Odd conference schedule has battle-tested Bison prepping for rested Illinois State
Two hard-fought wins has Bison moving up to No. 3 in FCS top 25 polls.
FARGO — The Northern Iowa and North Dakota State football game over the years has been one of the most hard-fought, intense battles for both teams. Last Saturday was typical, with the Bison pulling away in the second half for a 34-20 win.
For NDSU, when it comes to Missouri Valley Football Conference rivalries, UNI is always up there along with South Dakota State. Two weeks ago, the University of North Dakota and NDSU game had an old-school rivalry flavor.
Two straight weeks, two meat grinders for the Bison.
Illinois State, meanwhile, had last weekend off.
“We can’t worry about their prep,” said NDSU head coach Matt Entz. “I anticipate coach (Brock) Spack will have them ready to go, combing through every bit of film from the spring and the current season and making sure they have a plan to stop the Bison and to score points.”
The bye in October during the Valley schedule is a product of the league having 11 teams and eight games. Next year, NDSU and Illinois State will face the same situation, only in reverse. The Bison have a mid-October bye, having the week off before playing the Redbirds on Oct. 29.
Whatever the case, it’s homecoming on Saturday at Illinois State and the Bison are expecting their second straight hostile atmosphere. UND’s Alerus Center made life difficult on the Bison offense, although NDSU came away with a 16-10 win.
The Redbirds drew over 13,000 in 2019, but the Bison took the crowd out of the game early in a 37-3 win. The 2017 game at Hancock Stadium was played in terrible weather conditions in late November. Illinois State wouldn’t mind an atmosphere and game similar to the 2010 homecoming game when a Redbirds alum working for the then-NHL champion Chicago Blackhawks brought the Stanley Cup to Hancock.
ISU won 34-24. NDSU has dominated the series since winning the last 10.
Entz said the Bison had no new injuries from the UNI game and may be regaining the services of three starters sooner than later. Linebacker James Kaczor, who missed the Panther game, and defensive end Brayden Thomas (elbow) are listed as day-to-day. Center Jalen Sundell was expected to begin running on Monday after missing last week with a knee injury.
Thomas went through a workout on Saturday and is awaiting a brace, Entz said.
The Bison moved up two places to No. 3 in the Stats Perform FCS top 25 media poll and the FCS coaches poll. Sam Houston State and Eastern Washington occupy the top two spots in both polls after second-ranked James Madison and No. 3 South Dakota State lost on Saturday.