#1 North Dakota State 2018 FCS Football Preview

North Dakota State Bison
Overall Rank: #1
#1 Missouri Valley
 North Dakota State Logo
After falling short against James Madison in the 2016 national championship game, the Bison got revenge last year, knocking off the Dukes 17-13 in another exciting title game. NDSU did lose a tough road game against South Dakota State in early November, but for the most part Coach Chris Klieman had his team cruising through the entire season. And, of course, this is a team that will enter the 2018 campaign as the team to beat.
2017 Record: 14-1, 7-1
2017 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Chris Klieman (54-6 at NDSU, 57-13 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Courtney Messingham
Defensive Coordinator: Matt Entz
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Bruce Anderson, RB, 1,216 yards
Passing: Easton Stick, QB, 2,466 yards
Receiving: Darrius Shepherd, WR, 559 yards
Tackles: Jabril Cox, LB, 75
Sacks: Derrek Tuszka, DE, 7.5
Interceptions: Robbie Grimsley, S, 4; James Hendricks, S, 4
Other Key Returnees: RB Ty Brooks, RB Lance Dunn, OL Tanner Volson, OL Zack Johnson, DE Caleb Butler, CB Jalen Allison, LB Levi Jordheim, DT Aaron Steidl, K Cam Pedersen
Key Losses: WR RJ Urzendowski, TE Jeff Illies, FB Connor Wentz, OL Austin Kuhnert, DB Tre Dempsey, LB Nick DeLuca, DL Nate Tanguay
There is a lot of talent and experience back for an offense that ranked second in the FCS in scoring offense with 38.7 points per game. Quarterback Easton Stick is back for his fourth season as a starter. Last year he threw for 2,466 yards and 28 touchdowns while completing 62.1 percent of his passes. Stick will get a shot at the NFL after this season, but he will need to find some new receivers. After Darrius Shepherd, who caught 41 passes for 559 yards last season, there is a need for playmakers in the passing game. But the ground game will be nearly impossible to stop behind a big, tough offensive line. Bruce Anderson rushed for 1,216 yards and a dozen touchdowns last year, but Lance Dunn was the starter before an injury ended his season after eight games. In those eight games Dunn rushed for 684 yards and 12 scores. And then there is the explosive Ty Brooks who rushed for 700 yards and seven scores. And Stick is a threat to do some damage with his legs too. Coach Klieman has an amazing amount of talent in the backfield and once again he will find a way to keep everybody involved.
NDSU has won six titles in the last seven years and that is mostly due to the defense. And this group has more than enough talent to do it again. Greg Menard, Derrek Tuszka and Aaron Steidl lead a line that has enough depth to keep everybody fresh. Menard missed last season with an injury, but tallied 11.0 sacks in 2016. In Menard’s absence Tuszka played well and tallied a team high 7.5 sacks in 2017. Jabril Cox is the star at linebacker after recording a team high 75 tackles. Players like Levi Jordheim have starting experience and should play a larger role this season. It is in the secondary though where NDSU may be at their best. Robbie Grimsley and James Hendricks are great playmakers at safety and the amount of talent at cornerback would make any coach envious. Jalen Allison and Jaylaan Wimbush were the regular starters last season, but both Josh Hayes and Marquise Bridges played very well when given the opportunity.
The Bottom Line:
The Bison do not leave Fargo until October with home dates against Cal Poly, North Alabama, Delaware and South Dakota State to open the season. That conference opener against the Jackrabbits could be the toughest test they face until deep into the playoffs. However there are potentially interesting road trips to Northern Iowa and Western Illinois right after the home stretch. If this group can start the season 6-0, it is hard to see where they could lose until well into the playoffs.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 272.2 (4th in nation, 1st in conference)
Passing Offense: 176.7 (92, 10)
Total Offense: 448.9 (12, 2)
Scoring Offense: 38.7 (2, 1)
Rushing Defense: 89.5 (6, 1)
Pass Defense: 147.9 (3, 2)
Total Defense: 237.4 (1, 1)
Scoring Defense: 11.6 (2, 1)
Turnover Margin: 1.27 (7, 1)
Sacks: 2.73 (22, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 1.53 (33, 2)
HERO Sports 2018 Recruit Rankings:
#9        Saybein Clark
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#65      Samuel Moore
#170    Brendan Cook
#176    Mitchell Kartes
#178    Zach Mathis
#232    Destin Talbert