2024 NDSU Football Preview

The 2023 football season for North Dakota State was underwhelming as the team finished 8-3, was swept by their rivals and was playing on Thanksgiving weekend for the first time since 2010. However, the team still managed to reach the semifinal round of the FCS playoffs for the 12th time in the last 13 seasons and were a two-point play away from another national championship appearance. This year’s version of Bison football will look more like the Bison of old as a new regime has instilled the physical toughminded approach that brought nine national titles to Fargo. The new regime starts with the head coach, Tim Polasek.

Polasek was named the 32nd head football coach at North Dakota State University after previous coach Matt Entz left for the sunny skies of Los Angeles and USC. Polasek has brought in some fresh faces on the staff to coach the team in his image: tough, physical, talented and mature. Last year, the Bison lacked a consistent ground game, maturity and an intimidating defense. Polasek is hoping to get those things back by leaning on some new players and new coaches. 


To help coach this team, Tim Polasek replaced former offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl with Jake Landry who was the University of St.Thomas offensive coordinator last season. On defense, former coordinator Jason Petrino was replaced with linebackers coach Grant Olson and defensive tackles coach Nick Goeser as they will share the defensive coordinator responsibilities. The change at offensive coordinator was the only move made on that side of the ball as the rest of the offensive staff was retained and for good reason as the offense averaged 38 points a game a year ago. Defensively Polasek knew that changes needed to be made after “Code Green” had an off-year as they allowed 20 points per game. Polasek brought in a familiar face as well as two guys with power five FBS experience. He brought in former Bison linebacker Carlton Littlejohn to coach the defensive ends. Littlejohn had been coaching at MSUM and finally made the jump back to his alma mater. Devin Klieman and Will Johnson were the other editions to the defensive staff as Klieman was brought in to coach the safeties. Klieman coached as a graduate assistant under his father Chris at Kansas State. Will Johnson comes to Fargo from Southern California as he was also a graduate assistant he played cornerback at Oklahoma. 

The Backs

This upcoming season might produce one of the best offenses that NDSU has ever put on the field as they are stacked with talent at every skill position. The quarterback room has not changed as Cam Miller and Cole Payton have returned, and they look like their normal selves. Payton however will take on more of a Taysom Hill role. This means he could line up anywhere on the field at any given time. This change has been made because last year any time #9 came into the game the defense knew who was getting the ball, Landry is trying to keep the defense on its toes this time around. Trey Drake and Nathan Hayes are behind them and both looked really good in the team’s spring showcase. While Hayes displayed his running abilities, Drake showed poise and calmness in the pocket. Running backs Barika Kpeenu and TK Marshall have returned but there is one running back that both players and coaches know is the future at the running back position, CharMar Brown. The man who goes by Marty has flashed in spring ball as his 5’11, 213-pound frame is what a prototypical running back at NDSU should look like. His burst, vision, strength and nose for the endzone make him a prime candidate to be the starting running back come August, but as of now, it looks like it is a battle between Marshall and Kpeenu for that spot. The fullbacks bring back all three of their blocking backs as first-team all-MVFC team selection Hunter Brozio heads the room, but he has depth behind him in Logan Hofstedt and Truman Werremeyer. The latter was excellent on special teams and will continue to get looks on offense.

Receivers/Tight Ends

The most talented position group this year for the herd very well could be the wide receivers as they have nine receivers that could get snaps during the season. The Bison return most of their cast from last year as RaJa Nelson and Braylon Henderson return, but the depth behind them is what fans should get excited about. Trey Lance’s brother, Bryce, had a fantastic spring and could be a huge rotation piece along with Tyler Terhark and Carson Hegerle. Keep an eye on Hegerle as injuries have nagged him, but when healthy, the West Fargo product could be a huge contributor. Speaking of huge, the two guys I have my eye on are Mekhi Collins and Chris Harris. Collins is built like Christian Watson, 6’4, 215 lbs, and has unreal athletic ability. He had an up-and-down spring, but if he can get snaps he will be a big target for Cam Miller. Harris is a near duplicate of Collins, 6’3, 203, and has an unreal catch radius. Don’t forget about John Gores as well, the 5’5 receiver may end up playing both receiver and running back as his speed is going to be utilized by Jake Landry and Joe Beschorner as he may end up being the replacement at kick/punt returner since Jayden Price graduated. The tight ends or “Crew Chiefs” return everyone as Joe Stoffel returns as Miller’s safety valve, but he has depth behind him in Carson Williams and Finn Diggins. Be on the lookout for Kaden Zenzen as the Sophomore tight end impressed in spring ball and could have a big fall camp to go with it. 


