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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 07 2014

Bison football, men's basketball both garner all-time highest rankings

FARGO – In football, North Dakota State plays in the FCS, one step below the major college FBS. In basketball, the Bison are classified as a “mid-major” program.

That doesn’t mean NDSU can’t compete with the big boys in the power rankings game.

The two highest-profile sports at the school were at all-time highs this week. The basketball team reached No. 24 on Monday and was at No. 25 on Tuesday on RPIRatings.com, which is updated daily and uses the same formula as the NCAA RPI, which is expected to release its first rankings soon.

The No. 24 standing was the highest-ever for a Summit League team, according to the conference.

“You don’t think that doesn’t go out to every recruit we talk to?” said head coach Saul Phillips. “The RPI is a computerized dynamic, but at the same time it’s widely used. It gives a fairly accurate snapshot of where you’re at.”

The snapshot Bison football got with USA Today’s Sagarin Ratings was even better. The Bison finished 17th in the power ranking that includes all Division I schools, be it FBS or FCS. Eastern Illinois was the next best FCS team at No. 46. Eastern benefited from an FBS win over San Diego State while also taking on No. 59 and FBS member Northern Illinois.

NDSU came up just short in finishing the season as the highest-ranked FCS team ever. The unbeaten Marshall team in 1996 ended at No. 14.

Obviously, the Bison benefited from Kansas State finishing its season strong after its opening-game defeat to NDSU. The Wildcats defeated Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to finish 8-4 and 23rd in the Sagarin ratings. The next most impressive wins for the Bison were the FCS national title win over No. 66 Towson University (Md.) and the semifinal win over No. 89 New Hampshire.

Sagarin uses a complex system of rankings, strength of schedule and performance against higher-ranked teams for its formula. It’s not new; the Sagarin system was first introduced by USA Today in 1985.

The skeptics say it’s not a true ranking because it doesn’t take into account an FCS team playing a major conference schedule every week. NDSU did get votes in the final Associated Press top 25 poll and in theory would have finished 29th in the eyes of the voters.

NDSU’s basketball RPI will start to go down once conference play starts this week. The Bison play at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne on Thursday and at IUPUI on Saturday. Unless the Bison lose games to teams ranked in the 300s, “It won’t completely blow up on us,” Phillips said.

The Summit is at an all-time RPI high of a No. 14 ranking among Division I conferences with NDSU’s win at Notre Dame one of the marquee victories.

“It’s a direct reflection of the schedule that we’ve played,” Phillips said, “but you also have to win some games with that. The Bison, 11-4, have won nine of their last 10 with the only loss at Ohio State.

Phillips said Taylor Braun’s sprained ankle continues to make progress, although it’s not certain how much he’ll play this weekend. They will be the 10th and 11th road games this season, yet another reason NDSU’s high RPI is impressive.

“We’ve been on the road all season,” Phillips said. “We’ve played in all four time zones. We’re certainly won’t be going to any venues or see any teams that will intimidate us at this point.”

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

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia