North Dakota State's swarming defense includes, front, linebacker Grant Olson (34) and nose guard Justin Juckem (97).
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Give the rest of the Missouri Valley Football Conference some credit. At least they've solved the North Dakota State defense at times.
The rest of the FCS ... not so much.
Since the start of the FCS playoffs last year, the 2011 FCS national champion Bison have allowed only five touchdowns in seven games.
Even the 1986 Chicago Bears would be impressed by that stinginess.
The role call of opponents has plenty of merit, too. NDSU beat James Madison, Lehigh, Georgia Southern and Sam Houston State in last season's playoffs and FBS Colorado State on the road this season. Sam Houston State had been the FCS' top-scoring team last season until it was held to only two field goals against the Bison in the national championship game.
The other two opponents, Robert Morris and Prairie View A&M, were overmatched when they went to the Fargodome earlier this month. It's not as though well liked Bison coach Craig Bohl developed a soft heart like the Grinch did toward Who-ville. The Bison shut out Robert Morris, 52-0, and allowed only a garbage- time touchdown to Prairie View in a 66-7 win.
The results might change the rest of the season - at least Missouri Valley rivals hope so - because top-ranked NDSU (3-0) has only conference games remaining on its schedule. It starts with perhaps the biggest threats to the throne, Saturday at No. 14 Northern Iowa and Oct. 6 against third-ranked Youngstown State, the only team to beat the Bison in their 14-1 campaign a year ago.
NDSU won the Missouri Valley title last season with a 7-1 conference mark, when opponents averaged 16.4 points per game - nearly double the 8.6 points of non-conference teams. Overall, the Bison's 12.7-point average led the FCS.
Through three games this season, they lead the nation again in allowing 4.7 points per game.
"We've got some good players over there, No. 1," Bohl said. "I think we've been fortunate in the recruiting process that we have good players.
"And the other thing is that we've been running the same system for several years now. While some of our defensive coordinators have changed, the system's the same with some tweaks in it. What we've been able to do is continue to recruit with that same philosophy. And I think our players and coaches have really adapted to that. There's always challenges, but I think that's probably the biggest reason why we've played as well as we have."
NDSU has been a cradle of terrific defensive coaches in Bohl's 10 seasons. Former defensive coordinator Casey "Gus" Bradley is now the Seattle Seahawks' DC. Scotty Hazelton, the defensive coordinator for the national championship team last season, has gone on to become the linebackers coach at USC.
Hazelton's successor, Chris Klieman, coached the Bison defensive backs last season and formerly was defensive coordinator at Northern Iowa, which has won more Missouri Valley titles than any other program, 16.
Klieman and the Bison have done well to replace four starters from a year ago - defensive end Coulter Boyer, leading tacklers and linebackers Chad Willson and Preston Evans, and free safety John Pike. They continue to run a 4-3 base alignment with Tampa 2 core values, so the transition of defensive coordinators has been seamless.
"Every year, you have different blitz packages that you have," Bison said. "So we've inserted some of those. I think that that has an impact. Every once in awhile when you have a different position group, where the coordinator's coordinating, I think that has an impact. Coach Klieman's a secondary coach, so there are certain times we may stage some things from that standpoint."
NDSU has a small senior class, but the juniors are particularly strong. The Bison play a lot of players, rotating nine or 10 into games on the defensive line. Ends Kyle Emanuel and Cole Jirik, defensive tackle Leevon Perry and nose guard Ryan Drevlow are the starters, but backups such as end Mike Hardie and defensive tackle Danny Luecke would be starters at many other programs.
This year's team is not as deep at linebacker, but it still relies heavily on starters Grant Olson, the vocal leader and leading tackler, Travis Beck and Carlton Littlejohn as well as DeShawn Dinwiddie.
Few cornerbacks in the FCS can rival the skills of All-America cornerback Marcus Williams, who is expected back against Northern Iowa after missing one game following arthroscopic knee surgery. Perhaps the key to the defense reloading annually is that players like Williams take newcomers to the program under their wing and teach them the winning concepts.
Standout strong safety Colton Heagle suffered a season-ending ACL tear against Colorado State and junior Bryan Shepherd has taken over the starting job. Christian Dudzik is the starting free safety, and the other cornerback is Andre Martin Jr., who has one of this week's more interesting stories.
