By Kent Schmidt
CSN West Columnist
College Sporting News
That season in 2007, the same school of Northern Iowa hosted Southern Illinois in a game that I have to admit was the loudest venue I have ever attended in the UNI Dome. This was a game where UNI and SIU were also both ranked in the Top 5 coming into the contest and UNI prevailed 30-24.
In the 1993 season, there was one that pitted the top two ranked teams in the country against each other and also opened the new venue of the Fargodome for NDSU against Pittsburg State of Kansas. NDSU won this game easily 35-16 in one that I saw personally as I was attending NDSU at the time.
The venue turns the clock forward to 18 years later again to the Fargodome this Saturday with this tilt reminiscent to me of both of those games although in a little different ways.
Why do I think of these two games when comparing this upcoming game?
First, both games were highly publicized games with a lot of anticipation and much riding on the results.
The SIU-UNI game of 2007 had two undefeated teams playing around this same time of the year—the latest two undefeated teams within the MVFC facing off.
The Pitt State-NDSU game of 1993 were the top two teams from the previous season that met in the DII playoff quarterfinals despite being ranked at that time #1 and #2 respectively also.
While both outcomes were different later on for the season, they set a tone for where we are now.
NDSU brought their game inside for the first time to show what kind of performance that would generate.
How have the teams gotten to this game?
Northern Iowa lost its season opener at FBS Iowa State by a single point 20-19 in a last couple of minutes score by Iowa State to take the lead and win. From there, UNI has not lost another game to date.
UNI has defeated Stephen F. Austin, Missouri State, and South Dakota State on the road while dispatching Western Illinois, Indiana State, and Southern Illinois at home. In total, UNI sits at 6-1 overall and 5-0 within MVFC play.
North Dakota State on the other hand has not lost at all this season. The Bison’s last loss was to last year’s eventual national champion Eastern Washington, in overtime on the road.
The Bison have defeated FBS Minnesota, Southern Illinois, and South Dakota State on the road, and St. Francis, Lafayette, Illinois State, and Missouri State at home.
In total, the two teams combined scoring against common opposition is just one point different.
With that, who do I think wins this game of the year in the Valley?
As mentioned, the combined scoring versus common opponents is just one point different. Both teams like to use defense as their catalyst but both with capable offenses also.
These two teams do not seem to like each other which was evident in the game two years ago where tempers got the best of both teams with a number of personal fouls.
It is also within the coaches. NDSU hired away their current defensive back coach Chris Klieman this past year from the Panthers.
Having a coach that was on the other sideline should be a help.
UNI Coach Mark Farley said in relation to this, “The knowledge of the working parts and a better understanding of what to expect. He can probably relay that to their staff and their team.”
Another area is recruiting, both schools get much of their talent from the Minneapolis – St. Paul area. In fact, NDSU has 15 such players on their current roster, where as UNI has 10 such players from the Twin Cities area.
For this game, I would say that UNI’s offense probably has a little advantage but NDSU’s defense on paper seems to be a little better.
I think the Southern Illinois and the South Dakota State games show the best what I think will come. Both NDSU and UNI had low scoring games with SIU and were able to blowout SDSU after playing that school close to begin the game.
This week another one of the common opponents in former UNI coach and current Missouri State coach Terry Allen commented in the weekly conference call.
Allen said, “I’d like to be there. I think it will be a great football game. Both do what you need to do, play great defense and protect the football. It’s in the Fargodome. I would think it will be a swing game either way."
That home field this week is what I think might decide this game, which goes back to the two games I mentioned above. Both home crowds in those two games were as loud as I had ever heard a crowd be at a game I covered.
The Fargodome this week is already sold-out and I have to believe the noise level will be similar to that game 18 years ago when the Fargodome opened. It is a noise level that I heard in the UNI-Dome when UNI defeated SIU in 2007.
Even though NDSU has not defeated UNI in their three prior MVFC contents, I believe this year’s Bison team is the best it has been in the four years being in the conference.
UNI’s talent is also good but I would be hard pressed to say it is better than the 2007 team that went undefeated in the regular season before losing to Delaware in the playoffs.
That home field advantage in these big games seems to always play a key role as to keep the opposing offense from getting a good rhythm as it is difficult to hear audibles or any other changes of assignment at the line of scrimmage.
I feel this game will be much like the SIU-UNI game of 2007, and maybe not so much like the 1993 Pitt State-NDSU game other than then crowd noise, with a touchdown or less difference expected.
But this is why we play the game. These types of matchups don’t come too often in the regular season. I certainly will be enjoying this one regardless of the outcome.
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CSN WEST GAME OF THE WEEK
Northern Iowa (6-1, 5-0 MVFC) @ North Dakota State (7-0, 4-0 MVFC), 4:07pm Eastern
Was there any doubt that this would be the game of the week especially after my column above?
As mentioned, there is no love lost between these two schools and this year’s game will be the most meaningful of their contests.
NDSU ranks first (11.6 points/game) and UNI (13.3 points/game) second in the FCS in scoring defense so I think this will be a defensive struggle with turnovers playing the biggest role in determining the victor.
Speaking of turnovers, UNI is plus 13 in this category, ranking fourth nationally with a 1.86 margin per game, while NDSU is plus 11, tied for sixth in the country with a 1.57 margin per game.
UNI holds a 25-18 series lead overall and as mentioned has not lost in the three prior MVFC contests.
The Panthers beat the Bison 16-9 last year in a game statistically dominated by UNI but turnovers kept NDSU in the game and actually had a chance to tie the game with a final drive but an interception ended the game.
That score seems to be about the score I see happening this year with these two dominate defenses. I think the home field this year, however, will help NDSU to the win as it has been a year of firsts for the Bison. They won their opening MVFC game for the first time. They defeated rival South Dakota State on the road for the first time since 1999. They won their first MVFC road game of a season for the first time with the win at Southern Illinois. I think NDSU will get their first victory over UNI in this one. I like them in the reverse score of last year’s game.
North Dakota State 16 Northern Iowa 9.