Most people think of football when they think of North Dakota State, and after winning their seventh championship in eight straight years, the team appears stronger than ever. Fans are pumped for the next season, and you can be sure they are looking for another championship.
However, it may not be smooth sailing for the Herd. With over 20 seniors graduating and a new head coach, the upcoming season could prove to be interesting.
Regardless, when classes roll back around in August, so will the Herd, and here is a quick look into what the new season could look like.
For one, it is important to address the changes within the program. Head coach Chris Klieman moved on to a new job at Kansas State and took most of his coaching staff with him. The four-time FCS champion had an integral role in making the football program what it is.
Replacing him will be Matt Entz, the defensive coordinator under Klieman. This will be the first head coaching job for the 21-year assistant coaching veteran, and he will have some big shoes to fill.
Helping him along the way will be some of his new staff hires. Replacing Entz as defensive coordinator will be David Braun, former Northern Iowa defensive line coach.
A.J. Blazek will be taking the spot as offensive line coach. The former Big Ten center will be coming fresh off two years as an assistant coach at Rutgers.
Former NDSU player Grant Olson will be coming in as the new wide receivers coach, and Dan Larson has been added as the running backs coach.
Some familiar faces will be alongside the new guys in the coaching room. Bubba Williams, Kody Morgan, Nick Goeser, Randy Hedberg and Tyler Roehl will all be returning to NDSU.
One of the big hurdles for the fresh, new staff is the number of graduating seniors. With over 20, lots of decisions will have to be made on who will be taking their positions.
One of the biggest and obvious spots is quarterback. Easton Stick had been NDSU’s quarterback for three seasons, in which the last two ended in championships. With Stick graduated and off to the pros, it is time to find a replacement.
Right now, there are four quarterbacks gunning for the position. Redshirt freshman Trey Lance is probably not too far in the running due to age and status. The real battle comes between competing sophomore quarterbacks Noah Sanders and Holden Hotchkiss.
Hotchkiss was the go-to backup to send in when the Bison were largely leading opponents, but a bit of wrench has also been thrown into the works. Junior Zeb Noland has recently transferred in from Iowa State where he played several games as a starter.
Will he be here to take the starting job, or will Entz stick with Hotchkiss, the kid who’s been in the program waiting for his chance? The choice will be big for NDSU football no matter which way they choose to go.
Some other notable voids that will need to be filled in the roster include running back, defensive line, wide receiver, cornerback and safety.
With not one but two key running backs graduating and heading to NFL mini camps, Bruce Anderson and Lance Dunn, the Herd will be taking a major hit to its run game.
On top of Stick, the passing game will also be taking a loss. Wide receiver Darrius Shepherd, another NFL hopeful, has graduated as well.
Lastly, the defense as a whole will need some restructuring. Key players such as monster defensive linemen Greg Menard and Aaron Steidl and defensive backs Jalen Allison and Robbie Grimsley won’t be returning this fall.
The Bison have a long road ahead of them, but they’ve pulled off a transition like this before. I don’t know if I would expect a championship right off the bat from coach Entz. However, with excellence expected every single year, another title run may be in the cards.