If you hadn’t heard, the North Dakota State Bison football team has won five straight games against FBS teams since 2010. Actually, you probably had heard as 1) It’s mentioned literally every time NDSU is mentioned by the media; and 2) If you’re fortunate enough to come across an NDSU fan on social media, they’re going to remind you. Regardless, it’s impressive that an FCS school with an enrollment of 14,516 from Fargo, North Dakota has not only beaten five straight FBS teams but also won five straight FCS Championships. How impressive, you ask? Well, let’s take a look back at those FBS wins.
2010: NDSU 6, Kansas 3
In 2009, head coach Brady Hoke and quarterback Nate Davis led Ball State to an undefeated regular season and had the Cardinals up to 12th in the polls. They were heavy favorites to win the MAC Championship Game against the Buffalo Bulls, coached by one of the up and coming names in college football, Turner Gill. The game was 10-7 Ball State at the half and it looked like the Cardinals were on their way to an undefeated season and something known as a “BCS Bowl.” The Bulls responded by outscoring the Cardinals 35-14 in the second half and coasting to a 42-24 lead. Turner Gill was then one of the hottest coaching prospects in college football.
But he stayed at Buffalo. Then he went 5-7 at Buffalo.
And only then did Kansas hire him to rebuild the Jayhawk football program.
His first season at Kansas didn’t get off to the most resounding start when his team laid an egg against the Bison in Lawrence. Some stats from this terrible football game include NDSU only amassing 168 total yards of offense, Kansas turning the ball over three times, and the Bison being penalized 13 times for 105 yards. The game was 3-3 at the half and NDSU kicked what would ultimately be the winning field goal with 8:04 left in the third quarter. That means that for another 24 minutes of clock, neither team was able to do anything on offense. For fun, here is the result of each team’s drive following the NDSU field goal:
Kansas: Missed Field Goal
Kansas: Turnover on Downs
NDSU: Kneel Down
I haven’t seen offensive ineptitude that bad since [enter a Jeff Fisher-coached team here].
Kansas would finish the season 3-9 with losses to Southern Miss and Iowa State. The Bison finished the regular season 9-4, ultimately losing to eventual FCS Champion Eastern Washington in the quarterfinals. In 2011, Turner Gill was fired after going 2-10 and winless in Big 12 play. Kansas owed $6 million to Gill that was due within four months, so they tapped their boosters to pay off his contract.
2011: NDSU 37, Minnesota 24
After the unfortunate and completely unjustified firing of WIN FIGHT TRY CHAMPION Tim Brewster, the Minnesota Golden Gophers turned to Aw Shucks Nice Guy NIU Head Coach Jerry Kill to rebuild their program. He started off by losing a close game to USC in Los Angeles, which was extremely impressive. He followed it up by losing a close game to New Mexico State, which was less than impressive. Kill recorded his first win against Miami (OH) and took on the Bison in his fourth career game.
NDSU would outscore the Gophers 28-7 in the second quarter, take a 28-14 lead into the half and hold on for the 37-24 win. The Bison outgained the Gophers 338-292 and Max Shortell threw a game-crippling interception returned for a touchdown. The Gophers finished the season 3-9 with wins over (ERROR: FILE NOT FOUND). NDSU went on to win their first FCS Championship under Craig Bohl.
2012: NDSU 22, Colorado State 7
Jim McElwain’s first year at CSU got off to a great start by beating rival Colorado at Mile High Stadium. It would quickly take a turn for the worse as they played NDSU the very next week. The Rams scored a touchdown in the first quarter. They wouldn’t score again and turned the ball over twice.
It’s worth pointing out that (hilariously) nine NDSU players were charged earlier that week with election fraud. Apparently, they faked signatures on ballot measure petitions they were hired to collect. One of the measures? The legalization of medical marijuana. None of the players were suspended for the CSU game but eventually, ten pleaded guilty to misdemeanor election fraud.
CSU would finish 4-8 and NDSU would win their second straight FCS Championship.
2013: NDSU 24, Kansas State 21
Year 94 of Bill Snyder’s tenure at Kansas State saw the unveiling of the West Side Stadium Center, a $90 million dollar addition to the Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. The Wildcats would celebrate their new stadium addition by allowing an eight-minute touchdown drive to NDSU and the go-ahead score with only 28 seconds remaining in the game. Kansas State turned things around, however, going 8-5 and winning the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Michigan. NDSU won their third FCS Championship under Craig Bohl.
2014: NDSU 34, Iowa State 14
There’s some sense of irony here in that Iowa State was actually the last FBS team to beat NDSU, back in 2009. By 2014, Craig Bohl had taken the Wyoming job and the Bison handed the reins to defensive coordinator Chris Klieman. With junior quarterback Carson Wentz and senior running back John Crockett, the Bison looked primed to challenge for the FCS Championship yet again. But could they handle Jack Trice?
They could handle Jack Trice. The Bison beat the brakes off of Iowa State, outgaining the Cyclones 506-253. They held onto the ball for over 35 minutes, rushed for 302 yards and picked off Sam B. Richardson twice. After taking a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, the Cyclones punted or turned the ball over on their next eight possessions. This marked Iowa State’s second loss to an FCS team under Paul Rhoads and the Cyclones would finish 2-10 and winless in Big 12 play. NDSU won yet another FCS Championship and would take a break from FBS competition until 2016.
Now that you actually see it on paper (or a computer monitor) you get a greater understanding of exactly who it was that NDSU beat. These five teams had a combined record of 20-41 and four finished with losing records. 2010 Kansas was statistically one of the worst teams in college football history. Minnesota had yet to shake off #Play4Brew. Iowa State finished winless in conference play.
In short: North Dakota State was better than all but one or two of those teams. They weren’t fluke upsets. They were simply better. The exception may be Kansas State, though the Wildcats only got to 8-5 by beating the likes of Louisiana-Lafayette, UMass, West Virginia, Iowa State, TCU, and Kansas. Only two of those teams would finish the season with winning records and another two lost to FCS teams themselves.
So the next time you see someone pimping the “5 straight wins over FBS teams” narrative just pull a #wellactually and remind them who it was that North Dakota State really beat.