This time last year NDSU fans were celebrating back-to-back-to-back national championships. Life was good, really good. But as great things happen in college sports, change and turnover soon occur.
Our head coach, who led the Bison through the Division I transition and three championships in a row, left with many coaches to take on a new challenge. Our athletic director took a new job in the Big Ten at the University of Iowa. And if that wasn’t enough change for Bison fans, our four-year starting quarterback and three-time national champion, Brock Jensen, ran out of eligibility. Three question marks for NDSU to deal with (amongst others, like two dozen graduating seniors) and they dealt with these issues FANTASTICALLY!
Carson Wentz had been waiting in the wings for three seasons, watching the Bison do the unthinkable. And it was Wentz and the seniors that rallied together and made history by becoming back-to-back-to-back-to-back national champions. At times it looked almost too easy for the junior quarterback from Bismarck, but let’s reflect back on the 2014 season to see how Wentz progressed throughout his first year as a starter.
Wentz got his first start as a Bison against Big 12 conference member Iowa State. Playing in front of a hostile home environment, having more scholarships, and playing a new quarterback on the visiting team seemed like a good idea for Iowa State to put the Bison on the schedule.
Not so fast!
Although the first few offensive drives didn’t end like the Bison would have hoped, the Herd rallied back behind Wentz, John Crockett and a great Bison defense. Wentz showed off the attributes that Bison fans had been hearing all about – great arm, quick feet, that amazing hurdle move he displayed against the Cyclones and the mental toughness of a champion.
I believe that looking back on this season, what Wentz and the rest of the 2014 Bison experienced during the hot day in Ames, Iowa, set the stage for the entire season. Offensive coordinator Tim Polasek knew that he wouldn’t have to slim down the playbook for the first year starting quarterback and Wentz took the reins and led the Bison to another great year.
Throughout the 2014 season, Wentz had some great moments that us fans won’t forget. But the in-game experience, watching film during the week, knowing he was “the guy” and adapting to the week-to-week game plans proved to get Wentz ready for his first playoff run.
Watching film throughout the week is a great way to learn, but being out on the field as the plays are developing and when things aren’t going right made the development for Wentz speed up (in a great way).
Fast-forward to the 2014 playoffs, and there were multiple games, including the championship, where Wentz led the offense on a last minute game-winning drive. These are the kind of things that can’t be learned by watching film; you have to do them.
Through the course the season everyone knew Wentz had the physical traits to lead this team. As the season moved along everybody knew that he had the mental side of the game taken care of to get the offense in and out of good plays. And most importantly, we all saw first-hand that Wentz has the “it” factor. He knows how to win games.
No matter what changes happen this offseason, Bison Nation can go in to the 2015 campaign knowing that they have a winner at quarterback.
Steve Walker was with NDSU as the quarterback for NDSU from 2004-07.