The Timeout: Bison Thunder Across the Nation


Alden Wiygul

No team in history has matched North Dakota State’s five straight titles at any level of college football. 

Carter Moore, Staff Writer

While the Tide has risen to the top of college football, while the Patriots have conquered the Pros, and while other forces have ebbed and flowed in dozens of the world’s renowned sports leagues, a relatively unknown foe has decimated a lower realm of college football. In the aptly named second tier of college football, Division I FCS (Football Championship Subdivision), North Dakota State University’s Bison held an unprecedented eight championships in the past nine years. With their championship win earlier this month, they completed a 16-0 season for the first time since Yale did it in 1894 (I didn’t know there were even 16 other teams for Yale to play in 1894). No team in history has matched its five straight titles at any level of college football. 

Bama ain’t got nothing on this, Pawwwl.


Going Bohling

Unlike the Alabama Crimson Tide, which builds predominantly on the successes of long-tenures with talented coaches, North Dakota State has retained its powerhouse status through three different coaches since its first 2011 championship. Its run began with Craig Bohl, a former Nebraska assistant who captained the squad as it transitioned out of Division II. Since then, NDSU’s primary strategy has been to promote from within. Both of Bohl’s successors, Chris Klieman and Matt Entz, served on Bohl’s championship winning staff. Instead of searching the nation far and wide for a Nick Saban to bring them greatness, the Bison let their own create a miracle. More than just their coaching staff, the Bison focus on bringing in local players. Throughout their championship seasons, the roster has consistently included around 75 players from North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Many of their players would have been overlooked by any top-level power in the region, but they’re exactly the type of people NDSU wants: players who will fight to prove themselves. And the fans love it. Despite home Fargodome holding only 19,000 people, NDSU has one of the most passionate fan bases in FCS (I mean, what else do you have to do in North Dakota?). They love this stuff, and an NDSU fan sure won’t be the same type of fan as your average Bama fan. 

When Bohl won his second straight championship at the end of the 2012 season, he had just been given a contract through the 2020 season. Less than a year later, Wyoming hired him for the 2014 season, and he has been there since. Incredibly, Wyoming took seven members of NDSU’s 3-peat winning coaching staff from 2013. Five of those coaches were still there this past year. All totaled, only three coaches remained with the Bison; they even hired a new athletic director. Chris Klieman was promoted from Defensive Coordinator to Head Coach while Matt Larsen of Stony Brook filled the Athletic Director position. When filling the rest of the coaching slots, the team followed the same philosophy they used in recruiting players: bring in the local talent. Nearly all of the new staff came from the same three states: North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. That season’s record demonstrates the “struggle” the team faced with a new coaching staff. NDSU finished with a 15-1 record and a fourth straight national championship.


The Thundering Herd

NDSU actually managed another championship the next year to reach a total five straight. Technically, Yale did it once, but it was in the 1880s, an era that defies all modern conventions of football, and any comparison between those eras is just ludicrous. Some of those Yale games went by a score of 1-0. Others included a 93-0 shutout and a 113-0 shutout. So beyond that abomination of an era, NDSU has run the board in terms of long term success. 2016 stands as the lone blemish on their impressive streak. After searching and reading extensively, I still couldn’t tell you exactly what happened in the Bison’s 2016 semifinal match. Some may say that James Madison was the better team that day. Others could call it a fluke. All I can tell you for certain is that when the Dukes scored the game-sealing touchdown with seven minutes left, Klieman was already planning another ascent to championship.

I’d say he’s done fairly well.

I’m sure plenty of people are quick to dismiss NDSU’s success as a byproduct of playing in a cupcake league. Not so fast, my friend. Their conference, the Missouri Valley Football Conference, is perennially one of the best in FCS, and the Bison have had to face three to six ranked teams in conference play alone every year, not including the non-conference games they choose to play. What sort of non-conference teams do they choose to play? Teams like Eastern Washington–a consistent top ten FCS program–and Power Five FBS schools such as Kansas State, Iowa and Iowa State. They beat every one of those schools. They may not have been high-level teams, but for any FCS team to travel away from home and tackle teams with some of the most elite players in the nation is still remarkable. The year NDSU beat Kansas State, the Wildcats still ended the year with a bowl victory; they were not the type of team you would expect any run of the mill FCS school to defeat. 


The End Next Step

At the end of 2018, just as Craig Bohl had been taken a few years prior, Chris Klieman was taken, ironically enough, by Kansas State. Just as his colleague had in 2014, Matt Entz had to step from Defensive Coordinator to Head Coach, while coming off repeat national championships. For 2019, only three starting seniors returned. Just as they had before, the NDSU Bison battled through to the championship tournament and emerged as champions once again. In another twist of fate, the opponent NDSU faced was none other than the James Madison Dukes. This wasn’t their first encounter since the 2016 semifinal; in fact, the Bison had to defeat the Dukes in 2017 to regain their crown. The 2017 final was no blowout, and neither was this year’s. Though the Bison only won by eight points, a win is still a win, and North Dakota State is now the proud holder of yet another 3-peat.

I can’t say if this trend will continue. I don’t see why it wouldn’t. One trend may break much sooner than later, though. That championship win extended North Dakota State’s record win streak to 37 games. Their first game next season will be against reigning Rose Bowl champion Oregon Ducks. As much as I’d love to see the Ducks lose (go Huskies), I find it highly unlikely.

I’d like to be wrong, though, and I’m sure the Bison would like me to be as well.