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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 04 2013

Bison football players healthy heading into first home game in almost a month

FARGO – North Dakota State will play at home on Saturday afternoon for the first time in almost a month. Not much has changed since Bison fans last saw their team in person.

That is a good thing.

Everybody they saw in the lineup against Missouri State on Oct. 12 will be in the lineup against Illinois State for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game. The record remains unblemished at 8-0 and the No. 1 ranking in Division I FCS has not moved.

The Bison went on the road and defeated two opponents, Southern Illinois and Indiana State, by a combined 87-20. About the only question of uncertainty for head coach Craig Bohl on Monday was the status of Ryan Smith’s sprained ankle.

If that’s NDSU’s biggest problem, then life is pretty good.

“We’ll see this week,” Bohl said of Smith. “To say he’s back at 100 percent right now, I couldn’t say that. But we have hopes he’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”

Smith’s ankle injury came at the right time. NDSU had a bye last week – the second time this season it has had an open week. The last time the Bison had a bye this late in the season was 2010 when they had Oct. 30 off.

In 2011, they went from the middle of September until getting a bye in the first round of the FCS playoffs. It was virtually the same schedule last year.

But playing just 11 games in a year when FCS teams are allowed 12 has afforded NDSU some extra rest. The Bison are about as healthy as a team can expect to be at this time of the season.

“We used our time to get healthier again,” Bohl said. “This time of the year you have guys playing with a lot of bumps and bruises so it’s certainly good to get our guys back and get a bounce in their step.”

NDSU has had plenty of bounce after an off week under Bohl with a 12-1 record since he took the job in 2003. The only defeat was 20-14 to UC Davis in 2005. The Bison had two byes in 2008 winning both games after the off week in a 6-5 season.

“I think it comes down to a mature staff and a mature football team,” Bohl said. “You don’t want to go out and scrimmage every day. You have to make sure you’re fresh and healthy but also paying attention to detail.”

After starting 2-4, Illinois State has rescued its season with three straight victories to at least get into consideration for an FCS playoff spot. The Redbirds need to beat NDSU this week and win at Southern Illinois in two weeks to have a chance.

“The team we’re playing is on a hot streak,” Bohl said.

That hot streak, however, is nothing like the ride the Bison have been on in the last couple of years. Their 17 straight wins is a Missouri Valley Football Conference record and is the second-best active Division I streak behind Ohio State’s 21 victories in a row.

Still, Bohl said the season’s top goal remains the same: to win a Missouri Valley title.

“You’re not going to do that by not taking care of business and we think it’s really important for us to take care of our own selves as opposed to counting on somebody else,” Bohl said. “I can remember the years when we didn’t have a lot to play for; it’s not a lot of fun. So our guys have had a good attitude. We recognize there’s an awful lot to play for.”

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

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia