football-fcs flag | January 9, 2015

FCS Championship: Why They'll Win

North Dakota State seeks its fourth consecutive FCS championship when the Bison square off against Illinois State at 1 p.m. ET Saturday in Frisco, Texas.'s Douglas Kroll and Eric Vander Voort make the case for why each team will win:

FCS championship matchupIllinois State looks to derail North Dakota State's trek to its fourth consecutive national championship.

It’s tough to find reasons why three-time defending national champion North Dakota State will lose on Saturday.

Really hard.

But, every dynasty falls short eventually. UCLA men’s basketball won seven national championships in a row before finally giving way to NC State in 1974. More recently, Concordia-St. Paul women’s volleyball took home seven Division II national titles in a row of its own, with the streak coming to an end this past fall.

The good news for Illinois State against the Bison in Frisco? The rare time NDSU does lose a game, it happens against Missouri Valley Football Conference opponents. This year it was Northern Iowa, and in 2012 it was Indiana State. Given those are the only two losses NDSU has suffered in that span, maybe it’s a good thing for the Redbirds that two teams from the same conference are facing one another in the FCS championship game for the first time since 1978. The Bison always beat everyone else.


Illinois State players will wear a commemorative decal on their helmet in the FCS championship game. The helmet sticker -- red with a white 65 -- will honor John Rodgers, father of Eastern Washington senior All-America offensive tackle Jake Rodgers.
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Both teams finished MVFC play at 7-1, so Saturday’s title game is an unofficial conference championship game, with this being the first season since 2006 in which these two teams haven’t faced one another during the regular season. Sure, NDSU holds a 5-2 series advantage, but the Bison probably haven’t seen a Redbirds offense this efficient in those seven games.

Illinois State enters Saturday with the 17th-ranked offense in the FCS, behind first-year quarterback Tre Roberson’s 3,932 yards of total offense and 27 touchdown passes.

“I think we're a little bit more explosive than we were a year ago, but I still think they're a tremendous defense, a great defense, and that has not changed, so we'll see,” Illinois State head coach Brock Spack. “We'll see how much we've improved.”

Spack thought his Redbirds were right there -- at least in one area -- with the Bison, even the past three games in which NDSU won in the series.

“What we can take away is they've been very competitive games, and physically I think we've hung in there with them,” Spack said. “I thought the 2012 game, we had a lead going into the fourth quarter and I thought they really established their physicality in the fourth quarter and took the game over.”

It likely will be physical again in this meeting, with a Bison defense ranked third in the FCS in allowing just 270.8 yards per game of total offense. And if there’s one area the NDSU defense struggles more than any other, it’s against the run. That will be even more important for the Bison to stop than Roberson, with the FCS’ leading rusher, Marshuan Coprich, entering the game with 2,168 yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground this season.

Coprich and Roberson are a dynamic duo which helped hang 41 points on the 12th-ranked Northern Iowa defense in the second round of the FCS tournament. The Redbirds have scored 121 points in their first three postseason games. That trend will continue on Saturday en route to the school’s first national championship -- ending North Dakota State’s FCS reign.

-- Douglas Kroll,

♦ ♦ ♦

North Dakota State is a well-oiled machine that will keep humming to a fourth consecutive national championship.

Some of the parts had to be replaced, but they still function as a part of the system just as the old parts did. North Dakota State lost a head coach and quarterback from its 2013 version. This could have been the year everything broke down. Head coach Chris Klieman, the defensive coordinator for the first three championships, and junior quarterback Carson Wentz, who replaced four-year starter Brock Jensen, made sure that didn’t happen. The Bison offense systematically continued to produce, and an experienced defense shut down opponents as NDSU silenced critics wondering if it would miss a step under new leadership.

Kroll: For ISU, championship was a game of twos
Vander Voort: Wentz continues NDSU winning tradition
Behind the scenes for Illinois State's title experience
Redbirds eye prize of FCS championship
Vander Voort: Conference foes battle for FCS title
Vander Voort: Ill. St.'s Meehan carries legacy of late father
Why They'll Win: North Dakota State vs. Illinois State
Vander Voort: NDSU DEs form inseparable tandem
Vander Voort: Ill. St.'s Laros drops rugby for football
Vander Voort: How NDSU, Illinois St. got here
Countdown to kickoff: Follow the latest from Frisco
Brackets: Interactive Printable
The thing with North Dakota State -- it’s been there, done that. Sometimes, talk of history and past championships doesn’t mean a lot, but in this case, the Bison are as prepared as can be for Frisco. There is not a one true freshman at the top of any position on the depth chart. They know how this goes, from the media responsibilities throughout the week to Thursday night’s BBQ Bowl. Now four years into this run, a run that six defensive starters have been around for the entirety, they won’t be intimidated by anything.

Not that Illinois State will be; the Redbirds are coming off road playoff wins against Eastern Washington and top-seeded New Hampshire. They have to be taken seriously. But we simply don’t know how they’ll react to being on the biggest stage in program history.

There shouldn’t be many surprises in Saturday’s matchup. These teams, even though they did not play each other this season, know all about each other from the Missouri Valley Conference. NDSU coach Chris Klieman was at UNI before coming to Fargo, and Illinois State coach Brock Spack has been with the Redbirds for six seasons. Not much is going to get by either team.

So it will come down to which team executes its game plan better, and which team comes up with key stops. North Dakota State seems more likely to do those things, because we’ve seen it do so on this stage for three years. The defense, led by senior defensive end and Buck Buchanan Award winner Kyle Emanuel, is one of the best in the country. It is second in FCS in scoring defense and third in total defense. Granted, Illinois State has a top-10 offense and the playmaking ability of quarterback Tre Roberson will be tough to contain, but this is an NDSU defense that held Sam Houston State to just three points in the national semifinals. In the regular season, it allowed more than 20 points once.

Once the defense comes up with the stops, it will be the offense’s job to make the plays -- and the Bison have plenty who can do that. Wentz is a threat to run as well as throw, and senior running back John Crockett set a program record for all-purpose yards this season and ran for 227 in a quarterfinal game against Coastal Carolina. Klieman said leading receiver Zach Vraa, who has been dealing with an injury, is probable for the game.

I’m anticipating a close one on Saturday -- and it is the consistency and experience of North Dakota State that gives it the slight edge.

-- Eric Vander Voort,

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