At a team meeting last week, North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl asked his players from Minnesota to stand up. Nearly half the team stood, including 15 players on the two-deep roster and seven starters.
The motivational ploy was low-hanging fruit for a coach trying to send a message as his team began preparing for its trip to the big city to face the Gophers on Saturday night.
Bohl knew exactly what button to push.
"Coach Bohl said, 'You know what, they passed up on you guys, but we didn't because we saw something that we liked in you guys,' " left tackle Billy Turner said.
Not that anyone needed a reminder.
Turner grew up less than 10 miles from the University of Minnesota campus. Linebacker Carlton Littlejohn practically lives in the shadows of TCF Bank Stadium. Grant Olson was an all-state linebacker at Wayzata and collected the second-most tackles in that program's history.
"The list goes on and on and on," Bohl said.
Bohl is quick to note that not one player on his roster was offered a Big Ten scholarship. As high school recruits, they were told they were too small, too slow, not good enough, not this or that.
You think Bohl didn't feed off those perceived snubs this week? Of course he did. Every coach views even the slightest of slights as fair game, and the Minnesota-born Bison come to town with an extra-large chip on their shoulders.
"The bad taste that we have in our mouths of them passing us up is going to be a big motivation for us," Turner said.
If the Gophers are looking for a little motivation, they should turn on the film from their 2007 game against NDSU. That should get their attention.
In a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score suggested, the Bison won 27-21 on the strength of 585 yards of offense, including a school-record 263 yards rushing by Tyler Roehl. The Gophers were overmatched despite the fact NDSU has 22 fewer scholarships available as a member of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA).
Bohl coached circles around his counterpart Tim Brewster, who voiced concerns before the game about how playing teams from that level affects recruiting efforts. Probably not as much as getting demolished by them at home.
New Gophers coach Jerry Kill isn't falling into that trap. He has coached at the Division I-AA level and knows all about how those teams treat opportunities to play against BCS schools. Add to that equation the number of Bison players who felt shunned by Brewster's staff and one can understand why Kill stopped a reporter's question about NDSU's motivation in mid-sentence this week.
"You don't have to convince me and tell me how hard those son-of-a-bucks are going to play," he said.
"That's a subject that doesn't need to be discussed."
The Bison reflect Bohl's toughness, but his staff also does a good job developing talent. Two players on that '07 team -- linebacker Joe Mays and safety Craig Dahl -- are starters in the NFL. The Bison are 4-3 lifetime against teams from the higher division, all of those games coming on the road.
Bohl describes his current team as deeper and more athletic than the 2007 squad, just not as experienced. Eleven starters are underclassmen, including quarterback Brock Jensen.
Bohl knows he won't have to worry about their effort or emotion. Unlike in 2007, the Bison are official members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference now and thus eligible for postseason play. That trumps everything, but this is still a big deal to the Bison, their fans and especially the Minnesotans on their roster.
They don't try to hide it, either. Turner, a talented lineman at Mounds View, received little interest from the Gophers until very late in the recruiting process. The Bison pounced and Turner started at right tackle as a true freshman before moving to left tackle this season.
"I wanted to go there and play for them," Turner said, "but after they passed me up it obviously ended that relationship."
Those players are what make this regional matchup so alluring. Many of them grew up wanting to play for the Gophers but didn't get the opportunity. Whether that was even a realistic option matters little to them now.
They all stood up in their team meeting anyway.
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org