Preview of UND Fighting Hawks
When they scheduled the 2015 and 2019 games, little did they know UND was going to jump ship from the Big Sky and get accepted into the Missouri Valley. As it was for over a 100 years, the Bison would again be playing UND on the gridiron on a yearly basis. Though the Nickel Trophy disappeared along with the Sioux mascot, it probably won’t take too many years for this grudge match to rekindle some heated emotions. Until it does, what should we expect from this week’s game with the Hawks?
As I said last week, early in the year its harder to gauge how strong a team is until they get more games under their belt. In looking at Butler, I chose to look back on how the Bison had fared against similarly ranked Sagarin teams since 2011. This proved out to be a very good measuring stick. I showed how our average margin of victory has been 58.4 to 2.1. I also said. “If we don’t score more than 50 points and hold them to under 10, then we have performed below the Herds standards against such teams”.
What did we accomplish in week one? We scored 57 points. The defense only gave up 3 points, they also scored on a fumble return (probably won’t happen again this year) to bring them to 10. All said, we did what we should do against that low of a ranked team.
Where does UND rank? The latest Sagarin read out has the Hawks at 140. There are 16 teams that compete for the FCS playoffs ahead of them (I threw out two IVY League teams). Some teams from automatic qualifying conferences rank much lower than UND, so as the 17th ranked FCS squad, this usually means you are on the bubble come playoff time. According to Sagarin they are a top 25 FCS squad.
I am going to use the same matrix as I did last week. How have we fared against similarly ranked teams? I chose teams that ranked between 125 and 170 Sagarin and were non-conference games. Since 2011, I found 8 teams we played in the regular season or the playoffs that fell within these Sagarin scores. In 2013 we beat Furman in our opening playoff game 38-7. In 2015 we beat Weber State 41-14 and the next week it was UND 34-9 (their Sagarin rating was 142). In our first playoff game in 2016, we beat San Diego 45-7. In 2017, we repeated the process with San Diego. This time besting them 38-3. Last year we beat Cal-Poly 49-3, Delaware 38-10 and Montana State 52-10 in the opening round of the playoffs. The variance of ranking was from 127 (2016 San Diego) to 168 (Cal-Poly last year). The average ranking was 145.9.
How did we fare against these 8 teams? Our average margin of victory was 41.9 to 7.9. We averaged gaining 498.8 yards of offense while giving up only 215.5. We out rushed these opponents 299 to 79. These statistics would rank in the top 5 of all teams in any given category. In other words, we have totally dominated these types of teams whether it was the beginning of the season non-conference or in the playoffs.
I also want to approach this week by digging a little deeper on the personnel match ups. Football is primarily a talent game. It revolves around physics, mass and speed. The bigger (stronger) and faster teams usually win the most games. In college football, this comes down to recruiting. The Herd has out paced the Hawks by a wide margin the last six years. If you don’t know it as a source to keep track of Bison recruiting (both in season and out), the Bison Report at 247 Sports is the most complete and authoritative publication on the subject. Using the last five years (these are the current teams from incoming freshmen to 5th years seniors), NDSU has out recruited the Hawks by a 45 team spread. I don’t think we have lost a head to head recruiting match in this time frame. Think of that. There are 45 teams under what the Bison have recruited before you get to UND.
Let’s look at some of the position group match ups. Would you trade our QB room of Trey Lance, Zeb Noland and Noah sanders for UND’s (It was just announced UND’s back up will be the QB for Saturday)? In the RB line up, the Hawks James Johannessen would be in our rotation (I think he is UND’s only NFL prospect). I think Toivonen, Wanzek and Maag are capable possession receivers and would be in our rotation, but I think Sproles, Watson and Mathis have greater upside. I don’t think they have an offensive lineman that would replace one of our starting five. If you win in the trenches, I will take our five over any FBS squad except the Clemson’s, Alabama’s and Ohio States. We average 6’ 5” and over 310 lbs. Did I also mention they are very athletic and strong (don’t forget about the Kramer effect on these beasts of burden)? Would you trade our Crew Chiefs (tight ends and fullbacks) for theirs?
Now on to the defensive side of the ball. UND uses three down defensive lineman (Nose Guard and two ends) their current starters weigh 228, 278, and 258 (average of 254.7). The nose guard and one DE are first year starters. Only Mason Bennett would make our rotation. Who do they have to match Jabril Cox? Donnell Rodgers and Noah Larson are good tough run stopping Linebackers (they remind me of Delaware’s crew from last year). But this begs the question, can they keep up with our diamond formation in space. We burnt them in 2015 with this. I think it will repeat itself in 2019. They have a couple DB’s that would probably fit in our rotation (Hohm and Canady). But from top to bottom they cannot match our hockey like line changes. We are big, fast and deep on both sides of the ball.
Where does this lead on Saturday? I fully expect, like last week, that we stay within our historic averages against such teams. I think we will score 35-45 points and hold UND to under 14 points. If the backup QB has trouble with turnovers, the game could get out of hand. UND not jumping to FCS when we and SDSU did has hurt their program. They have a lot of catch up to do before they are on a competitive basis with the Bison.