FARGO — Thirty-seven. That number has been talked about almost zero times over the course of the last month when the North Dakota State and Central Arkansas game was scheduled.
Finally, the two ranked programs will face each other Saturday afternoon at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. For the Bears, it’s a chance to knock off a perennial FCS national champion.
For the Bison, it’s a chance to keep their 37-game winning streak going heading into next spring’s Missouri Valley Football Conference season. Not that anybody is counting. NDSU head coach Matt Entz certainly isn’t.
“We haven’t talked about it once,” he said at his Zoom press conference earlier this week. “This is the first time it came up in conversation. We’re not going to rest on our laurels or what happened in the past. This is the first and only game this group of players will play in so we’re going to do everything we can to come out with a victory.”
If that happens, the Bison will enter next spring with the all-time college football winning streak in sight. The University of Oklahoma won 47 in a row from 1953-57.
NDSU would have to reach the Division I FCS semifinals unscathed in order to beat it.
Schoening undecided about spring
Add Bison center Karson Schoening to the list of players who is undecided about returning in the spring. He said he still needs to talk to his family and Bison coaches before making a final decision.
Giving pro football a shot is part of the debate.
“I know I have a great family, great girlfriend and the future is looking good there,” he said. “And when it comes to the football side, I’ve always wanted to play in the NFL, just trying to make a decision that would be best for me.”
If Schoening doesn’t return, that could pave the way for Zach Willis, a junior from West Fargo, to take over at center. He’s No. 2 on the depth chart for the Bears game.
The 6-foot-5, 304-pound Schoening had a breakout season last year in helping pave the way for a 16-0 season. The Bison offensive line gave quarterback Trey Lance plenty of time to throw throughout the season.
Saturday could be Lance’s last game as a Bison if he chooses to come out early for the NFL Draft.
“Playing with Trey Lance has been one of the best experiences of my life,” Schoening said. “He’s a great kid, great football player and a great experience to get to say that yeah, I know him, I played with him, he’s one of my best friends so it’s been a pretty cool experience.”
'We're getting them at a good time'
Central Arkansas head coach Nathan Brown said the Bears could be getting NDSU at the right time due to a number of factors. The Bison are playing their first and only game this fall and the Fargodome down won't be packed with 18,000 fans.
“I think we’re getting them at a good time," Brown said. “Usually you're having another game to play within a game when you’re dealing with the crowd noise at North Dakota State. ... We are battle tested. We’ve played four-quarter games in all three games we’ve played.”
Central Arkansas has two wins against FCS opponents, including a 27-20 home victory against Missouri State last weekend. The Bears' lone loss was 45-35 against Alabama-Birmingham on Sept. 3. UAB is an FBS program that plays in Conference USA.
“We know that this is a tall task. Our players are excited about competing against the best," Brown said of the Bison. “It’s an opportunity to see what it looks like and see where we want our program to get at some point.”
Dome turf problem fixed
The crooked goal line on the Fargodome turf that made its way through social media at the end of last season has been fixed. Dome general manager Rob Sobolik said workers from AstroTurf were in Fargo last month addressing the issue.
The problem was the connection from the turf to the large underground roller in the south end zone. It just wore out. The turf was removed from the “leader” until Monday when workers will return to install new parts.
Sobolik said that should keep the turf intact until it is scheduled to be replaced sometime in 2022. The plan is to maintain the “magic carpet” system because the changeover time from removing the turf to prepare the dome for another event is two to three hours compared to 10 to 12 hours for turf in other arenas.
“I have been told they’ve made advancements in the underlayment material, so it’s even stronger than it was,” Sobolik said.
Rule changes for 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered a few rules in college football this season. Entz said the most notable is the sideline being extended from the 25-yard line to the 15.
“It will give our players and coaches more room to spread out,” he said. “Otherwise, very few adjustments to rules this season.”
One adjustment addresses the safety of the long snapper on a punt or kick. Any defensive player within one yard of the line scrimmage must be aligned outside the frame of the body of the snapper.
“That was a rule to help protect those players, those snappers in getting their head up in time,” Entz said.
As for COVID-19 adjustments, the pregame coin toss will include one captain from each team (four were previously allowed), the referee and the umpire. Also, officials are using an “electronic whistle” — devices that are pushed by hand — and are required to wear a solid black mask.
NDSU, in its detailed effort of prepping for the game, has practiced with officials using the electronic whistles.
Brown impressed with Entz
Brown is impressed with the job Entz did in his first season as head coach with the Bison, leading NDSU to a 16-0 record last fall en route to the program's third consecutive FCS national championship.
The Bison have won eight of the past nine national titles. Entz took over for Chris Klieman, who is now the head coach at Kansas State. Craig Bohl, now the head coach at Wyoming, preceded Klieman and started the program's national championship run.
“He hasn’t skipped a beat," Brown said of Entz. "As a matter of fact, he brings a different edge even than what those other coaches even brought. It’s so impressive to watch that 16-0 team from last year.”