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Jeff Kolpack, Published August 07 2013

SDSU looking to build on last year's breakthrough season

FARGO – It’s not going to take long to differentiate between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason poll. Unlike previous years, North Dakota State and South Dakota State will see each other in week one of league play.

Sept. 28. Mark it down at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium in Brookings, although SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier cautioned there are 10 other games to play.

“You can’t make a season into one game,” he said. “It’s huge for our goals, but I’ve been in programs where you focus on one game and celebrate when you win one game. They’re human beings, not computers, so you have to come back every week and every play.”

The Jackrabbits celebrated nine times in 13 games last year in a breakthrough season of sorts. They won an FCS playoff game for the first time before losing a second-round game at NDSU.

The return of running back Zach Zenner is reason No. 1 SDSU is a favorite to return to the playoffs. He went over the 2,000-yard milestone last season, leading the FCS in rushing with 2,044.

Zenner went over 100 yards nine times and over 200 in three games, including a school-record 295 in a playoff-opening win over Eastern Illinois.

But the Jacks will need more than him to make a splash offensively. Stiegelmeier has high hopes that returning quarterback Austin Sumner will have a healthy season. Sumner battled through a hand injury for most of last season, but still threw for 2,443 yards.

“I think we need a couple of receivers to show up in a better way,” Stiegelmeier said.

The Jacks lost two starting linebackers, including Ross Shafrath, the leading tackler in the conference. But returning is all-league player T.J. Lally, who was eighth in the Valley with 107 stops.

“I expect him to be better, and that’s hard to say because he had a phenomenal year last year as a young guy,” Stiegelmeier said. “T.J. is a serious and dedicated guy when it comes to football.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia