Bison? Really? The North Dakota State Bison have built an unprecedented football dynasty this decade.
They’ve earned seven national championships in eight years, eight conference titles, and even a number two overall pick in the NFL draft, all since 2011. Here’s how the Bison became one of the greatest football stories of all time, and what happens next.
In the Beginning
NDSU was originally known as North Dakota Agricultural College, and fielded their first football team in 1894. The first major changes to the program would occur in the early 20s. They became a charter member of the North Central Conference in 1921, and would stay until they made the jump to Division I in 2004. They also gained the “Bison” nickname, replacing the “Aggies” moniker used by so many agricultural schools of that era.
Craig Bohl was head coach of the Bison when the team moved up to Division I FCS in 2004. Starting his tenure a year before the jump, Bohl is much of the reason the NDSU program is what it is today. Bohl brought the Bison back to running a power scheme, and dominated in-state recruiting. With the University of North Dakota not moving up to D1 until 2008, Bohl had his way with practically whoever he wanted. He used geography to his advantage and would focus on recruiting players from small, rural areas that had big guys who played multiple sports instead of the flashy, speedy players from other states. Bohl successfully fit them into his power run scheme that would prove to be the bane of many schools NDSU would face.
A Dynasty Develops
In 2011, North Dakota State began what would become one of the greatest dynasties in football history. Lead by Bohl, the Bison won their first MVFC title and their first ever FCS National Championship, finishing with a 14-1 record. NDSU would then go on to repeat this same feat for the next two seasons under Bohl.
After the 2013 season, Bohl left NDSU to take the head coaching job at Wyoming. Normally, a national championship repeat would be out of the question as the team adjusts to a new coach. Not so for NDSU. New head coach Chris Klieman would continue the Bison’s winning ways, winning five more MVFC titles and four more national championships by the time he left to replace Bill Snyder at Kansas State after the 2018 season. Klieman’s tenure also saw current Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz become the highest NFL Draft pick NDSU has ever produced, at second overall.
The Present and the Future
Matt Entz is the current head coach of the Bison, making his debut in 2019. Only time will tell if he can keep up the team’s success, but it is likely you’ll still see NDSU among the top FCS teams for years to come.
As the Bison keep winning, many people have started to feel like another promotion is in order. Fans have discussed a possible jump to the FBS for years. Their on-field ability is certainly of that caliber, they’ve clearly shown it. They even beat the #13 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes in 2016. Even so, the move up is unlikely for several reasons.
The key factor is just how isolated NDSU really is. Fargo, North Dakota is two hundred miles away from the nearest FBS school, Minnesota. But the Big 10 would never accept a school on the academic level of NDSU, athletics aside. So that leaves two options. In the east, the MAC, and in the west, the Mountain West. But the Bison would still be over five hundred miles away from the closest school in either conference, making travel very costly.
Two other issues are also in the way of a FBS Bison team. Their stadium, the Fargodome, only holds about nineteen thousand people. It also cannot easily be expanded, since it’s a dome. Although it provides one of the best atmospheres in college football, it just isn’t up to FBS standards. The other reason that a move is unlikely is the lack of a large television market near NDSU. Realignment is all about money, and the addition of the Bison just wouldn’t bring enough fans and money to be worth the expense of adding them to any FBS conference.
Although they may not be making another move up anytime soon, the North Dakota State Bison should continue their winning ways and dominate nearly all of the FCS in years to come.