NOTE: This is part of the Bison Media Blog’s offseason coverage plans for 2015, which will continue until the start of fall camp in August.
Today we conclude our look at the top 10 games for 2015. Plenty of talk was generated with numbers 10-6 yesterday and I have a feeling plenty more will come from 5-1. Again in descending order:
5. Northern Iowa at NDSU (10/9/15) The biggest rivalry in the Missouri Valley was ramped up to another level last November when UNI ended NDSU’s FCS record 33 game win streak. It also ended NDSU’s remarkable 22 game road winning streak. But it was the way the game was decided, as the Panthers thoroughly dominated the game in a 23-3 decision. That’s make round eight so enticing with these two teams, to go on top of it being the home conference opener for NDSU, it’s also homecoming. UNI has a gauntlet of an early season schedule and the Panthers need to figure out what their quarterback situation is, but the intensity of this game won’t lessen up. Add in another Iowa native into this discussion as redshirt freshman running back Lance Dunn will be in the mix for the Bison at running back, he’s from Waterloo and had a UNI offer and that adds a nice subplot to this game. Should be later in the season in my opinion.
4. Eastern Washington at UNI (9/12/15) The second UNI entry and this is a terrific matchup, another reminder to the rest of the FCS that top conferences can play another! Each of these teams will be coming off playing FBS games, the Eagles at Oregon and UNI against Iowa State. This is the start of three straight years EWU plays a top MVFC school, as they’ll play NDSU as well in 2016-17. As mentioned with UNI, Eastern has to figure out its quarterback situation after Vernon Adams left for Oregon, but the talent back on offense is impressive led by All-American wide receiver Cooper Kupp. This game has the potential to be a shootout (as does every game involving a Big Sky team). The first of many Big Sky-MVFC non-conference games, which the Valley dominated last year. Chance for the Big Sky to prove itself and possibly help the league out come November. We saw last year how big the non-conference record for the Valley was in helping it get five teams into the postseason.
3. Eastern Washington at Oregon (9/5/15) Some readers may scream out and say, “Wait a minute this isn’t FCS vs FCS!” But there’s no way to ignore this game, if nothing had happened this offseason, it already would have been a terrific game to start the year, but then Vernon Adams decided to transfer. Adams of course transferred to Oregon, making this game now a “must-see”. It’s not a foregone conclusion that Adams will be the starter that day in Eugene, but he didn’t transfer to ride the bench, he’s going to be given every chance to win the job. Beau Baldwin has said all the right things publicly about Adams leaving, but you have to imagine there’s some inspiration there for the Eagles to beat ol’ VA. As for the remainder of the Eagles team, this game has been circled for a long time, and it’s the first one out of the chute, so you’re guaranteed to have a game filled with emotion. To quote Bart Scott: “Can’t Wait!”.
2. North Dakota at NDSU (9/19/15) It’s back. I have never experienced anything in sports which has such divisive feelings on each side. I’ve heard from plenty of Bison fans that say “We don’t need the game and never should play it!” to UND fans who are upset that NDSU isn’t coming to Grand Forks. Lucky for us we still have another four months to hear that. Regardless of where you stand on if the game should be played, it is back and when two teams have played since 1894, it’s meaningful. It’s made even more meaningful that the two teams haven’t played in twelve years. Add in the fact the two schools haven’t played as Division 1 teams, and for the numerous North Dakota natives on each roster that grew up hearing about the Nickel, now they get to play in it. Two former Bison players Cole Jirik and Kyle Emanuel both told me, “We wish we got to play in this game, it’s going to be fantastic for the guys in it.” The atmosphere for it on social media is already at an all-time high, one can’t imagine what it will be like during game week. You could argue that the game shouldn’t be on here since it may not be all that close. I argue that for the magnitude in the FCS, besides Montana-Montana State is there a better rivalry in this division? It’s a must-see for 2015.
1. NDSU at Montana (8/29/15) The first college football game of 2015 is also the top game for me to watch this year. ESPN hand-picked NDSU for the second straight year (they wanted the Bison in 2014, but NDSU didn’t want to move a game before Iowa State) and now they get them. Montana enters 2015 with lots of questions, including a new head coach in Bob Stitt, who comes from D2 and the Colorado School of Mines and his flashy offense. The Griz are thinking about going with 6’7 quarterback Brady Gustafson, giving us the potential of the tallest matchup at QB in recent memory with NDSU countering with the 6’6 Carson Wentz. The Bison have not played in tough many hostile road environments (FCS only, excluding the FBS games) during this unreal five year stretch, Northern Iowa is the only place that comes to my mind. That will not be the case in Missoula, where there will be 23,000 fans on what should be a beautiful late August Saturday on national TV. The Griz have some re-tooling to do on defense as well as Big Sky defensive player of the year Zach Wagenman has graduated and this will be a great test for a young Bison defense that’s going to be split out and spread out all over the field by Stitt’s offense. It all has the makings of a terrific game and the one I’m most excited for as the new season closes in.
Alright there you have it. I’m sure there are some you think I missed. Feel free to comment away, that’s why we have these lists.