North Dakota State football has been tested plenty of times already, but that won’t change any time soon.
Top-ranked NDSU will take on No. 4 Montana in a battle of top-tier FCS teams at 2:30 p.m. at the Fargodome.
Coaches and players like safety Colten Heagle know, even though its still early in the season, playoff seedings and home-field advantage in the playoffs may be on the line.
“I think you get your mind a little bit more prepared for a game like this knowing the implication of it,” Heagle said. “The great thing we’ve been able to do the last couple years is prepare for any team.”
In fact, pretty much any NDSU player will say preparation has been key for the 27-game winning streak the Bison are on, Heagle said.
And this Montana contest could be pivotal as the season goes on.
“To be 4-0 going into conference (play) will be huge for us,” he said. “Having these four games before the conference even starts compared to the last three years will be huge for the young guys and the experience of this team.”
The Grizzlies feature a running back tandem of Travon Van and Jordan Canada, who have combined for nearly 400 yards rushing. Van has recorded 153 receiving yards and five total touchdowns.
“They’re two quick and shifty kids,” Heagle said. “They’ll run hard and play hard.”
Between the ground duo and quarterback Jordan Johnson, who has racked up 5,831 and 53 TDs through the air, the Grizzlies pose a dynamic offense for the Bison to stop.
“They have a really experienced quarterback and explosive receivers,” cornerback Jordan Champion said. “We’ve just got to be ready to roll. We don’t see the speed that they have every week, so this will be a challenge for us to see where we’re at.”
NDSU head coach Chris Klieman said he likes how his team is playing and is excited to compete again at home after starting the season with two road games.
“Our coaches are grinding away,” he said. “It’s going to be an electric atmosphere for our players, coaches and everyone at NDSU.”
The Grizzlies started the season against former NDSU coach Craig Bohl’s Wyoming, who is running a similar system to Klieman.
But Klieman’s system may be more dynamic, because his players have been playing with an identical playbook for a few seasons.
“If you’re Montana, you can look at that easily and say ‘Boy, this is how they’re going to (play) that,’” he said. “It may help them, but in the same respect, we’re probably doing a few more things because of that experience factor.”
The Grizzlies (2-1) have scored 29.3 points per game and have only allowed 17 per contest. The Grizzlies’ only loss came to Bohl’s Cowboys, which ended with a down-to-the-wire 17-12 finish.
“(Montana is) very well coached,” Klieman said. “Those guys understand the system. There’s not really a lot of holes. So that comes back to us and who can execute better.”
Although he isn’t focused on playoff seeding so early in the season, Champion said having home-field advantage through the playoffs would be great, to continue playing inside in the heated Fargodome, especially late in the year.
“I know this will have playoff implications down the road,” he said. “But right now this is a good test to see where we are as players.”
Ready or not, the Bison will have their hands full on their home field.
“We’re looking for a heck of a football game,” Klieman said.