NORTH DAKOTA STATE might need to find a new revenue stream. The two-time defending national champions of the FCS are so good that their annual payday game against an FBS opponent could be in jeopardy. "It may become tougher," says athletic director Gene Taylor. "Coaches may walk in to their ADs and say, Schedule anybody but North Dakota State."
It's easy to see why. Since 2010, the Bison have beaten Kansas in Lawrence, Minnesota in Minneapolis and Colorado State in Fort Collins. Their crowning achievement came last Friday in Manhattan, when they stunned defending Big 12 champ Kansas State 24--21 in front of the second-largest crowd in school history (53,351) and a national audience watching on much-hyped new cable channel Fox Sports 1. In addition to the W, North Dakota State received $350,000—or 12% of its 2013--14 athletic budget.
The Bison were one of eight teams from the division formerly known as 1-AA to beat an opponent with deeper pockets and more scholarship players. In some cases, such as Samford over Georgia State and Southern Utah over South Alabama, the results weren't surprising because the vanquished reside on the lower rungs of FBS. But Eastern Washington's 49--46 win at Oregon State, Towson's 33--18 takedown of Connecticut and McNeese State's 53--21 beatdown of South Florida were shockers.
But surprise is in the eye of beholder. The truth is, North Dakota State and Eastern Washington have pedigrees, and FCS followers know that those teams can play at a high level. In Jeff Sagarin's 2012 power rankings, which do not distinguish between divisions, the Bison finished ahead of 89 FBS schools and the Eagles ahead of 36. That's why Taylor wonders if FBS teams will continue to have the guts to play his team. North Dakota State fans travel and buy tickets, which makes them one of the cheaper FCS options. But that value is negated when the sacrificial lamb bites back. Last weekend Taylor received a congratulatory e-mail from Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard, whose Cyclones lost to FCS opponent Northern Iowa on Saturday. Pollard joked that he was glad the Bison's core of 12 senior starters is graduating before playing in Ames in '14.
But why wait until next year for another upset? FCS underdogs could continue their hot streak this Saturday. Three teams that reached at least the quarterfinals of the 2012 FCS playoffs will visit FBS campuses for paycheck games that could leave the home team hurting. Quarterfinalist Montana State visits SMU, while fellow final-eight participant Old Dominion (which will move to FBS in '14) visits Maryland. Meanwhile, FCS runner-up Sam Houston State will head to Kyle Field, where defending Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M will be expecting to play a tune-up before facing Alabama the following week.
Like Kansas State, the Aggies may get more of a challenge than they expected.
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WARMUP ACT FCS schools are 407-1,933-18 against the FBS, but that didn't stop John Crockett (with ball) and North Dakota State from knocking off Kansas State.