Bohl: D-I foe will be a real test

It's been 33 years since North Dakota State and the University of Montana played a football game. A lot has changed since then, most notably the Roman numeral of the teams' respective divisions.

It's been 33 years since North Dakota State and the University of Montana played a football game. A lot has changed since then, most notably the Roman numeral of the teams' respective divisions.

The Grizzlies moved to NCAA Division I-AA while NDSU remained in Division II.

The Bison will move their program to a Division I schedule beginning next year. Saturday afternoon, in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains in Missoula, Mont., they'll most likely get an answer to this question on Saturday afternoon: How far away are the Bison from the summit of I-AA?

"We recognize it's a step up," said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl. "It's the direction we're heading next year. They have more scholarship players and their depth is better. Beyond that, you're looking at a marquee team at the I-AA level."

It will be the home opener for Montana after a 30-20 win at the University of Maine last Saturday. Both teams have first-year head coaches who served as assistants with some of the best Division I-A programs in the country.


Bobby Hauck spent his last four years at the University of Washington. Bohl spent his last eight years at the University of Nebraska. They actually were on opposite sidelines when Hauck was at the University of Colorado from 1995-98.

That's about where the similarities between NDSU and Montana end.

Division I-AA carries a scholarship maximum of 63 full equivalencies. Division II has 36. The Grizzlies won I-AA titles in 1995 and 2001 and have appeared in the title game four of the last eight years.

Hauck took over a program that was well stocked; they went 11-3 last year and have won five straight Big Sky Conference titles. Bohl, meanwhile, inherited a 2-8 team and the Bison haven't won a North Central Conference championship since 1994.

Hauck downplayed the potential of the Grizzlies overlooking the Division II foe, however. For one, the Grizzlies have 18,000 season ticket holders and University of Montana football is one of the biggest events in the state.

"I don't know how you can overlook somebody who is coming in trying to knock you off," Hauck said.

It will be NDSU's first game against a Division I-AA opponent since the Bison defeated Northern Iowa 12-7 in 1982.

Bison, from D1


NDSU played Big Sky team Northern Arizona seven times between 1971 and 1981. They played Montana State 12 times between 1970 and 1980. Since then, the Big Sky went I-AA in the late 1970s -- a level Bohl has some experience with.

Last year, as the Nebraska defensive coordinator, he prepared the Cornhuskers against I-AA McNeese State (La.). Nebraska won 38-14.

"McNeese in my comparison was along the lines of a lower Big 12 school," Bohl said. "It wasn't a blow-away game. When looking at a top-of-the-line I-AA school, you're looking at a comparable lower I-A school."

Asked where McNeese was superior to Tusculum College (Tenn.), NDSU's 28-7 victim last week, Bohl said, "Overall in the offensive and defensive lines. You just see more athleticism and more strength."

On Saturday, most of the Bison team will see more fans -- Washington-Grizzly Stadium has a capacity of 24,000 -- and more talent than they're used to. But several NDSU Division I coaches have worked in big arenas and starting quarterback Tony Stauss played in 10 games in two years at Northwestern University.

"We do have a great deal of experience in a couple key spots," Bohl said. "We have several guys who coached in 100,000-seat stadiums and a national audience. We have a quarterback who has played in large arenas. We already have one question answered."

One that won't be answered until Saturday: Will the Bison be intimidated?

"I wouldn't say that," Bohl said, "but our players certainly respect them."


Before 1970, that wasn't a problem. NDSU carries a 2-1 series lead into Saturday's game. That was before divisional separation.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546

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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