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The real test begins

The first four games for North Dakota State was the alphabet soup of football schedules. Pick almost any division and the Bison played a team from it.

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The first four games for North Dakota State was the alphabet soup of football schedules. Pick almost any division and the Bison played a team from it.

There was a nonscholarship Division I-AA team in Valparaiso University (Ind.), a I-AA transitional team in Northern Colorado, a Division II team in Carson-Newman College (Tenn.) and a NAIA team in Montana Tech.

The Bison went 3-1 for two reasons: they played well in the three victories and the competition in two of them was not very good.

Starting Saturday, say goodbye to Easy Street and say hello to Division I-AA Avenue. The Bison play Nicholls State University in a 4 p.m. game in Thibodaux, La.

"We're stepping into a new arena," said Bison head coach Craig Bohl. "These are games we can win but if we don't play well, we'll probably not win."

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Nicholls is what Bohl calls "an entrenched I-AA program."

That means the school has been operating at the Division I-AA maximum of 63 scholarships for several years and plays in a league, the Southland Conference, which is astute at football.

The Southland has four teams ranked in the Division I-AA top 25 poll this week. Stephen F. Austin (Texas) is fifth, Northwestern State (La.) 14th, Sam Houston State (Texas) 18th and McNeese State (La.) 23rd. Two other teams, Texas State and Southeastern Louisiana, received votes in the poll.

"It's a mature conference in an area of the country that has a lot of good players," Bohl said. "Many of those teams have beaten I-A teams in the past. Texas and Louisiana -- if you look at college football in general, there are a lot of players from that area. They're well stocked."

Eighteen of the Colonels' 22 starters are from Texas or Louisiana. Three are from Mississippi and one is from Maryland.

NDSU is in its first year of Division I-AA play. The Bison increased from the Division II maximum of 36 scholarships to 54½ in the offseason.

Still, it takes a few years to operate at a maximum scholarship level.

"Depth," Bohl said.

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The Bison follow the Nicholls game with a road trip to South Dakota State before returning home to face three straight I-AA teams that are having successful seasons: Southern Utah, California Poly and Northwestern State.

They finish at Weber State (Utah) and California Davis, which is 3-0 including blowout wins over Sacramento State (Calif.) by 58-23 and SDSU by 52-0.

"That's all part of I-AA football," Bohl said. "You're going to see some really good competition over the next several weeks."

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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