After a one-year hiatus, North Dakota State is back in Frisco with a chance at reclaiming the FCS Championship. Standing in the Bison's way is James Madison, who ended NDSU's remarkable five-year title run in last year's semifinals.
Get to know the Bison as they go for their sixth FCS national title in program history:
Main campus: Fargo, North Dakota
Year founded: 1890
Team nickname: Bison
Colors: Yellow and green
Conference: Missouri Valley
Home stadium (Capacity): Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome (19,000)
National championship years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
Notable football alumni: Kyle Emanuel, Carson Wentz, Marcus Williams
Road to Frisco
Coach: Chris Klieman (53-6 in four seasons at North Dakota State)
Klieman has had some role in each of the Bison's five national championships. He was head coach of the 2014 and 2015 title squads, defensive coordinator in 2012-13 and was a defensive backs coach for the team that started the win streak in 2011. Klieman was previously head coach at Loras for one season in 2005. Under him, the Bison are 13-1 in four FCS playoff appearances, with the only loss coming last season against James Madison.
"We have a great culture here. Our guys understand how to win," Klieman said in a Dec. 29 teleconference. "They know how to win close games. They believe in the system. They believe in each other. We've had a lot of former guys that have come back and talked to the guys about doing it for the guy next to you and doing it for the guys that have put the jersey on before you. That's hard to find in college football these days, is sustained success for that long a period of time."
Record: 13-1 (7-1 MVFC)
Notable regular season wins: at Eastern Washington (Sept. 9); at Youngstown State (Oct. 14); Northern Iowa (Oct. 28); South Dakota (Nov. 11)
Postseason results: Seeded No. 2 with first round bye; Defeated San Diego in second round 38-3; Defeated No. 7 Wofford in quarterfinals 42-10; Defeated No. 6 Sam Houston State in semifinals 55-13.
Best win: Holding the No. 1 scoring offense to 13 points is no easy task. But that's what the Bison did in this year's semifinal blowout against Sam Houston State. NDSU held the nation's leading passer and reigning Walter Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe to under 300 yards passing, a single touchdown and three interceptions. But the story of the game was the Bison's lethal rushing attack, which stampeded to 471 yards and four touchdowns. Two rushers tallied more than 180 yards while quarterback Easton Stick still found a way to put up four touchdowns through the air.
Scoring offense: 40.3 points per game (second in the nation)
Scoring defense: 11.5 points allowed per game (second)
Passing offense: 180.0 yards per game (88th)
Rushing offense: 282.1 (fourth)
Turnover margin: +17 (Tied for fourth)
Players to watch
Easton Stick, QB: Stick's passing numbers may not jump out like other top signal callers in the FCS, but he's a model of consistency for the Bison with 27 touchdowns to eight interceptions and a 62.4 completion percentage through 14 games this season. He's also a threat on his feet with 12 rushing touchdowns and a 6.4 yards per carry mark. North Dakota State likes to pound the ball on the ground, but Stick's calmness under center is a valuable asset.
Bruce Anderson, RB: Losing Lance Dunn to a torn labrum was one of many injury blows the Bison had to face this year. But the tandem of Anderson and Ty Brooks has been more than sufficient in the backfield. Anderson led the team with 1,153 rushing yards and was second with 11 rushing touchdowns. He has two 100-yard rushing games this postseason, including his 183-yard, three-touchdown outing against the Bearkats.
Austin Kuhnert, OL: One of the players who will be clearing the running lanes for Anderson and Brooks will be the AP All-American first-teamer Kuhnert. The senior has moved around three different positions on the offensive line in his Bison tenure, but he's settled on right guard this season. NDSU ranks fourth nationally in rushing offense and 31st in sacks allowed. Kuhnert and the rest of the offensive line have a big challenge ahead against James Madison's fifth-ranked sacks defense.
1 SportsCenter in Fargo— NDSU Football (@NDSUfootball) January 2, 2018
2 College GameDays in Fargo
20 nationally televised games since 2011
Bison Nation, get ready to put on another big show Saturday at the #FCSChampionship. Kickoff at 11 on ESPN2. pic.twitter.com/wVpq2luuk6
Nick DeLuca, LB: DeLuca has been a key member and leader of the Bison's defense for four seasons now. The senior linebacker rebounded from an injury-shortened 2016 season to record 70 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks this year. The Omaha, Nebraska native has three sacks and an interception this postseason. DeLuca did not play in last year's semifinals loss against James Madison. His presence this time around could be a key factor. "He's a next-level player that is finally 100 percent healthy, which he was through the playoff run, after getting the week off at the end of the regular season," Klieman said in the teleconference.
Jabril Cox, LB: Cox's emergence aside DeLuca as a redshirt freshman has made NDSU's linebackers corps one of the strongest in the nation. Cox became a starter midway through the season and has not disappointed with a team-leading 72 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss. He made a season-high 13 tackles last time out against Sam Houston State in the semis.
Tre Dempsey, S: With injuries plaguing NDSU's cornerback depth, Dempsey's role in the secondary will be in the spotlight. The free safety leads the team with six interceptions and is second with 10 pass breakups. He had one interception, which he returned 60 yards, against the Bearkats last time out.
More stats to know: NDSU is 5-0 in FCS Championship games and 10-2 in all-time championship games. The only two losses came when the Bison were in Division II (1981, 1984) ... The Bison's current streak of seven straight MVFC titles marks its longest streak of conference titles in program history, previously achieved from 1964-70. They'll have a chance at program and MVFC history next year ... North Dakota State is 1-1 all-time against James Madison, with the loss coming in last year's semifinals. NDSU hosted both previous matchups at the Fargodome.