Martin played in 36 games and started 23 times at Northern Iowa before graduating there last spring. He still had one year of eligibility remaining, so he transferred to NDSU to pursue a master's degree and now is returning to Cedar Falls to try to beat the Panthers on Saturday.
NDSU opponents are averaging only 174.3 yards and 8.7 first downs, and have converted a mere 11-of-40 third-down attempts.
A LOT HAS CHANGED
Alabama A&M must be thinking payback against Grambling State on Saturday considering the Bulldogs let the SWAC Championship Game slip away last year with a 16-15 loss to the Tigers.
With a win, Alabama A&M (4-0, 3-0) could possibly bury Grambling State's chance for getting back to Birmingham in December. The Tigers (0-3, 0-2) need this game in the worst way.
"We have a different team than a year ago," GSU coach Doug Williams said. "We have a lot of different players than we did last year, and they (Alabama A&M) have 19 starters returning. Our attention is on the players that we have and getting them ready for Saturday."
A&M quarterback Deaunte Mason will give GSU the most trouble. He has been playing at an All-SWAC level.
WHAT WE KNOW, WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW
The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at FCS Top 25.
Also, once again this season, In the FCS Huddle is projecting the potential FCS playoff field. The projections are a long-range look at the season - not based off current records or rankings - and can be found at FCS Bracket
AROUND THE NATION
Big Sky: Apparently it could be worse for an 0-4 Weber State squad. John L. Smith could have been the Wildcats' head coach ... No. 21 Montana has to win at No. 7 Eastern Washington to avoid its first 0-2 start in conference since 1992. A week ago, EWU coach Beau Baldwin started redshirt freshman quarterback Vernon Adams against Weber State, while Kyle Padron played the second half ... No. 2 Montana State has been banged up on the defensive line, but the Bobcats are allowing only 68 rushing yards per game ... Don't overlook the job of the special teams in Northern Arizona's 3-1 start, including wins over UNLV and Montana. The No. 22 Lumberjacks rank first or second in the conference in punting, kickoff coverage and punt return average (Austin Shanks has scored on two returns), and Andy Wilder is 5-of-6 on field-goal attempts.
Big South: Who blinks first? Stony Brook running back Miguel Maysonet and Coastal Carolina quarterback Aramis Hillary have split the conference's first four offensive player of the week honors. For good measure, Coastal linebacker Quinn Backus has earned two defensive player of the week honors ... No. 18 Stony Brook heads to Army with a legitimate chance to beat an FBS opponent for the first time ... Presbyterian's Michael Ruff needs 98 all-purpose yards to become the 12th player in conference history with 3,000 in a career. He would get there against Davidson if he matches his season average, which, conveniently, is 99 yards per game ... Four of the seven teams are idle this weekend.
CAA Football: New Hampshire's defense came out of its 64-61 loss to Old Dominion with more than just a Taylor Heinicke-damaged psyche. Several injuries, including one to safety Chris Beranger, will hurt the No. 20 Wildcats (2-2) against No. 8 Delaware (4-0), which looked terrific in its win over William & Mary ... Delaware's Sean Baner is 10-for-10 on field goals and leads all FCS kickers in scoring ... The Heinicke machine will try to rev up again as ODU (4-0) visits Richmond (3-1). The host Spiders are the only FCS team yet to allow a sack. That explains the smile on quarterback John Laub's face ... No FCS team faces a more daunting challenge this week than No. 12 Towson (2-1), which plays Saturday night at LSU.
Ivy: Harvard (2-0) is on an FCS-high 11-game winning streak, but Friday night the Crimson host the last team to beat them, Holy Cross. Harvard's offense looks strong again, and senior Treavor Scales has rushed for 309 yards and six touchdowns through two games ... Interesting clash in Hanover, N.H., where upstart Dartmouth (2-0) puts a five-game winning streak on the line against league power Penn, which is 0-2 for, surprisingly, the fifth time in six years. The last three meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less, including an overtime affair in 2010.
MEAC: It's odd to think either defending champion Norfolk State (2-2) or perennial power South Carolina State (1-3) will be 0-2 in the conference after Saturday's game and perhaps out of the race before it basically starts. NSU has never won in seven trips to Orangeburg ... Florida A&M's Damien Fleming is the only MEAC quarterback among the top nine in passing yards per game to have more touchdown passes than interceptions - eight to three. The other eight QBs are even or have thrown more interceptions.
