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Kevin Schnepf, Published October 26 2013

Schnepf: Indiana State program in disarray

Terre Haute, Ind. - An Indiana State football team finally had something to cheer about last year in the Fargodome. The Sycamores would end up being the only team to beat North Dakota State last season.

“The playoff road is going through Terre Haute, not Fargo,” touted some assistant coaches outside their Fargodome locker room.

There hasn’t been much to cheer about since.

Indiana State never made it to the playoffs. Its head coach, Trent Miles, left for Georgia State. Its All-America running back, Shakir Bell, tweeted this week that he was dismissed from the team. Rumors have it that Indiana State players are quitting on first-year coach Mike Sanford.

My how things have changed in one year.

After posting a stunning 17-14 win over the Bison last year, Indiana State lost 56-10 Saturday.

“We’re going through a difficult time,” said Sanford, who during the week said Bell was gone because of a foot injury but continued to decline comment on any possible dismissal. “I see it as when you refine silver. The good comes to the top when you eliminate the impurities.”

Indiana State football has been anything but pure over the years.

From 1997 to 2009, the Sycamores endured 13 straight losing seasons – including a 33-game losing streak. Indiana State alumnus Trent Miles returned to resurrect a program where basketball, a la Larry Bird, is king. He gave Sycamore fans a taste of winning, posting 6-5, 6-5 and 7-4 records before he opted to bolt for Georgia State – where football was born just a few years ago.

So how can a program that was celebrating in the Fargodome just last year suddenly be dealing with a 1-7 record?

“We lost a lot of guys from that team,” said Indi-ana State receiver Demory Lawshe. “We’re just a whole new team.”

Especially without Bell, one of the best football players in Indiana State history. The dynamic tail-back was the 2011 Missouri Valley Football Conference offensive player of the year and was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, FCS’s version of the Heisman Trophy. He ended his Indiana State career with 4,214 rushing yards – 532 shy of the all-time Mis-souri Valley rushing mark.

Two years ago when the Bison claimed a 27-16 win here in Terre Haute, Bell rushed for 79 yards. Last year in the Fargodome, he rumbled for 96 yards – a figure unheard of against the vaunted Bison defense.

But Indiana State players claim they miss Bell more for his leadership than his talent.

“As far as talent, I feel we have that without Shakir,” said running back Lemonte Booker, who saw teammate Logan Buck rush for 81 yards Saturday. “But as far as leadership, we miss that a lot.”

It probably would not have made a difference Saturday with Bell playing. The Bison defense played its usual punishing style. The Bison offense scored on nearly every possession in the first half.

It probably wasn’t the best timing to endure a week of turmoil while preparing for the No. 1 team in the country. After all, while Indiana State is known for basketball, NDSU is known for football. In the last 50 years, NDSU football has experienced only three losing seasons.

That’s amazing.

Consider yourselves lucky Bison fans. It was only four years ago when the Bison went through their own turmoil, suffer-ing through a 3-8 season.

And this year, Northern Iowa’s hopes for the playoffs are hurting. Southern Illinois, with slim hopes of playoffs, lost its starting quarterback for the season. And up north in Grand Forks, the University of North Dakota lost another game.

Meanwhile, Indiana State is heading in the opposite direction – once again. And the Bison appear to be heading for another trip to Frisco, Texas.

“I hope they go all the way again,” said Sanford, who emphasized that injuries have taken a toll on his team that repeatedly gave the Bison good field position during that 47-point first half. “And that is a recipe for disaster.”

A disaster that Indiana State hopes ends soon.

“I’m just happy this week is over with,” Lawshe said.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com. Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com