North Dakota State was tabbed as the Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason favorite in a poll of league coaches, media and sports information directors.
NDSU has been No. 1 in the preseason poll for eight consecutive seasons. North Dakota State has won the league title eight consecutive years, four times sharing it, and has won seven of the last eight Football Championship Subdivision titles.
This year, NDSU received 32 of 40 first-place votes and 392 total points in the conference poll. South Dakota State, Illinois State and Indiana State also received first-place votes.
NDSU has a new head coach in former defensive coordinator Matt Entz and their streak of consecutive MVFC titles (eight) is a higher number than their returning starters (seven) after the graduation of a dominating senior class.
But NDSU's main rival, South Dakota State, has reached the national semifinals in the last two seasons and again poses the biggest challenge within the MVFC. The Jackrabbits return 14 starters to a lineup that features some of the nation's best players at their position in wide receiver Cade Johnson, running back Pierre Strong Jr., linebacker Christian Rozeboom and place-kicker Chase Vinatieri.
"Last year we talked about who we lost and our guys responded, so I expect our guys to respond the same way," coach John Stiegelmeier said. "The biggest question for us is the quarterback situation, having lost a four-year starter in Taryn Christion."
Regardless of all the change, the rest of the elite conference feels the Bison are the team to beat until their dynasty is halted.
"I think they're still the champions," Illinois State coach Brock Spack said on an MVFC coaches teleconference. "They have very good players in the program, they have a good staff and they've won multiple national championships, they're going to have good players waiting to play. I'm sure they've done a great job of developing those guys. It's their turn now.
"Until you beat the champion, I don't think things have changed."
North Dakota State enters the season on a Division I-best 21-game winning streak. The Bison will feature junior outside linebacker 2018 MVFC defensive player of the year Jabril Cox as well as defensive end Derrek Tuszka, offensive tackles Zack Johnson and Dillon Radunz and running back Ty Brooks.
Entz embraces the challenge to reload immediately because the Bison "have a number of kids that are hungry. There's a reason they were recruited to Fargo and that was to play football."