Missouri Valley: South Dakota State sophomore Zach Zenner, with 895 rushing yards through four games, should surpass 1,000 before September is over. The No. 25 Jackrabbits host Missouri State on Saturday ... Indiana State junior back Shakir Bell is 17 yards shy of 3,000 in his career ... Missouri Valley newcomer South Dakota plays its first conference game by hosting No. 13 Illinois State. The Redbirds roll in 4-0, but USD has won seven straight home games.
Northeast: The conference game of the week is Monmouth at Albany. Both 3-1 teams have been impressive, with Monmouth holding the early 2-0 lead in the NEC race ... Duquesne's defense has a dynamite duo in Ohio State transfer Dorian Bell at linebacker and safety Serge Kona. The Dukes play in the other battle of unbeaten conference teams, hosting surprising St. Francis (Pa.).
Ohio Valley: No. 19 Eastern Kentucky holds a 21-1 series edge as it travels to UT Martin in a battle of 3-1 teams, but the Skyhawks won the 2010 game at home behind quarterback Derek Carr. Each of the last five meetings have been decided by seven points or less ... Tennessee State (4-0) is playing its fourth and final fellow HBCU on Saturday by hosting Arkansas-Pine Bluff from the SWAC. Tennessee State is having such a strong season that it's ashame it is playing only seven OVC games and not eight. The Tigers and Eastern Illinois won't play each other ... Speaking of Eastern Illinois, the 210 plays in its 50-49 overtime win over Murray State last Saturday were an FCS record. Murray ran 110 of the plays.
Patriot: Maybe the league should move right to Nov. 17: Lehigh is 4-0 and Lafayette 3-0, both among 15 unbeaten teams in the FCS ... Georgetown senior linebacker Robert McCabe leads the FCS with 13.8 tackles per game, while Holy Cross senior 'backer Roman SanDoval has averaged 8.3 solo tackles per game, which ranks No. 1 nationally ... Patriot League teams are an FCS-best 14-9 (.608) in non-conference action.
Pioneer: Five of Jacksonville's 11 touchdowns have been defensive or special teams scores ... Eight of the league's 10 teams are averaging over 200 passing yards per game. One of the teams under 200 yards was well above it for two games before quarterback Braden Smith was injured. Since then, junior Dakota Wolf has come on and given the Camels a different look with 106 rushing yards per game through his two starts.
Southern: It's hard to win on the road in the SoCon? No check that, it's hard to win at home. Home teams are only 4-3 in conference games this season after going just 18-18 last season ... The conference game of the week is Samford (4-0, 2-0) at preseason favorite Georgia Southern (2-1, 1-1). Although senior all-purpose back Fabian Truss has been dominant, it can't be overlooked that Memphis quarterback Andy Summerlin (89-for-129 for 817 yards and four touchdowns) has done a solid job replacing veteran Dustin Taliaferro ... Since replacing an injured Rod Chisholm, Appalachian State running back Steven Miller has rushed for 352 yards and five touchdowns on 70 carries.
Southland: With fellow wide receiver Gralyn Crawford sidelined because of suspension, Stephen F. Austin senior Cordell Roberson has been on pace for a 100-catch season. He has 39 catches through four games ... The Southland Conference imposed a half-game suspension on Central Arkansas safety Jestin Love for an illegal hit against Sam Houston State last Saturday. Love will sit out the first half of UCA's game at SFA on Saturday ... With a win at McNeese State, Northwestern State could vault into the title picture because of its softer midseason schedule. The Demons' Phillip Harvey is getting it done as a receiver and returner. His 176.5 all-purpose yards per game lead the conference.
SWAC: No SWAC wide receiver is coming close to matching the production of Jackson State senior Rico Richardson, who has 32 receptions for 582 yards and five touchdowns in four games ... Arkansas-Pine Bluff linebacker Jer-ryan Harris has come back strong from injury to give the Golden Lions a terrific trio with Bill Ross and Xavier Lofton.
Extra Point: The results have been mixed for the four schools that left the FCS for the FBS this season. UTSA (Western Athletic Conference) is 4-0, Texas State (WAC) 2-1, South Alabama (Sun Belt) 1-3 and Massachusetts (Mid-American Conference) 0-4.
