AP top 25 voters rewarded North Dakota State for stunning then-No. 11 Iowa on Saturday by vaulting the Bison to unprecedented territory in the poll for a Football Championship Subdivision program.
The Bison — No. 1 in both FCS polls last week — received 74 points in the AP Top 25 poll released Sunday afternoon, which makes it 27th in the nation, tied with UCLA and just ahead of Boise State.
They are not the first FCS team to earn votes in the AP Top 25 poll — that honor would go to Appalachian State in 2007. The then-Division I-AA school upset Michigan prompting the AP to change its policy which previously allowed voters to include only Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS - formerly Division I-A) teams on their ballots. The new policy has been dubbed the "Appalachian State Rule." In 2014, App State joined the FBS and the Sun Belt Conference.
Of course, North Dakota State is familiar with unprecedented success. It has won a record five consecutive FCS national championships and Saturday's 23-21 defeat of the Hawkeyes was a remarkable sixth in a row against FBS competition, a streak which began in 2010.
Looking back over their amazing run against FBS schools, should they even be considered upsets anymore? NDSU, which is on a 12-game overall winning streak dating to last season, has plowed through the Big Ten Big 12 and the Mountain West -- beating Kansas, Minnesota, Kansas State, Iowa State and Colorado State. Before knocking off Iowa in Week 3, the last FBS team NDSU knocked off was Iowa State in 2014.
All six victims fell in their home stadiums, of course. And the Bison’s most recent victory is the best yet. The reigning Big Ten West division champ entered the game ranked No. 11 in the AP top 25 with eyes on a return trip to the Rose Bowl.
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And while the Bison needed a 37-yard field goal from Cam Pedersen as time expired to finish off the Hawkeyes, don’t let the late-game heroics mask what really happened: NDSU dominated the game.
“We told them all week long that we belong. We belong in the game; we belong in the spotlight,” North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman said. “When you get into a four-quarter, 60-minute game, don’t bet against the guys in that locker room. They know one thing, and that’s how to close and how to win.”
Klieman’s confidence showed when he called for a two-point conversion after a touchdown pulled the Bison within 21-20 at the 3:43 mark. The play failed, but the Bison defense held. The offense then marched 46 yards in five plays in 1:53 to set up the game-winning field goal.
North Dakota didn’t need trickery or fluke plays to beat Iowa either. It outgained the Hawkeyes 239-34 in rushing yards and won the first-down count 21-12.
“Good teams have identities and they believe in what they do. Most importantly, the players believe in what they do,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I didn't see a weak spot out there. They're really a good football team."
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The victory boosted North Dakota State to 54th in the Sagarin Ratings (between California and Missouri). The Bison opened the season with two overtime victories against FCS Top 10 opponents Charleston Southern (24-17) and Eastern Washington (50-44). Their Sagarin schedule rating is only 86th. So the Bison are a victim of circumstance. FBS programs aren’t exactly hurrying to pick up the phone and invite North Dakota State over to play a football game.
Nobody would argue North Dakota State could challenge Alabama, Ohio State or Louisville, the top three teams in this week’s AP top 25 poll. They’ve clearly been the most impressive teams in the nation through Week 3. But examine the back end. After watching the Bison manhandle the Hawkeyes, it’s realistic to believe San Diego State (22), Utah (24) or even Texas (21) could be next to fall if the teams were to meet.
Feel confident those coaches (and fans) are glad they won’t have to find out.
North Dakota State has this week off before returning to action at home on Oct. 1st against Illinois State.
There’s a fair chance they’ll enjoy dual rankings at kickoff.