FARGO, N.D. -- Fresh off a revival of one century-old college football series, the North Dakota State Bison are moving from a dress rehearsal to the real thing.
The four-time defending Football Championship Subdivision winners defeated old rival North Dakota in their last game, a non-conference matchup. The Bison now travel to face recent rival South Dakota State to begin Missouri Valley Football Conference play.
It's early, yes, but still a gauge for the pecking order of a league that has five teams ranked in the top 10.
"It is another game and an opportunity to go 1-0, but it is SDSU and I know they're going to be gunning for us," NDSU cornerback C.J. Smith said. "So we have to ramp up our level of play."
The Bison had a week off after the Sept. 19 UND game, which was the 111th meeting overall between the two but the first in a dozen years. While the easy NDSU win did not match the pre-game publicity, Smith agreed that it was a good warmup on how to prepare for SDSU.
"I guess you could say that," he said. "Coach [Chris] Klieman, I think, he did a great job of focusing us in and making sure we knew that this was just another game."
NDSU and SDSU both moved up to Division I in 2003 and when their in-state counterparts opted to stay at Division II, the annual game between the two land-grant universities gained added significance — and a piece of the rock as incentive. The Dakota Marker is a 75-pound model replica of the original quartzite monuments that once framed the border between the states.
Asked whether SDSU has replaced UND as its No. 1 rival, Klieman said it's difficult for him to judge.
"If you're a former player here, especially in the '70s, '80s, '90s, you would say UND was the top rival," Klieman said. "That was my first time playing them in my five years here. Our guys, the current kids on our roster had never played them. It was a big football game, make no doubt about it ... but in the same respect it's not a conference game anymore."
This is the 104th meeting between NDSU (2-1) and SDSU (3-0), dating back to 1903. NDSU has won seven straight and holds a 58-40-5 advantage overall. SDSU has a 26-23-2 edge in Brookings, where the Bison have won their last two trips after losing four straight.
Jackrabbits head coach John Stiegelmeier said one thing is certain about Saturday's 6 p.m. game: SDSU will set a stadium record for attendance.
"It will be a fun night," Stiegelmeier said. "It's a rivalry game so it has that juice to it. Their fans our crazed, our fans are doing a great job."
Klieman said both teams will have "a ton of football" remaining after the weekend. That includes seven conference games and perhaps an early-round playoff matchup against each other.
"It's a big game for both schools, but in the same respect there's a lot of football after this," he said. "This is by no means a life or death or 'lose and you're out' mentality."