Longest active streaks in the FCS:
Harvard (Ivy League), 11 games; North Dakota State (Missouri Valley), 8; Delaware (CAA Football), 7; Dartmouth (Ivy), 5
Savannah State (MEAC), 10; Princeton (Ivy), 9; Robert Morris (Northeast), 9
Last Week's Record: 48-16 (.750)
Season Record: 239-54 (.816)
All Times ET
Thursday, Sept. 27
Morgan State (1-2, 0-0 MEAC) at X-North Carolina A&T (2-1, 0-0), 7:30 p.m.
X-No. 9 Sam Houston State (1-2) at Texas Southern (1-3), 8 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 28
Holy Cross (0-3) at X-Harvard (2-0), 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 29
X-Penn (0-2, 0-0 Ivy) at Dartmouth (2-0, 0-0), noon
X-No. 8 Delaware (4-0, 1-0 CAA) at No. 20 New Hampshire (2-2, 0-1), noon
X-No. 18 Stony Brook (3-1) at Army (0-3), noon
X-Colgate (1-3) at Yale (1-1), noon
Central Connecticut State (0-4, 0-1 NEC) at X-Sacred Heart (0-3, 0-1), noon
X-No. 19 Eastern Kentucky (3-1, 1-0 OVC) at UT Martin (3-1, 1-0), noon
Fordham (3-1) at X-No. 15 Lehigh (4-0), 12:30 p.m.
Princeton (0-2, 0-0 Ivy) at X-Columbia (1-1, 0-0), 12:30 p.m.
X-Marist (2-2, 1-0 PFL) at Jacksonville (3-1, 1-0), 1 p.m.
Dayton (1-3, 0-1 PFL) at X-Butler (2-2, 1-0), 1 p.m.
Monmouth (3-1, 1-0 NEC) at X-Albany (3-1, 1-0), 1 p.m.
Savannah State (0-3, 0-1 MEAC) at X-Howard (2-1, 1-0), 1 p.m.
X-Bryant (0-4, 0-2 NEC) at Wagner (1-3, 1-1), 1 p.m.
St. Francis-Pa. (2-2, 1-0 NEC) at X-Duquesne (3-1, 1-0), 1:10 p.m.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (3-1) at X-Tennessee State (4-0), 6 p.m.
Chattanooga (1-3, 0-1 SoCon) at X-No. 11 The Citadel (3-1, 2-0), 6 p.m.
X-Cornell (1-1) at Bucknell (1-2), 6 p.m.
X-Presbyterian (1-3) at Davidson (0-3), 6 p.m.
X-Bethune-Cookman (2-2, 1-0 MEAC) at Hampton (0-3, 0-1), 6 p.m.
X-Drake (2-2, 1-0 PFL) at Campbell (1-3, 0-1), 6 p.m.
Missouri State (0-4, 0-1 MVFC) at X-No. 25 South Dakota State (3-1, 1-0), 7 p.m.
No. 23 Cal Poly (3-0, 1-0 Big Sky) at X-North Dakota (3-1, 1-0), 7 p.m.
Tennessee Tech (2-2, 0-1 OVC) at X-Murray State (1-3, 0-1), 7 p.m.
Grambling State (0-3, 0-2 SWAC) at X-Alabama A&M (4-0, 3-0), 7 p.m.
Indiana State (2-2, 0-1 MVFC) at X-Southern Illinois (2-2, 1-0), 7 p.m.
CO-GAME OF THE WEEK: X-No. 1 North Dakota State (3-0, 0-0 MVFC) at No. 14 Northern Iowa (1-3, 0-1), 7 p.m. Facing the reigning national champion, this basically is a must-win game for Northern Iowa and its FCS playoff hopes.
No. 16 Central Arkansas (3-1, 1-0 Southland) at X-Stephen F. Austin (1-3, 0-0), 7 p.m.
No. 12 Towson (2-1) at X-LSU (4-0), 7 p.m.
Georgia State (0-4, 0-1 CAA) at X-William & Mary (0-4, 0-2), 7 p.m.
CO-GAME OF THE WEEK: X-No. 21 Montana (2-2, 0-1 Big Sky) at No. 7 Eastern Washington (2-1, 1-0), 7:05 p.m. The last time these teams met in Cheney, EWU debuted its red turf field. Now the visiting Grizzlies have red faces over last week's home loss to Northern Arizona.
Northwestern State (2-2, 0-0 Southland) at X-No. 24 McNeese State (3-1, 0-1), 8 p.m.
X-Weber State (0-4, 0-1 Big Sky) at UC Davis (1-3, 0-1), 9 p.m.