There are dynasties and then there is the North Dakota State Bison.
Since the FCS National Championship Game moved to Frisco, Texas, in 2010, North Dakota State has appeared in and won eight of the 11 championships including five in a row from 2011-15.
After a quarterfinal loss in 2020, North Dakota State is back in a familiar position as the favorite to win the national title according to the Las Vegas odds.
Montana State, which has lost one game to a fellow FCS opponent, becomes the seventh different program to face the Bison in the FCS title game.
Montana State has won its last three games decided by a touchdown or less after kicking off the season with a 19-16 loss to FBS Wyoming. North Dakota State is 3-1 in one-score games this season with the lone blemish 27-19 loss to 2020 FCS finalist South Dakota State.
North Dakota State has been favored in each of the first three postseason games and is favored once again in the championship game.
The weather is expected to be in the low 50s with a 30-50% chance of rain at kickoff.
Game: Montana State (12-2) at North Dakota State (13-1)
Location: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Day/Time: Saturday, January 8, 12 p.m. ET
|Montana State||+7 (-115)||+225||42 (-115o)|
|North Dakota State||-7 (-115)||-300||42 (-115u)|
Montana State Bobcats vs. North Dakota State Bison
Montana State Back as National Championship Contender
One of the teams playing for the FCS national championship can hardly be considered to be a surprise as North Dakota State has been the dominant force at that FCS level for a decade. However, Montana State’s championship appearance is the latest step in the rebuilding of a program with a long history of success.
Montana State headed into the 2018 season with a string of three consecutive losing seasons. However, by Jeff Choate’s third season at the helm, the Bobcats went 8-5 and then 11-4. Now Montana State is 12-2 and eyeing the program’s first national title since 1984.
No one player is responsible when a team advances this far in the postseason at any level but running back Isaiah Ifanse has certainly played a major role in not only this season’s run of success but the reemergence of the Bobcats as an FCS championship contender.
He has run for 1,539 yards with eight 100-yard games and two contests with more than 200 yards. In 2018, Ifanse teamed with Troy Andersen to give the Bobcats a pair of 1,000-yard rushers.
Andersen, who is among Montana State’s top 10 career rushers, moved to linebacker and leads the Bobcats with 137 tackles. That has freed Ifanse to be the unquestioned No. 1 back.
Ifanse has been dealing with some knee issues which caused him to miss the semifinal win against South Dakota State but the hope is he will be ready to go against North Dakota State.
Defensive tackle Chase Benson and defensive back Ty Okada have also been dealing with injuries but since the Bobcats haven’t played since defeating South Dakota State on December 18, there has been time for Montana State to get healthy.
Montana State was listed by the college football spreads as a seven-point underdog in the quarterfinals against defending national champion Sam Houston State and as a 5.5-point underdog to South Dakota State which lost to Sam Houston in the 2020 title game which was played in May, 2021 as a result of the global pandemic.
North Dakota State Back Where it Belongs
NFL scouts might not be flocking to see the North Dakota State Bison play like they did when future NFL quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Trey Lance were lighting things up but this is a typical Bison squad with hardly a weakness.
Leading rusher TaMerik Williams is one of three players with at least 100 carries and he has lost eight yards on 114 rushing attempts. Quarterbacks Cam Miller and Quincy Patterson each started seven games North Dakota State has a typical – for them – 19 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. Three receivers are averaging at least 18 yards per catch.
When it comes to defense, the Bison have 49 sacks and have allowed just 17. North Dakota State has 14 forced fumbles and 13 interceptions.
Kicker Jake Reinholz is 15-for-20 on field goals with a long of 46.
The defense has allowed 24 points in three playoff games. The defensive unit has to come through twice late in the semifinal win against James Madison. Destin Talbert had a one-handed interception in the end zone with 3:05 left while Javier Derritt and Logan McCormick came through with a pair of clutch plays on the final drive when a touchdown and extra point would have given James Madison the come-from-behind win.
The entire projected starting front seven for the Bison are seniors as are both safeties so there is plenty of postseason experience for North Dakota State to call upon.
Tight end Noah Gindorff and running back Jalen Bussey are out for the season for North Dakota State while receiver Christian Watson has missed all three playoff games. Watson leads the Bison with 39 catches and 740 yards while Gindorff has 17 receptions for 193 yards.
Defense Could Rule the Day in the FCS Final
The fact that the college football odds posted a total of 42 for the FCS championship team tells you everything you need to know about the North Dakota State Bison and Montana State Bobcats.
North Dakota State leads all FCS teams in scoring defense allowing 11.2 points per game. Montana State is second at 13.4 points allowed per contest.
Running the ball has been a struggle for opponents of both teams as North Dakota State is third a the FCS level allowing 82.7 yards per game. Montana State is 13th at 107.9. Both teams are holding foes under three yards per carry. The Bison has allowed 11 touchdowns in 24 red-zone trips by opponents and the Bobcats have surrendered 13 TDs in 30 red-zone visits.
The Bison are second in third-down defense. Montana State is tied for fourth with 18 interceptions including three that were returned for touchdowns
What all of this means is that while at least 42 points have been scored in eight of the last nine FCS championship games, this contest could resemble the 2017 title game won by North Dakota State 17-13 so that is something for those who bet online to consider.