FCS Semifinal Preview

Game 1 – Friday, December 14

No. 5 South Dakota State (10-2) @ No. 1 North Dakota State (13-0)

Fargo, ND – 7:00 PM CST (ESPN2)

Happy game day, everyone! It’s here—the much-anticipated semifinal matchup that we all talked about as soon as we saw the 2018 FCS Playoff bracket.

The Jacks.

The Bison.

Instead of a 78 lb. stone trophy, the winner of this one gets a plane ticket to Frisco, TX, and a spot in the national championship game—I guess that’s cool, too.

As rich as the history is between these two programs, none of that will put points on the board tonight at the Fargodome. This one is about the here and now, so let’s look at tonight’s match-up, which just happens to be 109th meeting between the Jackrabbits and the Bison on the gridiron.


NDSU head coach, Chris Klieman, was named the new head coach for Kansas State Football earlier this week. Yes, this is a “same song, second chorus” moment for NDSU fans, as they rewind back to the 2013 season when it was announced mid-playoffs that then-head coach, Craig Bohl, would be leaving Fargo to take the job at Wyoming.

But…all NDSU fans know that things worked out pretty well back in 2013, and this 2018 team is drawing some peculiar similarities to that squad from five years ago. Additionally, the fifth-year seniors on NDSU’s squad, who have a maximum of just two games left in a Bison uniform, were Klieman’s first recruits as NDSU head coach.

To add even more volume to this “noise,” the Klieman announcement was the same day as another coaching announcement down in Brookings—SDSU’s John Stiegelmeier signed a five-year contract extension.

Ironic? Yes. Surprising? No.

This is the timing of this stuff, and this is how coaching works. But of course, we media folks love to talk about these tidbits as if they’re part of the scouting report. They’re not, and I want to send a huge congratulations to Coach Klieman and Coach Stig, as both are outstanding coaches and humans who deserve these new opportunities.

And speaking of new opportunities, NDSU defensive coordinator, Matt Entz, was named the next head coach of the Bison football program yesterday. IS THIS 2013 ALL OVER AGAIN? Anyhow, congrats to Coach Entz!

Here’s the bottom line:

The only noise that either of the two teams should be concerned about is the Fargodome crowd.

Those fans are in postseason form, and it’s going to be hard to hear yourself think if you’re sporting the blue and yellow out there tonight. IMO, none of the players on NDSU are mad or salty that their coach is leaving after the season. Teams like the one they have (and have had for years) don’t happen if the guys don’t love their coach – plus, they know they’re in good hands, with Coach Entz already being elevated to the top dog spot. The players want the best for Coach Klieman, and they want to send him out on a positive note.

Now that I’ve gotten my two cents out there, let’s talk about some football, shall we?


These two teams know each other extremely well, and if this is anything like September 29’s Dakota Marker (the last time these two squads met) it’s going to come down to big plays. Without going through the entire game from late September, I think we all can recall plays like the Jalen Allison interception in the end zone, the Cade Johnson drops right before half, the Isaac Wallace 61-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter—things like that.

Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda. Right? That was then, this is now. The Bison and the Jacks aren’t the teams they were back in September. And while we’re still on the topic of big plays, perhaps we should address a STRONG player for the SDSU offense, as of late—Pierre Strong, Jr. (See what I did there?)

If you’re going to look at how Strong did the last time these two teams played, stop right there. He didn’t see the field. Strong was the fourth option at running back. But that was then, and this is now. To understand how Strong has been affecting the Jackrabbit offense recently, take a look at these numbers:


First 7 Games of 2018:

  • 27 carries
  • 200 yards
  • 0 rushing TDs
  • 7.41 yards/carry

Last 5 Games:

  • 70 carries
  • 781 yards
  • 10 rushing TDs
  • 11.16 yards/carry

Oh, and by the way, he was named to the MVFC All-Newcomer team and named the Valley’s freshman of the year (yes, freshman).

So if the Jacks are in need of a big play, I think they have an idea of who they’ll go to. At the same time, the Bison defense is a different animal, and I think we’re all excited to see Strong’s first shot against it.


This is everything we’d want in a national championship game, but seeing these two go head-to-head in a national semifinal game is the next best thing. These are two mature teams led by two of the best QBs to play FCS football. Plus, let’s all appreciate the fact that this is the first time two MVFC teams have met in the semis.

If you like football, it’s going to be a great game.

If you don’t like football, it’s still going to be a great game, and you’ll probably like football after watching it.

It’s going to be a great game, no matter what.

And finally, if you’re looking for me to pick a winner:

1. Thanks for reading this far only to be disappointed that I’m not picking one.

2. All I’m going to say is this is going to come down to big plays, and…

3. I’ll leave you with this historic John Madden quote: “Usually the team that scores the most points wins the game.” Usually.



Filed Under Football | College | North Dakota State University | South Dakota State University