For the first time since the Herds Div II days have they entered a season having lost the National Championship. Injuries and uncharacteristic sloppy on field play did them in. Still, they were a missed fumble call at midfield out in AZ and a horrific penalty call on Cam Miller versus SDSU in the regular season away from entering playoffs undefeated. That was last year!
What about this year? I am going to examine two things. Our roster and how does the schedule look.
We approach this year with some question marks, but still a very strong team. The major polls have us #2 in the Nation behind the Jacks. I would agree with that position.
Let’s start with the defense. We are very strong in the DT room. Getting Eli Mostaert back at full strength is a BIG blessing. His going down put Code Green on its heels early in the season. Javier Derritt is another experienced, quality DT. I think with Eli back, he can have a break out senior season. Jaxon Duttenhefer and Kody Huisman gained valuable experience prematurely last year and are potential stars. Eli’s brother, Will, brings speed on the pass rush, so DT’s are five deep as a rotation.
Before the first snap, we lost a DE. Highly regarded Hunter Zenzen, a transfer from Iowa State (he was heavily recruited by the Bison out of Barnesville High and his brother is a TE on the Herd’s roster), injured his foot in non-contact drills and will be out all season. We will be getting Jake Kava back. Jake is a leader, who will have to rally Loshiaka Roques and Dylan Hendricks as the only two DE's with any extensive playing time. There are several quality recruits who will have to step up this year.
The LB room has a lot of experience and quality. The Tandem of Kubitz and Weerts will fill the middle again. Logan Kopp is a budding star on the outside and Julian Wlorarczyk brings size and speed on the other side. Oscar Benson has experience and there are some potential studs in Staehling and Altepeter.
The transfer portal killed us in the DB room. Three kids we recruited and developed decided to jump ship (go figure, I guess we don’t develop enough NFL talent for these guys). So a big strength going into 2023 has become a big question mark. Cole Wizniewski is jumping from a very good LB to safety. J D Price is back at CB and Punt Return. He’s steady, but isn’t a shut down corner. Sam Jung has been great in a reserve safety role and strong on special teams, but will have to shine in full time now. Marcus Sheppard, a transfer from Bowling Green, will have to be good very quick at CB.
A note of caution on panicking about the DB room, we won the 2017 Natty with a true frosh playing CB along with a converted WR. We have a very good coaching staff and quality recruits.
Now to the Offense. The Herd always starts with the Rams (a tip of my hat to Sam Neis my HS Coach who starred for the Bison and gave the Rams its moniker). I think with Sundell, Westberg, Miller, Rock, Poncius, Zabel and Kubas all back with lots of experience we are going to be very good in the OL.
We bring back all the TE’s, except Hunter Luepke when he flexed out. I look for Joe Stoffel to have a breakout season. We will be hearing from Streit, Diggins and Williams. Plus, Brozio and Hofstedt will roll down from the FB position. When was the last time we were bad in the TE room?
Add Fargo Davies Truman Werremeyer to Brozio and Hofstedt and the FB room is big and strong. They will open holes for the RB’s. Count on it!
If TeMerik Williams stays healthy all year, he will be a horse and a half at 227 lbs with his speed. T K Marshall has been waiting quietly for his turn and will have a big year. Barika Kpeenu should round out the top three RB’s. I feel Cole Payton will shoulder more of the run game this year.
Zach Mathis is the big target back from last year and is poised to really step up. Braylon Henderson, Raja Nelson, Jake Lippe and Eli Green all bring game experience. What will really be interesting is what deep threat will arise from Bryce Lance, Carson Hegerle and Mekhi Collins.
We are very experienced and have quality in the QB room with Cam Miller and Cole Payton.
This is a very good roster and could knock off the Rabbits for a Natty.
The schedule favors the developmental needs of this year’s Bison. We start with E Washington who will throw the ball early and often. They are coming off a 3-8 season and lose 9 of their 14 top tacklers on a team that had the worst rushing defense in the FCS last year as well as giving up 42 PPG. Maine was 2-9 last year. Central Arkansas was under 500 as well. All these programs have a good tradition, so the Herd can’t take them lightly, but they aren’t rolling into town as juggernauts.
In conference we open at home with USD, another sub 500 team. We then go on the road to Mo. State, who took a big step back last year and will have new coaching staff. The biggest test in the first eight games comes with UND in week six up in Grand Forks. Then we get W IL (winless last year) and newcomer Murray State at Home.
The gauntlet comes in the last three games, The Jacks down there, SIU in Fargo and UNI the last game of the year in their house. All three are playoff quality teams.
All in all, it will be an interesting season. The coaches will earn their pay on the developmental side of this equation. Go Bison!