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Bison in unfamiliar poll position -- outside top five

Bison in unfamiliar poll position -- outside top five

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The North Dakota State football team finds itself in an unusual position -- outside the top five in the FCS poll.

After its 38-14 loss at Southern Illinois on Saturday, which snapped the Bison's FCS record 39-game winning streak, NDSU dropped to sixth in the latest Stats Perform top 25 rankings. It's the first time since the final poll of the 2017 season the Bison are not ranked No. 1. Additionally, it's the first time since Nov. 9, 2015 NDSU is outside the top five.

In fact, NDSU isn't even the top North Dakota team in the poll. That distinction belongs to UND, which in two weeks has vaulted from unranked to 14th to No. 4 after wins over Southern Illinois and South Dakota State. The Fighting Hawks (2-0) also got a pair of first-place votes in the latest rankings.

Matt Entz, head coach of the Bison, expects his team to rebound from Saturday's lopsided loss to the Salukis.

"I have all the confidence in the world in this group that they'll bounce back," Entz said during his weekly press conference on Monday.

Saturday's loss, which was the first defeat for NDSU since Nov. 4, 2017, was a wake-up call.

"Everything you're worried about as a program leading up to those moments: egos, complacency, being comfortable, that, I-got-it mentality, caught up to us," Entz said. "It's my job to eliminate that.

"Losing does one of two things. You brush it under the rug, or look at all the deficiencies maybe it showed or proved and now you get the opportunity to go fix them. I think we're in the fixing mood right now."

At the top of the list is NDSU's offense, which scored 25 points in the spring opener against Youngstown State and 14 last week, which included a Hail Mary touchdown to end the first half and a scoring drive late in the fourth quarter when the game was decided.

In two games, the Bison have ran for 352 yards and thrown for 233. Zeb Noland remains the starter at quarterback, but all positions are being evaluated, Entz said.

"We have to be more consistent in the run game. It starts up front. We have to communicate better," Entz said. "We need to be more efficient on early downs. We have to be able to stay on the field and create some momentum."

The Bison defense, which was gashed for 443 yards and allowed 11 of 16 third-down conversions against the Salukis, also must player better, the head coach said.

"We've had games in the past where both sides bailed out each other," Entz said. "This was one of those times, it doesn't happen very often, where neither side of the football was able to bail each other out."

Saturday, the Bison are back on the road against Missouri State, which is coached by former Atlanta Falcons, Arkansas and Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino. The Bears went 0-3 during the fall season, including a 48-0 loss to then No. 5 Oklahoma, before beating Western Illinois 30-24 on Saturday in their first game of the spring campaign.

Entz said their focus is on getting ready for Saturday.

"The thing we cannot allow to happen, and will not happen, is Southern Illinois gets to beat us twice," he said. "This has to be an unbelievable week of urgency and focus for our football team and staff."

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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