FARGO — North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman has been around football for a lot of years and seen a lot of weather conditions that weren’t favorable. Last Saturday, Nov. 18, set a new low.
The Bison defeated Illinois State 20-7 in a game that started in drizzle, turned to a horizontal rain with strong winds, morphed into sleet that turned to snow and finished in cold, wind-chill temperatures.
“As tough of conditions as I’ve ever played in or coached in,” Klieman said. “I don’t think TV did it justice as to how bad it was. It was survival in the first half.”
The Bison survived the Redbirds and as a result got the No. 2 seed in the 24-team Division I FCS playoffs. NDSU got a first-round bye and will host the winner of the San Diego at Northern Arizona first-round game on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 2:30 p.m. Klieman said he wasn’t surprised the Bison got the No. 2 seed pointing to the convincing win over South Dakota two weeks ago and finishing the regular season 10-1.
The Bison were fourth in the Division I Football Committee rankings before the USD game.
“I know there was debate between 2 or 3, but I thought if we took care of business we would be the 2 seed,” he said.
What did surprise Klieman, however, was the bracket setup. The Bison faced either South Dakota State or Northern Iowa in the second round or quarterfinals of the 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016 playoffs. If they keep winning, NDSU wouldn’t potentially face another Missouri Valley Football Conference team until the semifinals.
“You look at the teams that are on our side and there are some really quality opponents,” Klieman said. “Some have been here, it’s been awhile, some have not and so I think from our fan base it’s fun to see some other programs come in here. And from a coaching standpoint, it’s fun not to have to go back and work on South Dakota State or work on Northern Iowa as a potential opponent because that’s what we’ve done the last so many years.”
The Bison will practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before taking a couple of days off over Thanksgiving. They’ll return to work on Saturday to prepare for the second round game.
It appears probable the week off will boost the chances of starting right guard Austin Kuhnert and starting receiver Darrius Shepherd returning to the lineup. Kuhnert suffered a knee injury against the Coyotes and Shepherd has a hamstring issue. Linebacker Levi Jordheim (knee) appears to have outside shot of returning.
“He ran late last week,” Klieman said. “It’s promising that we’ll get a few guys back.”
Klieman, incidentally, was named one of 18 finalists for the Eddie Robinson Award that goes to the top head coach in the FCS. Klieman won his 50th game against Illinois State and is the second-fastest coach to reach 50 wins in NDSU history behind Ron Erhardt.
Klieman was also a finalist in 2014 and 2016, an award that former Bison head coach Craig Bohl won twice.
The Missouri Valley is also represented by Western Illinois head coach Charlie Fisher on the list.
Two Bison players also made finalist lists. Senior linebacker Nick DeLuca is up for the Buck Buchanan Award that goes to the best defensive player and freshman linebacker Jabril Cox made the cut for the Jerry Rice Award that goes to the best freshman.