How often is it that, in a Big Ten team’s third game of the season, the best team it will have played to that point is in the FCS? OK, so maybe that’s a bit unfair. FCS No. 1 North Dakota State is a bonafide college football team, and will bring a real test into Kinnick Stadium on Saturday at 11 a.m.
Running a streak of five straight national titles gets the Bison (2-0) all the respect afforded an opponent. So here are 5 Things on Iowa vs North Dakota State – an FBS-FCS game that feels an awful lot like FBS-FBS.
1. Let's go streaking
North Dakota State has two separate streaks of five at the moment, and both are sort of impressive. The aforementioned national championship streak (2011-15) has never been equaled at any level of college football. Think about that for a moment. Since the FCS began in 1978 (then Division 1-AA), 21 schools have national titles and only seven schools have won more than one.
The other streak of five has come against FBS opponents – one each from 2010-14. It’s generally expected FBS teams should beat FCS teams – you know, because money and resources – but that expectation has gone out the window with NDSU. Wins against teams from the Big 12 (Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State) and Big Ten (Minnesota) make the fact Iowa talks about NDSU as a top-flight opponent not only sensible, but prudent. Iowa has never lost to an FCS school (13-0, though Kirk Ferentz would say 2009 against UNI has an asterisk), but the last time the Hawkeyes played the Bison, Bob Feller was pitching for the Indians.
That said: streaks don’t matter in Fargo – at least to those in charge. When asked about the FBS streak, NDSU head coach Chris Klieman didn’t even flinch.
“I don’t even know what (the number) is,” Klieman said.
2. A revolving door
One of the many remarkable aspects of the Bison’s pair of streaks has been how they’ve done it while going through changes. Like every college football program, they’ve had to replace starters and impact players – a head coach, too – and came out unfazed each time.
In the five wins against FBS schools, NDSU had three different starting quarterbacks (Jose Mohler in 2010, Brock Jensen in 2011-13 and Carson Wentz in 2014), three different starting running backs (DJ McNorton in 2010-11, Sam Ojuri in 2012-13 and John Crockett in 2014), four different leading tacklers (linebacker Chad Willson, safety Colten Heagle twice, linebacker Grant Olson and linebacker Kyle Emanuel) and won under coaches Craig Bohl and Klieman. Trim that to two QBs, and the rest of the above applies to national titles, too.
Now it’s quarterback Easton Stick and running back King Frazier’s turn to see if they can continue the cycle. Klieman saw enough of Stick last year to be confident in what he can do against the Hawkeyes.
3. Just play, baby
The advent of the College Football Playoff has had the college football world abuzz with strength of schedule discussion. In 2015, the Big Ten put a guideline on its teams that prevents scheduling FCS teams going forward, so Iowa’s game Saturday against NDSU and in 2018 against Northern Iowa are the last two they’ll have.
Klieman isn’t a fan of that, as one would imagine. FCS schools take in $200,000 to $500,000 per game to play FBS schools. For example, Forbes reported in 2013 that Iowa State paid Northern Iowa $350,000 to come to Ames (a 28-20 UNI win), which accounted for 11 percent of UNI’s athletic revenue.
More than just the revenue, Klieman believes the games are good for college football in general. Taking his team to Kinnick Stadium – or Jack Trice Stadium, or Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium – is as much fun as it is a growing experience. There’s no undervaluing the ability for his players’ families to get to see them play there, either.
“I think it’s great for college football. I don’t care what the end result is,” Klieman said. “Most importantly, have your fanbase and have your families be able to go to those games. That’s what I’m going to miss. I think that gets lost a little bit. … I know if I’m a family that doesn’t have the means someone else does, I can get to Iowa City. I can get to Minneapolis. We’re still going to recruit regionally, and I wish we could play those games regionally so the families of our players can get there.”
4. Mama, I'm coming home
UNI grad Chris Klieman grew up wanting to be a Hawkeye. That’s not a shocking revelation, given he grew up in Waterloo, and many young football players – especially from Eastern Iowa – aspire to play at Iowa. He was asked about many of his Iowa connections on Monday in his weekly press conference, and this trip will be special – and a little difficult – for him for a few reasons.
He was defensive backs coach for UNI when they almost beat Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta was an associate AD at UNI when Klieman was hired as an assistant the first time around. Iowa Deputy AD Gene Taylor was NDSU’s Athletics Director from 2001-2014, and hired Klieman as head coach in 2013.
On top of seeing old bosses, Klieman also will have more than a few requests for tickets by family and friends still in Iowa. It might be stressful, but that’s a pretty fun burden to bear.
“It’ll be interesting to see if (Gene Taylor) has an NDSU shirt on under his Hawkeye one. I’m sure he won’t, but it’ll be good to see Gene,” Klieman said.“We have a lot of requests (for tickets) coming in. I wish I could get them all in, and some of the requests I have would wear black and gold, even. My immediate family and closest friends will be there for sure.”
5. Catch me if you can
Iowa seemed to take the expected leap of improvement most college teams take from Week 1 to Week 2, and fared much better against the run and in pass protection against Iowa State.
And while NDSU does not have the athletes Iowa has across the board, the Bison know how to use the ones they have. NDSU’s rushing attack has 510 yards and five rushing touchdowns in its first two games. That has come primarily from three sources: starting running back King Frazier (26 carries, 178 yards), running back Lance Dunn (21 carries, 119 yards) and Stick (21 carries, 105 yards). All three leading rushers have a 5.0 yard-per carry average or better – against two of the better FCS teams in the nation.
Iowa likely gets Parker Hesse back, and Josey Jewell’s return was important against the run. But the Hawkeyes will face their heaviest attack in that area on Saturday.
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