A lot can change in the span of nine months. Last December, North Dakota State fans were reeling with uncertainty after their head coach and a majority of his staff made the decision to leave the prairies of Fargo for the mountains of Laramie, Wyoming in the middle of a record-breaking championship run. Several months later, the iconic athletic director followed suit, trading his green and yellow for Iowa Hawkeye black and old gold. Fortunately, for Bison fans, some things have stayed the same.
NDSU is still the top-ranked team in the FCS, the Bison are still knocking off FBS opponents, trouncing Iowa State in the season opener 34 – 14 in Ames for their fifth straight win in as many years over an FBS opponent, and ESPN’s College GameDay, one of the nation’s most recognized and longest running sports shows, is making its second trip to Fargo in the span of 365 days to cover the team with the nation’s longest winning streak, standing at 26 games following a defensive-minded 24 – 7 road victory over Weber State. It’s another banner day for NDSU, one that has city and university officials welcoming back their GameDay friends with open arms.
NDSU is promising an even bigger and better event on the heels of last year’s wildly successful GameDay experience downtown. “It is going to be bigger, and even better, even better than last year,” proclaimed Prakash Mathew, NDSU’s interim athletic director. That includes the live bison named Corso after GameDay’s rambunctious mascot-head wearing host, Lee Corso. “I think everyone recognizes he was very popular last year and a pivotal member of the crew,” said Lt. Joel Vettel from the Fargo Police Department of the 700-plus pound fan-favorite from the Chahinkapa Zoo in Wahpeton. “He’s obviously twice the size as he was last year, so we’re already bigger,” Vettel joked.
Troy Goergen, NDSU’s senior associate athletic director, echoed the bigger and better theme. “Now that this is our second run at it, there’s no surprises, we kind of know what to expect and so our marketing team is fast at work getting some ideas on paper,” explained Goergen, who is also a finalist for the NDSU athletic director job. Goergen and his team will be ready to help ESPN with anything they need during their trip to Fargo. “Very confident we can make it better. Bigger and better is what we’ve been saying over and over again.” So far, so good for the Bison. It took a whole 180 seconds for NDSU students to claim their full allotment of game tickets once they became available on Monday morning.
They’re not the only ones anxious for the Bison to be home. Opening with two straight games on the road, the football team is ready to return to the friendly confines of the FargoDome, including first-year head coach Chris Klieman. The dome opener provides a unique opportunity for Klieman, whose first home game as head coach will now be under the brightest lights on the biggest show in all of college football. “Now we get to come back home, have all of our guys play at home, and lo and behold College GameDay will be here and I haven’t even coached a (home) game yet,” said Klieman, who served the previous two seasons as NDSU’s defensive coordinator.
The stage was set for GameDay’s return by last year’s unforgettable atmosphere in downtown Fargo where fans crowed streets, watched from rooftops and decorated Broadway and surrounding buildings in Bison green and yellow. It was a combination that, according to the show’s senior producer Lee Fitting, created one of the best GameDay’s in the shows 21-year history of broadcasting live on location. “We had an unbelievable scene there last year, maybe the all-time best GameDay scene,” Fitting told the Associated Press. “If the scene’s great and the team’s relevant, then why not go back?” The scene was so memorable that Kirk Herbstreit, one of the four hosts of GameDay, awarded Fargo the Herbie Award for best College GameDay site in 2013 over places like Oregon, Florida State, Auburn, Michigan and Georgia.
Fitting set Bison Nation afire last Saturday morning when he tweeted that if NDSU beat Weber State, the show would be returning. The social media revelation quickly stampeded its way through the Bison faithful. “Last year was one of our memorable scenes in the history of the show and you couple that with the fact that they clearly are the most dominant team, most talked about team in FCS…we’re expecting the same type of scene again on Saturday,” said Fitting, who has developed his own fan base from the Peace Garden State, including a devoted legion of Twitter followers. “We can’t wait.” Neither can Bison fans, many of whom are expected to be lined up and camping along Broadway later this week for a place near the show’s main stage for Saturday morning’s big show.
For his part, Chris Fowler, the show’s lead anchor, described GameDay’s decision to come back as a tribute to the three-time defending FCS national champions and a testament to one of the greatest GameDay atmospheres. GameDay isn’t alone is describing Fargo as a marquee must-see destination in college football. The atmosphere in Fargo is one of the best in all of college football, any place, any division. In mid-August, before the first ball kicked off in the 2014 season, Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com’s senior college football columnist, did a column describing the top ten things every fan should do before they die. Dodd’s list included sitting at the 50-yard line at the Rose Bowl, Auburn’s Tiger Walk, kissing after every touchdown at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, and, of course, “Game day at the Fargodome.”
Several weeks later, the Huffington Post picked its top five colleges for tailgating. The list included familiar names like the University of South Carolina, University of Southern California, Ole Miss, and Louisiana State University. Among college football fans in the know, the not-so-surprising fourth school on the list was NDSU. The article described tailgating in Fargo as an experience, writing, “Reserve your spot early if you are a Bison fan: things are about to get intense. With a killer marching band, an intense spread of food, and a whole lot of diehard fans, tailgating in North Dakota is an experience.”
The atmosphere inside the FargoDome is pretty good too. Bleacher Report has the Fargodome in its top 50 greatest college stadiums, all divisions, describing the dome as one of the loudest and most difficult environments for opponents to play football in the country with the crowd regularly going over 100 decibels. This is backed up by a video from the last year’s team entrance against Ferris State, which can be viewed here.
All these lists tell the same story – they say that Bison football, despite being at the FCS level, has become one of the greatest college football events in the country, something recognized by GameDay’s decision to come back after their inaugural trip to Fargo.
The Bison play Incarnate Word at 2:30 p.m., giving fans plenty of time to make the trek from downtown when GameDay wraps at 11 a.m. on one of the free shuttle buses running between downtown and the NDSU campus. For those planning to take in the GameDay festivities, NDSU and the Fargo Police are encouraging fans to take the free shuttle buses. “One of the things we want to emphasize is the transportation,” said Mathew. “We hope people take advantage of that, we want all of you to experience the GameDay event, so come to NDSU campus and we will designate two lots for you, and they can take the shuttle for NDSU campus downtown.”
So what say you, Bison Nation? ESPN’s College GameDay wants their biggest and best show ever. Are you ready to give it to them and show America that one of the greatest college football destinations is NDSU?
Everyone up for the kickoff, the march is on!
Transportation to the downtown broadcast location for GameDay will be available from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. with pickup and return service at two locations, the south end of R parking lot at 15th Avenue North and Albrecht Boulevard on the NDSU campus and the east side of T parking lot between 11th and 12th Avenue North. Fans wishing to only attend the downtown ESPN College GameDay set are encouraged to use the Lot T shuttles.