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Bison enter with ‘unproven’ tag
North Dakota State lost eight NFL prospects off a team that went just 6-5 last year.
What is known about this year’s edition of the Bison? Not a lot.
It’s a rare August for NDSU, which in the last several years has had more known commodities returning than not. If last season was supposed to be “The Year” for the Bison, well, it wasn’t.
“We have to get back in the win column,” said quarterback Nick Mertens.
Gone are running back Tyler Roehl, fullback Tyler Jangula, defensive end Joe Lardinois, linebacker Ramon Humber, receiver Kole Heckendorf, tight end Jerimiah Wurzbacher linebacker Mike Maresh and safety Nick Schommer. All had an NFL tryout of some sort and Roehl, Humber, Heckendorf and Schommer are still under contract.
It means NDSU will have a vastly different look this year.
“I think when a team is unproven, you either see one edge or the other,” said Bison head coach Craig Bohl. “And what I mean by that is a team will come out very focused and play with a chip on its shoulder or sometimes an unproven team will come out and really look like a team in disarray.”
NDSU will find out its look Sept. 3 in the opener at Iowa State. It appears no position is getting a pass to a starting job and no senior is going unchallenged.
Asked if the coaches are pushing the seniors harder this fall than they have in the past, Bohl said, “We certainly are. We’ve challenged them with a lot more, and they’ve done a great job thus far.”
Said noseguard Michael Fairbairn: “As coach Bohl said, the seniors are the most powerful force on a football team.”
Last year’s senior class had a better year as juniors as a whole. Statistically, most had better production as juniors although injuries factored into that.
Last year at this time, the Bison were coming off back-to-back 10-1 seasons. They were ranked No. 1 in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision and talk around Fargo was of the playoffs.
“I can tell, sometimes when you rock along at 10-1 and 10-1, sometimes you take certain things for granted,” Bohl said. “What we’ve seen is players realize there’s not a lot of margin for error and we need to be dotting our ‘Is’ and crossing our ‘Ts’ and going out there and scrappin’ to win games.”
At this point, it’s doubtful NDSU will be favored in more than half of its games. Bohl said this year’s schedule is tougher and only Mertens, kick returner Shamen Washington and running back Pat Paschall have total yardage experience on offense.
On defense, new faces dot most of the 11 positions.
“But we’re not being conservative with our playing,” Fairbairn said.
It’s not a science, college football. Talent, as the Bison proved last year, is not the sure-fire guarantee to the playoffs.
After a 6-5 downer, the Bison are for the first time in a long time an unproven bunch.
And they know it.
“I would venture to say right now we’re practicing with a great look in our eye,” Bohl said.
By Jeff Kolpack