Unless you were living under a rock, you are probably aware of the fact that the North Dakota State Bison lost a football game this weekend. As expected, the typical whirlwind of the sky-is-falling prognostication ensued.
“Guys, we’re gonna lose a football game now and then,” head coach Chris Klieman told the cadre of reporters in Saturday’s postgame press conference. “I know that’s like a novel thing here.”
Equally novel to some casual observers is the notion that there are other elite teams in the FCS.
“But, you know what? Other teams are pretty good too,” the fourth year head coach said.
This much is definitely undeniable. The Bison could not maintain their “Bullies of the FCS and occasionally the FBS” status in perpetuity. On the contrary, the Herd play in the Missouri Valley, far and away the class of the subdivision. This much alone should be enough to talk people off the ledge on NDSU.
Klieman though, dodged the bait that his team was unprepared or lacked intensity ahead of the loss to South Dakota State. “I will never say our kids didn’t have fire or didn’t have energy,” he asserted. “We didn’t play well today. It’s not because the kids weren’t fired up. They had a good plan. They executed better than we did.”
Sure, the Bison’s ranking in the FCS Coaches Poll may have taken a hit — they dropped from No. 2 to No. 6 after the loss — but that matters little considering NDSU isn’t concerned about the rankings.
The objectives NDSU prioritized at the beginning of the season are still attainable. The Bison set out this season to win a share of their seventh consecutive conference title and to win the national championship. While the title game is still further on the horizon, the Herd are still in the driver’s seat for the outright conference championship.
“It’s one game. It’s a big game, because it’s the Marker game, but by no means is our season all of a sudden in jeopardy,” Klieman said. “All of our goals, everything we have, is in front of us, and we’ve got a great group of seniors.”
The recipe for winning at least a share of the Missouri Valley title is simple: beat South Dakota on Saturday. If the Bison can accomplish that, they will be guaranteed a share of the title. If not, they can still do so the following week in Normal, Illinois against Illinois State.
NDSU, the only team in the conference with only one loss, can win the outright title by winning both contests.
Klieman’s message to his players, and by extension Bison fans, was concise. “Stay together. Don’t let outside influences tell you you’re not a good football team,” he said on Saturday. “Make sure that we keep it in house and we do a great job of preparing ourselves. We’ve got senior day next week and a really tough opponent in South Dakota, and I want to send those seniors off with a win at home.”
The only season in the program’s history that the Bison posted a 15-0 record was in 2013. That feat was accomplished at the height of their dynasty, when the Bison gave up no more than 26 points in a game and won their four playoff games by a combined score of 173-42. Repeating such an accomplishment would be a nearly impossible task, especially given the competition in both the Missouri Valley and the FCS at large.
“This league is really good and anybody can beat anybody,” Klieman stated after the loss. “We cannot let this linger.”
The Bison have had to turn the page after each of their eight wins this season, and doing the same after a loss is no different. “We have to be able to move on,” Klieman said. “It’s gonna hurt today; it’s probably gonna hurt tomorrow, but come Monday the guys gotta come ready to work and ready to play a really good South Dakota team.”
Klieman’s assessment of the state of the Bison was brief: “Son of a gun, we’ve won like 100 games in the decade. We are fine.”
Take it from someone who has hoisted two championship trophies as a head coach himself, the Bison are doing alright.