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Jan 4, 2014; Frisco, TX, USA; North Dakota State Bison wide receiver Zach Vraa (82) catches a touchdown pass while defended by Towson Tigers defensive end Ryan Delaire (56) in the second quarter at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State Cyclones football preview: Getting to know North Dakota State Bison

The Iowa State fotball team has another brutal season ahead, and it doesn’t help that they face another challenging FCS opponent. Northern Iowa always gives FBS teams fits — just ask Iowa and Wisconsin — and they’ve beaten the Cyclones multiple times now.

Jan 4, 2014; Frisco, TX, USA; North Dakota State Bison quarterback Brock Jensen (16) runs in the end zone for a touchdown in the third quarter of the game against the Towson Tigers at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Now comes in North Dakota State, a team that’s won three straight FCS championships and have defeated every FBS team they’ve faced since 2010.

The last time they lost to an FBS school? Iowa State. Since then, the Bison have become a powerhouse in FCS play, and have proven that they can compete at the next level. No, victories over Kansas and Minnesota aren’t really the best thing in the world, but they absolutely handled Kansas State for a full 60 minutes.

However, this year could be a new era for NDSU. Gone is Missouri Valley Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Brock Jensen, who led the team with a passing efficiency rating of 167.3. He completed 66.3 percent of his passes while throwing for 34 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

Also gone from last season are leading rusher Sam Ojuri and Ryan Smith, both players that finished in the top 10 statistically in the Missouri Valley. Ojuri was 4th in the Valley averaging 93.2 rushing yards and Smith averaged 50.2 yards per game and had five touchdowns.

But don’t think for a second that NDSU is that much weaker. While there will be some growing pains at quarterback, the dangerous threat is their top senior receiver, Zach Vraa. He had 15 touchdowns last season, most of any receiver in the Valley, and also averaged the most catches (17.8) and yards (79.4) per game. He can assist at making the transition easier for the new starter under center.

Junior Carson Wentz looks to be a favorite in spring practice right now. In a scrimmage today, Wentz completed 6-of-11 passes for 72 yards including a 30-yard touchdown pass to running back Chase Morlock. The other quarterbacks, Cole Davis and Derek McGinnis, combined for 4-of-12 and 86 yards. However, Davis did make a 60-yard touchdown highlight by hitting tight end Justin Arp.

Last season, NDSU averaged 457.5 yards of offense per game and allowed just 255.9 yards per game, 3rd best in FCS play last season. Even worse for Iowa State is despite how good Jensen was, they really did most of their damage on defense and with their running attack. They love to control and dominate clock, averaging over 250 yards on the ground per game.

Way too early prediction

This is going to be one very interesting game. How will Iowa State’s offense run now that Mark Mangino is at the helm? Will North Dakota State finally not live up to their lofty expectations of winning a title every year with lots of seniors from last year’s team gone, or are there enough weapons coming back to continue their domination against FBS foes in the first weeks of the college football season.

One thing is for certain, it won’t be easy, and Paul Rhoads’ teams tend to struggle coming out of the gate in a new season. Right now, NDSU would and should get the edge over Iowa State. There’s simply too many problems from last season to believe that the Cyclones have patched everything up, and the Bison are strong in the key areas that ISU  has weaknesses.

NDSU 22, IAST 16

Tags: Brock Jensen Football Iowa State Cyclones Zach Vraa

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