The stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas! Bison fans will be singing these words, among others, on the evening of Jan. 4, 2014 in Frisco, Texas after North Dakota State hoists its third consecutive national championship trophy at Toyota Stadium. While the stadium that was formerly known as Pizza Hut Park has gone through several name changes in the last few years, one thing has remained the same. When the final horn sounds in the Football Championship Subdivision title game on the first Saturday in January, NDSU is the team standing on the big stage celebrating with nearly 15,000 of our fans looking on and raising the familiar Bison horns.
In so doing, NDSU will join Appalachian State as the only FCS program to win three straight national championships. That’s pretty rarified air, even for a program as steeped in history and tradition as NDSU. Of NDSU’s ten national titles, only five ended in undefeated seasons – ’68, ’69, ’86, ’88 and ’90. And no Bison team has ever finished a season 15 – 0. The ’88 and ’90 teams both won titles with perfect 14 – 0 marks. No team in the nearly 120 years of NDSU Football has ever won three consecutive national championships. This team not only joins the discussion of being the best team in the school’s 119 years of football, they’ve built a pretty strong case for being at the top of the list.
What a ride the last three years have been as a fan. When it’s done, and Bison Nation charges the field of Toyota Stadium, this senior class will have compiled a jaw dropping 52 – 7 record. The Herd have lost only twice since the clock turned 2011, and will have racked up a 43 – 2 mark in the three championship seasons. Not to mention a national quarterfinal appearance in 2010. Simply put, nobody has been better. Nobody has won like this team. Period. Not a single team in Division I football has more wins in the last three seasons than our Bison. Not even perennial super power Alabama has been better.
In 1986, another remarkable and record-setting group of Bison seniors raised their third national championship banner, defeating conference rival South Dakota 27 – 7. Following that game, USD head coach Dave Triplett summed up NDSU’s dominance over the rest of their division. “I wish to hell they would get out of Division II. They can go wherever they want.” That group of seniors played in four national championship games, and would have four national titles, but for a 50-yard field goal by Troy State as time expired in the 1984 national championship game.
Fast forward 27 years from Triplett’s comments, not even a decade into the Division I move, and another USD head coach was as effusive in his praise as Triplett was in his blunt critique of NDSU’s excellence. Joe Glenn, whose Coyotes were dismantled in the regular season finale 42 – 0 by the Bison, doesn’t see anyone stopping this finely tuned and well oiled machine. “We played eight teams in the top 30 and two of the best in the Big Sky and nobody is close to this team,” Glenn said. “I tell you, they don’t have a weakness. I don’t see anybody stopping this team.” Glenn is as right in 2013 as Triplett was in 1986.
In my August column, “Enjoy the ride,” I predicted this team would go wire-to-wire and finish undefeated. But that wasn’t my driving point. The driving point was that this season would be something special. Writing before the season kicked off, I penned, “Enjoy the ride. Don’t get caught up in the hype or expectations. This is about much, much more than Frisco. We’re watching something special. And if you can’t see that from the hype, you’ll miss out. So let’s take it one game at a time, starting August 30 in Manhattan, Kansas and finishing January 4, 2014 in Frisco, Texas – and every game in between.” As we get further removed from August 30 and closer to January 4, this team, and this season, have been every bit as special as expected.
I hope you have enjoyed this season as much as I have because seasons like this don’t come around very often. The last team to go undefeated and win an FCS national championship was Marshall in 1996. That team featured a guy named Randy Moss. Not even those great Appalachian State teams that won three straight from 2005 to 2007 finished undefeated. From the pulse pounding last-minute victory in Manhattan that gave us “the drive” and Brock Jensen’s unforgettable touchdown plunge, to ESPN’s College GameDay showcasing NDSU and Fargo on that unforgettable September day, a fourth straight Dakota Marker victory in Brookings, the thrilling come from behind victory over Northern Iowa, to our third straight Missouri Valley Football Conference title, this team has cemented their already rich legacy.
Of the 24 seniors, there are numerous sure fire Bison Hall of Famers, a Hall of Fame coach, not to mention the team itself, which will one day enter the Hall. This team, this year, these championships, will be talked about by Bison fans for decades to come. Enjoy this month and early January because who knows when we’ll see another group like the 24 that have brought Bison Football to new heights. This team is too focused, too good, too experienced and too determined to let anyone keep them from reaching their goal of an undefeated perfect season and adding another year to the championship banner hanging in the Fargodome. From Fargo to Frisco, it’s been one for the ages. Everyone up for the kickoff, the march is on.