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College football: Meierkort guides USD to lofty heights

Ed Meierkort's first victory as the head football coach at the University of South Dakota was against Mayville State (N.D.). His 100th was against the University of Minnesota.

Ed Meierkort's first victory as the head football coach at the University of South Dakota was against Mayville State (N.D.). His 100th was against the University of Minnesota.

That's quite the span of competition, but it also summarizes the upgrade the Coyotes have made in their football program. It's generally regarded that North Dakota State set the standard for football success in a Division I reclassification, but the Coyotes are making sounds that they're not too far behind.

The 41-38 win at Minnesota two weeks ago equaled NDSU's win at the Metrodome in 2007.

"That gets you that national discussion," said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor. "It helps with the recognition of all of your programs and I'm sure they're experiencing similar things that we did. I know from general student recruitment that it helped us significantly."

USD is in its third year of the five-year move from NCAA Division II, and its hope is to put the .500 seasons of the first two transition years behind. The Coyotes went 6-5 and 5-5, which included overtime losses to North Dakota, California Davis and Montana State.

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The Football Championship Subdivision breakthrough was the final game of last season, a 50-48 win at California Poly.

NDSU finished 8-3 and 7-4 in its first two years and then followed that with consecutive 10-1 seasons.

Meierkort said USD had it tougher in the transition in one regard, saying the Coyotes lost their affiliations with all of their former opponents with the exception of UND. That, however, is debatable.

NDSU had familiar teams Northern Colorado and South Dakota State on its 2004 and 2005 schedules, the first two years of the transition, but that was it. USD played Northern Colorado last season.

Taylor said he had conversations with former USD athletic director Joel Nielson.

The subjects centered on scheduling and growing scholarships but no hard documents were exchanged between the two universities.

NDSU could write a "How To" guide on the reclassification. It went so unexpectedly smooth that Taylor said the only thing he would do different was hire one or two more people in the support areas of fundraising and/or marketing.

"I've been asked that question before, there's not a whole lot I would do differently," Taylor said. "But if you asked me if I would go through it again, I'd say heck no."

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Meierkort said the home football fans are starting to return now that they've adjusted to the schedule. The Coyotes have UND, Northern Iowa, Northern Colorado and Cal Poly at home this year.

NDSU returns in 2013 - USD's first as an active member - as part of a home-and-home agreement.

"Now there's light at the end of the tunnel," Meierkort said. "Everybody goes back to the North Central Conference days."

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m. on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack's NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia

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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