If North Dakota State’s football fans felt their program’s success was a forgotten story nationally the past two years, that’s about to change in a big way.
ESPN’s “College GameDay” has been setting up shop in downtown Fargo for this Saturday’s show, which runs 8-11 a.m. and draws about 2 million viewers each week.
The Bison are heavy favorites for Saturday’s game against Delaware State, but that’s not the point. The show’s producers picked a week void of other marquee matchups and decided to spotlight another slice of Americana.
Last week, Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and Desmond Howard were in College Station, Texas, for the showdown between Texas A&M and Alabama. This week, they’ll showcase a program that was playing Division II until 10 years ago.
“We believe it’ll really help redefine our institution,” Bison coach Craig Bohl said. “To gain that kind of exposure is going to highlight what’s been going on for the last couple years here at NDSU.”
North Dakota State has won the past two FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) titles, dominating a level formerly called Division I-AA. The Bison are 30-2 since the start of the 2011 season and opened this year with a 24-21 win at Kansas State.
The defending Big 12 champion Wildcats shouldn’t feel bad. NDSU is 7-3 in its past 10 games against FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) opponents, including wins against the Gophers in 2007 and 2011.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill and Bohl are longtime friends. Last offseason, Kill invited the NDSU staff to Minneapolis to see what the Gophers’ staff could learn.
“I think they do as good of a job coaching as anybody in the country, no matter what level it is. They’re good,” Kill said.
“There’s a lot of mutual respect between us,” Bohl said. “We got together and exchanged a lot of ideas on both sides.”
Bohl has 37 Minnesotans on his roster, including standouts at cornerback Marcus Williams (Hopkins High School), linebacker Grant Olson (Wayzata) and offensive tackle Billy Turner (Mounds View).
Largely overlooked by FBS schools coming out of high school, the three spent their careers dominating opponents in the 19,000-seat Fargodome. Now ESPN is coming to see a program that has become “sort of the Alabama of the FCS,” as GameDay producer Lee Fitting told the Associated Press.
Of course, you can’t please everybody. There was quite an outcry when ESPN chose to set up the studio downtown, with the historic Fargo Theater as the backdrop, instead of showcasing the NDSU campus or the Fargodome tailgating scene. But there will be shuttle buses leaving every five minutes from campus to help get fans into position.
Taylor isn’t complaining.
“You kind of think in a fantasy, it would be cool if ‘GameDay’ ever came, but you never truly believe that they would,” he told the Fargo Forum. “It’s such a stretch, but a lot of things lined up for us, being there’s not a lot of big matchups [this Saturday].”
Another choice would have been No. 23 Arizona State at No. 5 Stanford, but that’s the only game between ranked opponents this week. The only other non-FBS schools to host the GameDay production were Penn (2002), Division III Williams (2007) and Florida A&M (2008).
Fowler hinted that something special was coming last Thursday when he tweeted, “Next Saturday @CollegeGameDay is headed off the grid. Not a traditional hot spot.”
Big Ten Short Takes
A closer look at four upcoming Gophers opponents:
Iowa (Sept. 28): Last Saturday’s win over Iowa State was another sign the Hawkeyes have improved from last year’s 4-8 debacle.
Their lone loss was a 30-27 heartbreaker against Northern Illinois. Workhorse Mark Weisman is averaging 28 carries and 142 yards per game.
Michigan (Oct. 5): The Wolverines looked like the Big Ten’s best team for two weeks before nearly getting stunned by Akron last Saturday.
Devin Gardner, who was mostly terrific against Notre Dame, had four turnovers against the Zips, who have lost 28 consecutive road games.
Nebraska (Oct. 26): The leaked recording of Bo Pelini ripping Cornhuskers fans in a private 2011 conversation had to be timed for maximum effect, coming after Nebraska squandered a 21-3 lead in a 41-21 home loss to UCLA.
Former Huskers quarterback Tommie Frazier tweeted, “Time for change,” and Pelini responded by saying, “We don’t need [Frazier].” Yikes.
Penn State (Nov. 9): With true freshman Christian Hackenberg showing veteran poise, Penn State opened with strong wins over Syracuse and Eastern Michigan.
But depth issues from scholarship reductions showed up in last Saturday’s 34-31 loss to Central Florida, which never before had defeated a Big Ten team.
BIG TEN POWER POLL
1. Ohio State (3-0): The Buckeyes’ 15-game winning streak is the longest in the nation.
2. Northwestern (3-0): Safety Ibraheim Campbell has intercepted a pass in five consecutive games.
3. Michigan (3-0): The Wolverines are 17-0 at home under Brady Hoke. Next to visit: Minnesota on Oct. 5.
4. Wisconsin (2-1): Badgers eyeing Sept. 28 showdown against Ohio State, but first comes Purdue.
5. Michigan State (3-0): Connor Cook solidified the quarterback job just in time for team’s visit to South Bend.
6. Nebraska (2-1): Taylor Martinez didn’t look right, and now we know why: turf toe.
7. Penn State (2-1): Ranks last in the Big Ten in third-down conversion rate — 4-for-34 (11.8 percent).
8. Gophers (3-0): They rank last in the Big Ten with 28 completions. Next lowest: Wisconsin with 50.
9. Illinois (2-1): This offense is vastly improved, but the defense let Washington gain 615 yards.
10. Iowa (2-1): The Hawkeyes play 0-3 Western Michigan before visiting Minnesota on Sept. 28.
11. Indiana (2-1): Defense looked better in 42-10 win over Bowling Green, and next comes 2-0 Missouri.
12. Purdue (1-2): Took a 17-10 lead into the fourth quarter of last week’s 31-24 loss to Notre Dame.