NDSU has been O-Line U in recent years as numerous former Bison offensive linemen have gone on to the NFL. This year’s version of “The Rams” has question marks as only two starters return from last year’s line, Grey Zabel and Mason Miller. O-Line coach Dan Larsen will have to fill the interior of the line as Zabel will play left tackle and Miller the right tackle position. The center position may be the easiest to fill as Marshall transfer Trent Fraley will more than likely fill the void left by Brandon Westburg. The guard positions will be filled with some guys who have been in the program for a few years and some who have only been in Fargo for a short time. Isaac Zatechka, a 6’4 Junior, is a prime candidate for one of the guard spots and the other guy could be Devin Lockerby. The 6’5, 304-pound guard could fill the other role, but other young guys like Austin Schultz, Griffin Empey and Kaden Chadwick could challenge for the guard spots but time and fall camp will tell.


The defensive front has been a work in progress as they have had to endure growing pains up front, but this year’s defensive front is now healthy and is prime for a return to dominance. Eli Moestaert is healthy this year and is a Buck Buchannon award candidate plus is due for a strong season. There is a ton of depth behind him like his brother Will and a ton of guys who have a lot of experience after playing as redshirt freshmen: Jaxon Duttenhefer, Kody Huisman, Loshiaka Roques, Dylan Hendricks and Kelton McCaslin. The biggest addition that the Bison made upfront is Hunter Zenzen. The Iowa State transfer missed all of last season with injury, but if he is healthy come August, he could be a great edge rusher on the other side Eli Mosteart. Be on the lookout for redshirt freshman Brennan Palmer. The former Fargo Davies standout has flashed during the spring, and he could also work his way into the fold. He is just one more depth piece in what is a loaded defensive line.


NDSU has produced some great linebackers over the years from Grant Olson to Jabril Cox, but this year’s team group of linebackers may be the deepest as they truly could go 7-8 deep if needed. The notables return as Logan Kopp, Luke Weerts, Nick Kubitz and Oscar Benson are all back, but expect younger guys like Enock Sibomana, Donovan Woolen, Marcus Gulley and Nathaniel Staehling to step up and play if needed. Kopp very well could also be a Buck Buchannon award candidate as he was all over the place last year making plays, and he is the leader of what should be an outstanding unit. 


The biggest question mark for the defense is the secondary. As Jayden Price has graduated, they will need some younger guys to step up, but new corners coach, Will Johnson, has starter Marcus Sheppard returning but behind him it is unclear. The options are Najee Nelson, who shined during the back half of last year and could be the second corner, and Jaquise Alexander, Termaine Turner, Jailen Duffie and Kegan Huber. Coach Johnson will have his hands full in choosing his corners. Still, new safeties coach Devin Klieman’s job is easier as he already has his safeties, and they are all possible all-conference players as Cole Wisniewski and Sam Jung return. Still, they also have plenty of depth as Ryan Jones and Darrius Givance give Coach Klieman some options moving forward.


The special teams unit will not change as Griffin Crosa is back as the kicker while Kaedin Steindorf is back punting and Caleb Bowers will be doing the long-snapping.

All in all, this may be one of the deepest rosters that NDSU has ever had. Now it’s all about fall camp and the highly anticipated season opener as in Tim Polasek’s first game as head coach he will take his team to Boulder to take on Coach Prime’s Colorado Buffaloes on August 29. The game will more than likely be the first college football game played in 2024, and the game is likely in primetime on ESPN. This game will be a great way for the Bison to tell the country that they are back to their title-winning ways

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