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Kevin Schnepf, Published August 04 2013

Schnepf: History shows a Bison three-peat is possible, but it won't be easy

Fargo - Three-peat is a slogan trademarked by Pat Riley prior to his Los Angeles Lakers falling short of winning a third straight NBA championship in 1989.

North Dakota State football players are probably wishing Riley had total control of that phrase these days. As they open fall practices today, their goal is a third straight FCS national championship. But you probably won’t see them waving three fingers in the air, yelling “three-peat.”

With 20 of 22 starters back from last year’s national championship team, NDSU could very well become the first FCS team to win three straight national titles since Appalachian State. Or … cover your ears Bison players … three-peat.

There have been enough three-peats in the history of sports to suggest that the Bison could pull this off – especially with a team that is deeper than the Grand Canyon. Appalachian State claimed three straight FCS titles from 2005 to 2007.

We have the Lakers (Minneapolis and L.A.), Celtics and Bulls in the NBA. We have the Packers in the NFL. We have the Yankees and the A’s in Major League Baseball.

Then there are the Maple Leafs, Canadians and Islanders in the NHL.

There is UCLA in college men’s basketball (seven-peat to be exact) and Tennessee and UConn in college women’s basketball.

Heck, even the University of Minnesota football team three-peated before three-peat was even a word. The Gophers won three straight from 1934 to 1936.

Who knows? Had the Bison not suffered a controversial, overtime quarterfinal loss at Eastern Washington three years ago, we could be talking the possibility of four-peat.

The rabid fans of Georgia Southern football have far more reason to talk four-peat. Before winning two straight national titles in 1999 and 2000, Georgia Southern turned the ball over six times in the first half en route to a 55-43 title loss to Massachusetts in 1998.

Looking for a three-peat in 2001, Georgia Southern suffered a rare home playoff loss to Furman – once again, succumbing to turnovers. Running back Adrian Peterson – the one who played for the Chicago Bears – saw his college career end with a loss.

“It’s hard to be on top all of the time … sooner or later, they’re going to get you,” were the postgame comments of Georgia Southern coach Paul Johnson, now the head coach at Georgia Tech.

Amazingly, Georgia Southern had two others chances to three-peat.

After winning titles in 1985 and 1986, the 1987 Georgia Southern team – losing 83 percent of its total offense because of graduation – lost to Appalachian State 19-0 in the quarterfinals.

“We’ve been lucky. For two years we’ve played without any serious injuries to key people,” were the postgame comments of then Georgia Southern coach Erk Russell.

After winning titles in 1989 and 1990, the 1991 Georgia Southern team – with 14 starters back – ended up with a disappointing 7-4 record, missing the playoffs for the first time since 1984.

Head coach Tim Stowers, now an assistant at Central Connecticut, had these words of wisdom that should resonate with this year’s Bison team.

“Maybe we were complacent. Perhaps the prevalent feeling was, ‘It’s just going to happen.’ It doesn’t work that way. The higher you climb, the harder the wind blows.”

Youngstown State has been the only other FCS team to flirt with a three-peat. Prior to winning back-to-back titles in 1993 and 1994, the Penguins nearly won a title in 1992.

After falling behind 28-0 to Marshall in the 1991 title game, Youngstown nearly pulled off an historic comeback – before losing 31-28 on a last-second field goal.

Jim Tressel, who went on to coach at Ohio State, put together one of Youngstown’s most talented teams during its 1994 title run. Most of that talent graduated, explaining a 3-8 record in 1995.

“1994 was much like this year’s Bison team as far as number of starters and seniors coming back,” said Youngstown State sports information director Trevor Parks. “We were loaded.”

And so are the Bison. But that still doesn’t guarantee … cover your ears Bison players … three-peat.

As former Georgia Southern coach Erk Russell put it: “Luck has a lot to do with winning these things.”


Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or at kschnepf@forumcomm.com