seed, it will be guaranteed home playoff games through the semifinals as long as the Bison keep winning. A third or fourth seed means they'd travel for the semifinals if the higher seeded teams were still alive.

NDSU's eight national championships from 2011-2019 all went through the Fargodome, where the Bison are 28-1 in FCS playoff games since 2010.

"Wherever they want to put us, we know that we have to beat everybody," Bison offensive lineman Cordell Volson said. "I know how good we are and how good we're capable of being. But wherever they put us, that's their decision and we control our own destiny."

The Bison's case for No. 2 seed — every FCS pundit believes 10-0 Sam Houston will get the top seed based on its spring national championship, even though the Bearkats had a much weaker schedule than NDSU — looks like this:

  • NDSU won the best conference in FCS all by its lonesome. James Madison, the other team assumed to be in the discussion for the second seed, tied for the Colonial Athletic Association championship with Villanova. The computer-generated Sagarin ratings has the Missouri Valley Football Conference listed as the best in FCS, with the CAA seventh.
  • Going into Saturday's games, the Bison were ranked No. 1 in the Massey ratings while JMU was 10th. Massey had NDSU's strength of schedule as the 17th toughest in the FCS, compared to 48th for James Madison.
  • The Sagarin rankings have NDSU rated as the top team in the FCS while JMU is third.
  • The one edge JMU has is its lone loss, to 9-2 Villanova (which earned the CAA's automatic playoff bid), looks slightly better than NDSU's loss to 8-3 South Dakota State. But the Dukes' loss was at home while the Bison's was on the road.

How the 10-person playoff selection committee decides to roll, as always, will be the great mystery. There are criteria for how seeds are decided, but in the end it comes down to what the humans in the room value.
Quality wins? Quality losses? Quality schedules? Uniform colors? The NCAA's Simple Ratings System, whatever that is?

NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen is on the committee, but has to leave the room — leave the Zoom? — when the Bison are being discussed.


The playoff field and the seeds will be announced Sunday at 11:30 a.m. CST, televised by ESPNU.

The Bison should be No. 2 — and one could make the argument they should be No. 1 given Sam Houston's soft schedule.

Regardless, this much is true: After a stumble-bumble loss at SDSU, the Bison appear to be playing their best football heading into the playoffs with consecutive dominating victories. The offense appears to have been healed. In the dome or on the road, NDSU will again be in the hunt for a trip to Frisco.

They are, as they have in past title years, trending upward at the right time.

"Yessir," agreed Bison linebacker James Kaczor. "Our program is built on that. Fortunately we've been here before. We know how it goes. I think we have a good system set up and I feel like we're rolling right now."

The more things changed in the spring FCS season, the more they've stayed the same in the fall.

Related Topics: THE MCFEELY MESS
Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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