If the Big 12 is looking for expansion prospects, perhaps the league should look north. North of Kansas. North, toward Fargo, N.D., and North Dakota State.
Last month, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby didn't completely close the door on Big 12 expansion. With the league sitting at 10 teams—and needing 12 to hold a lucrative league title game—the topic came up at Big 12 Media Days.
The Big 12 commissioner said, per Keith Whitmire of the Deseret News, that expansion was possible only if the school brings "more than pro-rata value."
Between last year and this year, our distribution per school goes up $3.2 million per school. If you do that 12 ways instead of 10 ways, it goes up $2.5 million per school. You've got to have somebody that brings at least pro rata value, and that's a real short list.
I’m not sure about pro-rata value, but North Dakota State has certainly proved its value as a potential Big 12 member on the gridiron.
Saturday’s 34-14 thumping of Iowa State marked the program’s second consecutive win over a Big 12 North foe, and third in the last five years. It was the Bison’s eighth win over an FBS foe in the last nine years, and NDSU extended its win streak to 25 games. Per USA Today's Paul Myerberg, the Bison has the nation's fourth-longest win streak against FBS competition.
North Dakota State has built something truly special in Fargo, with three consecutive FCS national titles. As Bleacher Report's Ben Kercheval noted, the Bison’s program DNA is hard-nosed defense and all-out effort. That hasn’t changed this season, although there was reason to believe NDSU might take a step back this fall.
Head coach Craig Bohl, the architect of the recent success, was hired away last December by Mountain West team Wyoming. And 24 seniors at the roster’s core graduated, finishing their eligibility following last season’s FCS national title win over Towson.
Defensive coordinator Chris Klieman was promoted to replace Bohl. And while Iowa State (3-9 in 2013) is nowhere near as impressive a conquest as beating defending Big 12 champion Kansas State with an 18-play, 80-yard, 8:30 touchdown drive, the Bison were solid Saturday regardless.
After spotting Iowa State a 14-0 lead, NDSU scored the game’s final 34 points, with first-time starting quarterback Carson Wentz completing 18 of 28 passes for 204 yards with no interceptions.
It’s unclear if North Dakota State could compete consistently with the likes of Oklahoma, Texas and Baylor, but at the very least, the Bison have proven worthy of inclusion in the Big 12’s middle class, finding success against FBS teams while competing with the FCS-mandated 63 scholarship limit.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall has campaigned for his team as a Big 12 expansion target. But if the Big 12 wants a passionate program that has proven it can hold its own with current league members, Bowlsby and Co. could certainly do a lot worse than North Dakota State.
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It’s been seven long years since the sky fell, and Michigan lost to Appalachian State. After last year’s 7-6 finish, the last thing many Michigan fans wanted was a reminder of when their program started its slide into mediocrity.
But Doug Nussmeier’s offense made sure there would be no replay of the 2007 debacle, rolling out to a 35-0 halftime lead behind the running attack of Derrick Green (15 carries for 174 yards, one touchdown), De’Veon Smith (eight carries for 115 yards, two touchdowns) and the passing tandem of Devin Gardner (13-of-14 for 173 yards and three touchdowns) and Devin Funchess (seven receptions for 95 yards, three touchdowns).
Michigan coasted during the second half, winning 52-14 and exacting a measure of revenge for the program’s 2007 loss to Appalachian State.
Green and Smith had dueled for the top spot at running back during camp but both played well, gashing Appalachian State for long gains while Devin Funchess showed himself worthy of his new No. 1 jersey
Nussmeier was hired to rebuild the Michigan offense around a dominant running game and Saturday that’s exactly what Michigan showed rolling for over 560 total yards (350 rushing, 210 passing).
The offense showed a lethal balance between the running and passing that it lacked last season, allowing quarterback Devin Gardner to distribute the ball among multiple teammates while not exposing himself to unnecessary hits from the defense.
“Devin managed the game and took care of the football,” said Hoke. “He played locked in.”
Last season, Michigan opened with a 59-9 thumping of Central Michigan, but the offense was overly dependent on Devin Gardner. Nussmeier’s new scheme proved too much for Appalachian State.
Hoke was reluctant to gush about his team’s new offense.
“We won the football game, we got in the end zone, and now we play Notre Dame.”
It’s only one game but after seven years of hearing about the program’s epic defeat at the hands of Appalachian State, Saturday’s win, and most importantly the way Michigan won, is a welcome relief to Wolverines fans.
All season statistics from MGoBlue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department website.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.
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