#4 North Dakota State FCS Football 2021 Preview

North Dakota State Bison
Overall Rank: #4
#2 Missouri Valley
 north Dakota State Logo
By North Dakota State standards, the spring season was a disaster. The Bison went 7-3 and only reached the quarterfinals of the playoffs. For a team that has dominated the FCS for the past decade, that is more than just disappointing. But the only other time in the last decade NDSU did not win the title, they quickly turned things around. And last season Coach Matt Entz had a very young team. There were a lot of freshmen thrown into the fire. Now those freshmen have experience.
2020-21 Record: 7-3, 5-2
2020-21 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Matt Entz (23-3 at North Dakota State, 23-3 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tyler Roehl
Defensive Coordinator: David Braun
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Dominic Gonnella, RB, 495 yards
Passing: Cam Miller, QB, 363 yards
Receiving: Christian Watson, WR, 442 yards
Tackles: Jackson Hankey, LB, 72     
Sacks: Eli Mostaert, DT, 4.5; Spencer Waege, DE, 4.5
Interceptions: Dom Jones, S, 3
Other Key Returnees: FB Hunter Luepke, RB Jalen Bussey, RB Kobe Johnson, TE Josh Babicz, TE Noah Gindorff, OL Cordell Volson, OL Cody Mauch, LB James Kaczor, LB Jasir Cox, S Michael Tutsie, CB Destin Talbert, DT Lane Tucker
Key Losses: QB Zeb Noland, DB Josh Hayes
The main question on offense is at quarterback. Cam Miller was one of those freshmen and he started both of the playoff games and threw for 363 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions on the year. He also rushed for 176 yards and four scores. The Bison brought in Virginia Tech transfer Quincy Patterson too. He played in three games last season and started one against Notre Dame in 2019. It has been a while since we have seen a quarterback battle at NDSU, but however it shakes out, the quarterback will find success. Wide receiver Christian Watson will make sure of that. Watson is a dynamic playmaker and return man who tallied a team high 19 catches for 442 yards and a touchdown. Phoenix Sproles is also back after sitting out the spring season and tight ends Josh Babicz and Noah Gindorff are proven pass catchers as well. Coach Entz will stick to the ground game as much as possible with Dominic Gonnella and Hunter Luepke leading the way. Gonnella rushed for a team high 495 yards and fullback Luepke added 458 yards and punched in six touchdowns. Jalen Bussey averaged an impressive 8.8 yards per carry and Kobe Johnson started for games and rushed for 271 yards in six total appearances. There is no lack of rushing options and that is not even counting two quarterbacks who can do plenty of damage with their legs.
The defense was good, but maybe not quite NDSU good. There is plenty of talent for this group to be improved. Spencer Waege is an All-American type of talent at defensive end and tackle Eli Mostaert matched Waege’s 4.5 sack total in the spring. James Kaczor is the leader at linebacker and will again team up with Jackson Hankey. Those two tallied 142 total tackles in the 2020-2021 season. Safeties Dom Jones and Michael Tutsie are proven playmakers, but the cornerbacks could get involved a little more and help the defense create a few more turnovers.
The Bottom Line:
And it was really those turnovers that were problematic for North Dakota State. They want to suffocate their opponents and eat up clock and control the game. That is tougher to do when losing the turnover battle and it caught up with them at times. The Bison should not be seriously tested until they host Northern Iowa on October 9th. A trip to South Dakota State on November 6th could have huge MVFC title implications and seeding implications as well.
Projected Postseason:  FCS Playoffs
2020-21 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 218.4 (10th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 123.5 (86, 9)
Total Offense: 341.9 (47, 5)
Scoring Offense: 26.0 (33, 4)
Rushing Defense: 120.1 (24, 4)
Pass Defense: 185.8 (33, 6)
Total Defense: 305.9 (24, 4)
Scoring Defense: 19.0 (20, 3)
Turnover Margin: -0.90 (84, 8)
Sacks: 2.60 (27, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 0.80 (4, 2)