In this week’s My Thoughts Exactly, Daniel “Pinto” Gunderson explains how the back half of the schedule for the Bison football team has become much more important.
When the Bison kicked off the 2012 season, many people looked at games against Colorado State, the University of Northern Iowa and Youngstown State as the biggest three games on the schedule.
NDSU took the challenge head on by defeating all three teams soundly. It seemed that the Bison were well on their way to an undefeated record, a number one seed in the playoffs and the path to the championship game laid out for them on a red carpet.
Then, Indiana State University came to Fargo and put all those happy thoughts on hold, bringing fans and players back to reality. Now, the back half of the schedule appears to have more challenges than the front half
Before we get into the schedule, we have to start with the injuries, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. It appears that the strong safety position has gotten even thinner. Colten Heagle has been out since injuring his knee against Colorado State.
His back up, Bryan Shepherd, looks to be out for a considerable amount of time, maybe the season, after suffering a lacerated kidney against Indiana State.
Zach Vraa could be questionable against the University of South Dakota with a separated shoulder he suffered against Indiana State and John Crockett finished the game against the Sycamores with a hip pointer.
Even if NDSU is fully healthy, the schedule now becomes a bigger obstacle. Teams like Southern Illinois and South Dakota State have won games with solid defense and both sit ahead of NDSU in the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings.
While NDSU will get to play both of those teams at home, they will still have to play Illinois State on the road to end the season. It is very likely NDSU could go 1-2 in those three games.
SIU and SDSU can win on defense alone and that makes it tough for an NDSU offense that is not as stellar as once thought. SDSU held All-American running back Shakir Bell to 54 yards rushing in their 24-10 win at ISU.
SIU’s big win came on the road against Illinois State. In a 17-0 victory on the road, the Salukis caused Redbird quarterback Matt Brown to throw four interceptions.
Speaking of Illinois State, the Bison might be playing for the Valley title when they visit Normal, Ill. on November 17. Illinois State still has road games against the UNI and Indiana State, but if they escape both venues with victories, they will be 6-1 in conference play heading into the season’s final game.
In my opinion, the game against Illinois State will be the toughest for the Bison to walk away from with a win. I said it at the beginning of the season that NDSU would go 9-2, but I figured their one Valley loss would come against Illinois State.
NDSU catches a break of sorts this week playing a weak USD team, but it doesn’t get any easier for the Bison as they try to defend their national title. If injuries continue to mount and Brock Jensen has another game like the one against Indiana State, the Bison could be facing a bumpy road to Frisco.
Daniel “Pinto” Gunderson is the producer of the Mike McFeely Show, which can be heard 2-5 p.m. every weekday on 790 KFGO. You can follow him on Twitter @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook.