FARGO - North Dakota State played just two football games in the 2020 calendar year, but yet the Bison were not far removed from the headlines.
Whether it was winning an eighth national championship to having the fall season postponed because of COVID, to seeing their award winning quarterback declare early for the NFL Draft, the year was filled with highlights. Head coach Matt Entz visited with WDAY Sports Director Dom Izzo about some of the big moments of the last 12 years.
"It's been unbelievably unique. It's been unique for every football program, and I tell the team, no one is going to be feeling sorry for the Bison. We have to continue to do what we need to do to be successful, make sure we are taking care of academics, taking care of our bodies, and at the same time trying to prepare for the spring of 2021 and a quick turnaround of the fall of '21." Entz said.
Entz had to deal with a year unlike any other. The defending FCS champions were primed for a big year in 2020, who immediately had to deal with change with the news that star linebacker Jabril Cox had entered the NCAA Transfer Portal in March. Cox decided to transfer to LSU in April.
It was shortly after Cox's decision that spring football was set to start. That all ended with COVID. No spring workouts. No offseason conditioning. No anything.
The football team reconvened in July when the NCAA allowed offseason training for a couple of weeks. At the time, there was still indecision about what was going to happen with the fall season. NDSU began fall camp on August 7th. That evening the Missouri Valley Football Conference announced that the league would not be playing this fall.
"The longer it went with no games on the weekend, the more frustrating it became. I thought the 2020 team could be unique, some days I felt sorry for myself that we never (played) and then I felt sorry for Bison Nation that we never got a chance to see what the 2020 team could look like." Entz said.
A crazy ten days followed. NDSU announced that they were trying to find three opponents to play in the fall. August 14th the school announced the Bison would not be playing any games in the fall. Ten days later, NDSU announced that they would play one game on October 3rd at the Fargodome against Central Arkansas. The Bison trailed in the 4th quarter before pulling away for a 39-28 win.
Highlights of yesterday's #NDSU 39-28 win over Central Arkansas, from @WDAYSports. Trey Lance goes for four combined touchdowns, while also throwing his first interception in 308 attempts. pic.twitter.com/KvW6VXlYOl— Dom Izzo (@DomIzzoWDAY) October 4, 2020
"Unbelievably grateful and glad that we did it. We got 30 practices in, our young kids and underclassmen are much further along had we not played it. I think you saw a football team that once we got up, they started to realize that this was the only game that was maybe the only negative, if you would have played two it would have been the same issue. I think there was a lack of focus towards the end, but to come out with a win, it was a great evaluation tool and also a great place to pick up from when we get going in February." Entz said.
That was it. No more Bison games until February. At the same time, the entire FBS was playing. I asked Entz if the MVFC should have at least started the season.
"I wish we would have. Matt Larsen and I had numerous conversations, I had numerous conversations with other coaches in the league. I wish the Missouri Valley would have, but the decision was out of my hands. We're going to follow thru, make the most out of our opportunity, told the kids every weekend could be a celebration of the Bison, there's a chance every one could be watching."
On top of that, redshirt sophomore quarterback Trey Lance's name was starting to circle in the NFL scouting world once April came around. Lance's award-winning 2019 season was making the rounds of scouts and player personnel directors. Enough so that in April, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper touted Lance as the next big thing.
Remember last week when I mentioned the Trey Lance hype train had left the station? This morning on ESPN: pic.twitter.com/FWwnXNBXyf— Dom Izzo (@DomIzzoWDAY) May 5, 2020
The groundswell of support for Lance continued to build throughout the summer, enough that he was being considered as a top ten NFL Draft pick. Combined that with the decision by NDSU and the Missouri Valley to not play in the fall, that made for a fascinating decision for Lance. Take the risk of leaving for the NFL after 16 starts or risk playing in the spring and potentially getting hurt?
Lance played in the Central Arkansas game, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another two. Two days after the game, Lance declared for the NFL Draft.
"It was extremely exciting, I've had great conversations with Trey and his family, he's doing what's best for him. That was always the most important thing to me and my staff, I'm looking forward to where he lands. I do know this, I've had numerous Zooms with NFL people and the number one message I tell them is you're going to get a special young man who is not only talented at football but be a great addition to your locker room."
As the calendar gets set to turn to 2021, another unprecedented year may be coming for NDSU football. The potential is there to play nearly 25 games in a ten month span.