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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 13 2010

Kolpack: Bison improved and then some in 2010

The season started with the athletic director saying he needed to see improvement in the North Dakota State football program. It didn’t take long.

The Bison opened the season with a 6-3 victory at the University of Kansas of the Big 12 Conference and whatever the doubts the players had from the previous 3-8 season were a distant memory. On Saturday, a stirring run in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs ended in a quarterfinal overtime 38-31 heartbreaker at Eastern Washington.

Program improvement? Of course, no question.

“At the end of the day, it was a great ride for us,” said running back D.J. McNorton.

What the postseason wins over Robert Morris University and Montana State did more than anything is restore expectations to the program. When head coach Craig Bohl took the job in 2003, he said the plan was to compete for a national title by the first year of postseason eligibility in 2008.

In the last four months, belief in a national presence for NDSU has taken a dramatic turn for the better. An outstanding freshman class has the ingredients of making a national title return to Texas. Only instead of the old Division II championships in McAllen, the FCS title game is in Frisco, located just outside of Dallas.

“We have a lot of guys coming back so we’ll go after it,” said linebacker Preston Evans.

But in order to take the semifinal and final playoff steps, and complete Bohl’s title quest, the Bison need to find a complete offense and that means a passing game.

They now have an entire offseason to figure it out.

This program hasn’t had successful passing statistics since 2007 when Steve Walker threw at a 67 percent clip. From 2003-07, the Bison West Coast offense had passing percentages of 67, 67, 56, 64 and 67.

NDSU was 161 of 308 this season for 52 percent. It was more glaring in the three postseason games completing 27 of 67 passes for 40 percent.

The Bison were at 55 percent in 2009 and 58 percent in 2008. Keep in mind the top two quarterbacks this year, Brock Jensen and Jose Mohler, were a freshman and sophomore respectively.

Keep in mind Walker was a sophomore when he had his subpar-for-him 56 percent completion season in 2005.

You can’t pin it all on the pitchers, either; the catchers had their issues. There was a lack of depth at receiver. The fourth guy on the depth chart did not have a single reception and that needs to be addressed.

We’re talking tweaking, not a major overhaul here, either. Semifinal teams Eastern Washington and Georgia Southern completed 57 and 51 percent of their passing attempts. Delaware is at 67 percent and Villanova 66.

The Bison also need to address replacing defensive tackle Matthew Gratzek, offensive lineman Michael Arndt and depth at cornerback. But, unlike last year at this time, there are not a lot of holes to fill.

The expectations and subsequently anticipation have returned.

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