Photo By Nolan P. Schmidt
North Dakota State’s run of dominance is now so long, we can discuss concurrent championship “eras”. It’s not like discussing the Green Bay Packers, where you’d talk about the Starr, Rodgers and Favre eras which have now spanned nearly 65 years. You can discuss multiple championship teams in the Jensen Era, the Wentz Era and the Stick Era, without having to even leave the current decade.
Frankly, you can fondly remember the Steve Walker era without having to go back past kindergarten for current high school seniors. For a number of reasons NDSU’s Division I run is almost unfathomable, but these discussion points are particularly wild. No other football team or program has to address the same things NDSU has to address, and certainly not in such a truncated period of time.
Can Mertens replace Walker? Can Wentz replace Jensen? Can Stick replace Wentz? Can Lance replace Stick? Can Klieman replace Bohl? Can Entz replace Klieman?
Each of these players and coaches left North Dakota State with a 30-year career’s worth of accomplishments. People don’t just have three or four national championships. Carson Wentz has five championship rings.
That is as many national titles as UND, SDSU, Montana, Appalachian State, Jacksonville State and Northern Iowa have combined. Do you think other schools (at any level) have to discuss how to replace multiple national championship quarterbacks in a row? Or how to replace a four-time national champion coach who replaced a three-time national champion coach? Get real.
With that said, that’s exactly where we are, and it’s what stares down Matt Entz, Trey Lance and the rest of the North Dakota State football program. Entz’s two predecessors both won three or more national titles and took FBS head jobs. Lance’s two predecessors were both selected in the NFL Draft, one of them at number two overall. The expectations aren’t high, they’re astronomical. Probably unrealistically so.
It’s not like everything had gone perfectly since Bohl arrived. After Steve Walker, Joe Mays and crew left, Nick Mertens led a spotty offense and a defense that didn’t quite meet the standard of Code Green to a disappointing 6-5 record in their first season of playoff eligibility. This came after two 10-1 seasons that raised the level of expectations at NDSU to a National Championship level. The Bison did muddle through one transition (which frankly should be the expectation).
That is definitely not the expectation with this club, though. The recruiting profile of NDSU has been raised consistently, and as the football staff would say: the Standard is the Standard. Coach Klieman fondly (or maybe not so fondly) recalls a grocery store conversation after NDSU’s 12-2 season in 2016. That season, of course, included a victory over Iowa in Iowa City when the Hawkeyes were ranked 11th in the country and coming off of a Rose Bowl appearance. It did, though, end in a semifinal loss. The woman in the grocery store offered Klieman condolences after a “tough season”.
Entz’s assignment: win it all every year or you’ve failed.
It’s difficult not to see Lance’s announcement as the starting quarterback and not do a little math as well. Brock Jensen set the NCAA for wins as a Division I quarterback at 48. Stick then broke that at 49 last season. Those both came in 52 career starts. If Lance stays healthy, he could potentially play 16 games in each season, should NDSU make the national championship game. That’s a possible 64 starts.
It’s an insane thing before a kid’s first start to try and figure out how he’d break the ALL-TIME WINS RECORD FOR A QB, but we live in insane times. We live in the Bison era. It’s an era that is sure to end, or at least to slow, but who knows when that’s going to be.
As Entz, Lance and the Bison forge forward into the season, they face plenty of questions and expectations that have never seen before in college football. Thankfully, those are just par for the very, very strange course at NDSU.