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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 07 2012

Bison wins against FBS teams are no longer miracles

Fargo - When North Dakota State wide receiver Travis White took a screen pass 39 yards for a touchdown to beat Ball State in 2005, the news reports around the Midwest considered it equal to a nation-changing event.

“Miracle in Muncie” was a common media theme.

The 29-24 win over Division I Football Bowl Subdivision Ball State in Muncie, Ind., was Football Championship Subdivision NDSU’s first game against a higher-level opponent. It was considered an anomaly, and the thought of more victories like that was not reality.

But that mindset has changed.

NDSU is 5-3 in games against FBS teams heading into tonight’s clash at Colorado State. It’s to the point now that Youngstown State head coach Eric Wolford said this week he fully expects a Bison win.

The Penguins pulled a fast one of their own last week, soundly beating Pittsburgh of the Big East Conference.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a shock anymore when you see a FCS beat an FBS,” said Southern Illinois head coach Dale Lennon. “There’s not a difference in the level of competition as there once was.”

Why? All coaches contacted for this story agree there are simply more players out there. Recruiting has never been an exact science, and once the FBS schools are done picking what they believe to be there top recruits, there is plenty left over for FCS programs.

Lennon said the quality of the coaching at the FCS level has also improved who is doing a better job of game planning. If the football strategy chess game favored the FBS schools at one time, that is no longer the case.

“I think the FCS has gotten better, and I’ll simply leave it at that,” said South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier. “I would agree with Dale. Since NDSU and SDSU have joined this level, it has improved. I don’t know if FBS is improving – Alabama, LSU and USC will get who they want – but some of those teams have to work a little harder.”

The difference in recruiting on signing day is significant, or at least seems that way. FBS is allowed 85 total scholarships to FCS’ 63.

“They’re FBS and their guys are recruited as four- or five-star guys,” said NDSU center Joe Lund. “They’ll probably be a couple of inches taller than me, weigh a little bit more, stronger – you always get that.”

Lund, a senior, has been part of victories at Minnesota and Kansas. In all, the Bison are 2-1 against the Gophers and beat Central Michigan in addition to Ball State. Losses were to Wyoming and Iowa State with the ISU game being the only decisive loss for the Bison in FBS battles. That was also NDSU’s 3-8 season.

Otherwise, the timing of NDSU’s FBS games has been favorable. Tonight, CSU will be the fourth straight FBS game where the Bison will see a first-year coach. Jim McElwain takes over a program that has finished 3-9 in each of the last three seasons.

Jerry Kill was in his first year at Minnesota last year. Before that, it was Turner Gill at Kansas and Paul Rhoads at Iowa State. Tim Brewster was in his initial year at Minnesota in 2006. In 2007, Butch Jones was in his first year at Central Michigan.

“Even if you have 85 scholarships, they can only play 11 when you play 11,” Youngstown’s Wolford said. “It gets back to recruiting. You have to recruit good players and develop the players you recruit.”

Wolford estimates beating FCS teams ranked in the top 40 is a tough task. Northern Iowa almost did last week, losing 26-21 at Wisconsin. But going toe-to-toe with the rest of FBS, he said, is doable.

“A good group of teams in our league, in my experience of being around different areas of the country, can play with a lot of those teams,” Wolford said.

The recipe to do that, said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl, is to take care of the football and play with discipline.

“It comes down to assignments and mental errors,” said NDSU senior tight end Garrett Bruhn. “If you go into a bigger game and you have those kind of mistakes, you’ll feel the wrath. We can’t make those mistakes.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia

Kolpack is the host of the WDAY Golf Show Saturdays from 8-9 a.m. on 970-AM.