By Joshua Swanson
Expectations for Bison football this fall are stratospheric. For many, anything less than an early January 2013 return trip to Frisco, Texas will be viewed as a disappointment. Numerous preseason publications have North Dakota State tabbed as a favorite to repeat as national champions. The hottest ticket in North Dakota and western Minnesota right now – sports, entertainment or otherwise – is for Bison football.
The Bison have all the pieces in place to return to Frisco. NDSU returns considerable firepower on both sides of the ball, including team leader Brock Jensen, offensive weapons Sam Ojuri and Ryan Smith, and most starters from a defense, including Buck Buchanan candidate Marcus Williams, that allowed only 6.75 points per game in four playoff contests. So, what will it take to get back to Frisco and repeat as national champions? The road will be tough with as many as five other Missouri Valley Football Conference teams, among them Northern Iowa, Indiana State, Youngstown State, Illinois State and Southern Illinois picked in the preseason Top 25.
Few can provide the perspective of a repeat champion. Only two Bison football teams have ever won back-to-back titles. The 1969 squad repeated as champs after winning the programs’ second title in 1968. In 1986, one of the best Bison teams ever finished 13 – 0, winning the programs’ sixth championship after winning it all in 1985. The 1986 Bison were, wire-to-wire, the top team in the country and outscored opponents by an average margin of 39 – 6. USA Today sports writer Beano Cook said the Herd was one of the top ten teams in the country, regardless of division.
Three players from the ‘86 team, all in the Bison Hall of Fame, Harlon Hill winning and All-American quarterback Jeff Bentrim, All-American running back Chad Stark, and All-American linebacker Charlie Stock shared their thoughts and advice for NDSU to repeat and claim their tenth championship banner next January.
The Bison begin the 2012 season on Saturday, Sept. 1 with a 6 p.m. kickoff against Robert Morris.
“It’s very important not to look backwards. If we look forward and look at the tasks you’re doing today, each day at a time, each play at a time, if they can look forward, what do we need to do today to accomplish our goal and keep that focus, they’ll have a shot.”
“Certainly there were a lot of expectations from the coaches, university, the Fargo-Moorhead community, but I don’t think anyone put more pressure on us than we put on ourselves. I would say going into my senior year in ’86, I probably put more pressure on myself to go undefeated as our last hurrah.”
“I’m sure its been drilled into them by the coaches, but don’t get ahead of yourself. People can talk all they want but you have a job to do.”
“It’s funny, there are certain lines you remember that coaches drill into your head, and it always started with being brilliant at the basics and the big things would follow. We focused on doing the little things right, getting good workouts in, film training, all the little things that make you better. It was all about practice and preparation. Staying status quo wasn’t going to get it done.”
“You need significant leadership to step up. Our seniors brought younger guys like me along. We’d mess up, they’d pick us up. Hopefully these guys understand they have a target on their back and accept that responsibility.”
“We were confident, but not cocky. I don’t think we ever let it get to our heads. It started with the coaching staff and head coach and they never let it get to our heads. You’d never have a perfect game or practice, you can always get better, there was always room for improvement and we all understood that.”