North Dakota State’s football team showed some flashes of brilliance – Pat Paschall‘s 146 yards a prime example – along with occasional mistakes.
That’s how college football openers can go. And when you’re a Football Championship Subdivision team opening against a Big 12 squad, that’s a tough matchup to try and work out the kinks.
The Bison faced that dilemma Thursday, dropping a 34-17 decision to Iowa State. As should be expected, there were plenty of things for the coaching staff to be happy with and plenty of things that need to be worked out.
The Bison have had a number of big wins since going Division I. The victories against Ball State, Central Michigan and Minnesota come to mind. Even their ability to hang with Wyoming last season despite only going 6-5 was, despite the mistakes, still just a three-point loss to a Football Bowl Subdivision team.
What separates Thursday’s game and those previous matchups against FBS teams – besides the personnel – is the timing. None of those games mentioned above came earlier than the third game of the season. The victory over the Gophers came in NDSU’s seventh game of the season. By that point, the Bison had built momentum toward a 10-1 season, and the Gophers were in a tailspin, having the worst season they’ve had in my lifetime for sure.
A couple weeks into an 11-game season, a college football team probably has a pretty good idea of where it stands. The Bison, with a number of inexperienced players in big roles, likely learned a lot about themselves Thursday. And now that they’re playing for something that wasn’t available prior to last season - an FCS postseason berth – it’s just as important to prepare for the conference season.