North Dakota State will come into Kinnick Stadium without any fear
Usually when seeing a FCS school on the schedule it registers as an easy win. A game in which teams will get the chance to rest their starters in the second half. Although, there is a different aurora around the North Dakota State Bison, even with losing quarterback Carson Wentz to the NFL Draft.
The Bison have won five straight FCS titles and won’t come into Kinnick Stadium lacking confidence. While they did lose star player Carson Wentz to the draft, they’re still battle tested and know what it takes to pull off the upset. Plus, they are ranked #1 in the preseason FCS rankings after going 13-2 last season and winning their fifth consecutive FCS national championship.
This will be the third and final non-conference game for the Hawkeyes to start the season. After this, Iowa will be on the road at Rutgers to start Big Ten play, however the last thing they want to do is overlook the Bison and give away a winnable game. Having a FCS school upset or play a Power Five school tough happens every season, so hopefully Iowa doesn’t fall into the trap.
Week 3: Iowa Hawkeyes vs North Dakota State Bison – September 17, 11AM CT, ESPN/ESPN2
Carson Wentz was the second overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, although his backup got an opportunity to play last season. Easton Stick started eight games for an injured Wentz and went a perfect 8-0. After the Bison got off to a somewhat shaky 4-2 start to the season, Stick was able to right the ship by winning the final five regular season games and three playoff games, with Wentz coming back for the championship game.
Even though Stick is well-versed when it comes to winning against FCS competition, playing against a stifling Iowa defense is a different story. Being in pressure situations during his three playoff wins last season should be helpful during the Bison’s bout with the Hawkeyes, but playing at a Big Ten school will be a new challenge for Stick.
With that being said, the Iowa secondary will have to be on top of their game. During Stick’s eight starts, the Bison scored at least 30 points five times and at least 55 points twice. In the two games that the Bison scored at least 55 points in, Stick threw for eight touchdowns. He showed his accuracy in the red zone by completing multiple touchdown passes inside 10 yards, although he also has great arm strength as three of those eight touchdowns came from 30-plus yards out.
Desmond King, Greg Mabin and Miles Taylor will all be tested against Stick, and just because it’s not the same high-profile quarterback that Carson Wentz was doesn’t mean Stick can’t carve through them if they’re not careful.
Along with Easton Stick, the Bison also bring back an experienced receiving core and their two leading running backs from a season ago – Lance Dunn and King Frazier. The Bison weren’t afraid to hand the ball off to their backs last season, and with Dunn being from Waterloo, Iowa, this will be like a homecoming game for him.
Although, Frazier is the running back to keep an eye on as he rushed for 1,184 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He didn’t face a defense like Iowa’s, although he had no problem running through FCS defenses all season.
Besides their two losses last season, the Bison only gave up 20-plus points twice all season, and both were to top-25 FCS schools. Also, North Dakota State gave up less than 15 points in six of their final seven games, including holding #1 Jacksonville State to just 10 points in the championship game. Once they got their couple of losses out of the way, the Bison’s defense was as dominating as ever and was a big reason why they won their fifth championship.
Overall, the Bison only gave up 15.3 points per game, 3.5 yards per carry and only allowed 17 touchdowns all season. Although, they did lose their top cornerback from last season, C.J. Smith, who is now playing for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Still, it’s an experienced defense that will have two games to prepare for the Hawkeyes. With the Bison’s explosive offense, the Bison’s stifling defense could prove to be a problem for the Hawkeyes if their running game isn’t able to break through. Forcing the Hawkeyes into passing situations is what the Bison will try to do as opposing teams converted just 26 percent of third downs against them.
With that being said, the Bison did have more problems on the road. They got handed one of their two losses on the road and three of the five games when they allowed 20-plus points in occurred on the road. Not to mention their points allowed per game went up to 20.3 per game. Granted that is still a remarkable feat, it’s unknown how they’ll fare against a potential top-25 FBS team on the road.
When it comes down to it, forcing the Hawkeyes to rely on their passing game and forcing them to throw it down field will be the Bison’s game plan. LeShun Daniels Jr will be facing the toughest run defense of the season up to this point, and putting the Hawkeyes in decent third down positions will be key. Although, it’s hard to imagine the Bison forcing C.J. Beathard into making a mistake, especially when considering he threw just five interceptions last season.
The North Dakota State Bison have built a dynasty over the past five seasons. What they have been able to accomplish, especially last season, is remarkable. The key to all their success has been depth and developing that depth so they always have experience on their side.
It should be no different this season as the Bison have a good shot at winning their sixth consecutive FCS national championship. With that being said, mimicking the setting they will experience when visiting Kinnick Stadium is impossible. While playing in multiple championship games for most of their starters will be helpful, playing against a Big Ten school in their stadium is never easy.
The Hawkeyes will most likely be a top-25 team when these teams meet, and there’s a good chance the Bison are still number one in the FCS. This would be a huge win for their program, but it’s hard to imagine the Bison coming into Iowa City and stealing this game.
This isn’t a normal FCS school that people haven’t heard of, who could surprise a FBS school. The Bison are well-known as College Gameday has even gone to Fargo, North Dakota multiple times as a testament to their success. The Hawkeyes won’t underestimate their ability and look ahead to Big Ten play, and as long as they don’t, they should have no problem handing the Bison possibly the only loss of their season.
Prediction: Iowa 35 North Dakota State 24
Projected Record: 3-0