Photo courtesy of North Dakota State Athletics site.
The Sports Network
By Tim McDonnell, FCS Assistant
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 5, 1 p.m. ET
FACTS & STATS: Event: FCS National Championship Game. Site: FC Dallas Stadium (20,086) - Frisco, Texas. Surface: Bermuda Grass (Tifway 419). Television: ESPN2. Announcers: Dave Neal, Jay Walker and Cara Capuano. Home Record: North Dakota State 8-1; Sam Houston State 4-0. Road Record: North Dakota State 4-0; Sam Houston State 6-3. Neutral Record: North Dakota State 1-0; Sam Houston State 1-0. Conference: North Dakota State - Missouri Valley; Sam Houston State - Southland. Nicknames: North Dakota State Bison; Sam Houston State Bearkats. The Sports Network FCS Rankings: North Dakota State (1); Sam Houston State (5). NCAA Playoff Seedings: North Dakota State (1); Sam Houston State (NS). Series Record: North Dakota State (2-1). Last Meeting: Jan. 7, 2012 (North Dakota State defeated Sam Houston State, 17-6, in FCS Championship). Record Against Opposing Conferences: North Dakota State vs. Southland (9-2); Sam Houston State vs. Missouri Valley (7-7-1). Head Coaches: North Dakota State - Craig Bohl (10th season, 88-32 at North Dakota State and overall); Sam Houston State - Willie Fritz (third season, 31-9 at Sam Houston State; 19th season, 167-61-1 overall). All-Time School Records: North Dakota State 640-365-34; Sam Houston State 471-447-34. Playoff Records: North Dakota State (9-1); Sam Houston State (9-5). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: North Dakota State 2 (2010-11); Sam Houston State 5 (1986, 91, 2001, '04, '11). Current Playoff Streak: North Dakota State has won its last seven playoff games; Sam Houston State has won three straight and six of its last seven playoff games.
GAME NOTES: Fast forward to the end of the 2012 football season and the start of 2013, and once again, the two best remaining teams in FCS football will play for the national title in Frisco, Texas.
It's the fourth time since the FCS playoffs began in 1978, in which the same foes have faced off in the title game in back-to-back years. Marshall and Youngstown State played three times for the title (1991-93) and Marshall and Montana met in the 1995 and 1996 national championships.
Sam Houston State enters the title game rematch with 25-4 record over the last two seasons. The Bearkats have scraped and fought their way through a troubled schedule, which has included two FBS contests and 10 away games, and a difficult playoff run, in which they defeated all three Big Sky Conference co- champions, Cal Poly at home and Montana State and Eastern Washington on the road.
Quarterback Brian Bell leads an offense which averages 463 yards per game, scores 41.9 points per game and has totaled 41 points or more in nine of the team's 14 games this season. Bell has thrown for 24 touchdowns and 2,460 yards and averages 175 passing yards per game. He's added six rushing touchdowns as well.
His backfield mate, All-America running back Timothy Flanders, has totaled 1,589 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns - including 438 yards in three playoff games. In fact, the Bearkats find their rhythm through the ground and average 279 yards per game. They also have scored 46 total rushing touchdowns in 14 games.
North Dakota State enters the title game looking to become the first team since Appalachian State (2005-07 as three-time national champion) to repeat as FCS champions. The Bison have an FCS-best 27-2 record over the last two seasons and, amazingly, coach Craig Bohl's defense might be better than last year's title team.
The Bison lead the FCS in total defense (223 yards per game), passing defense (131 yards per game) and scoring defense (11 points per game). Plus, they rank third in the FCS in rushing defense, allowing 92.3 yards per game. Opponents have managed just five rushing touchdowns in 14 games this season.
Offensively, like Sam Houston, NDSU dictates its success on the ground. Running backs John Crockett and Sam Ojuri fit perfectly in the team's forceful, pounding attack. Crockett averages 68 rushing yards per game and has registered 956 rushing yards this season, while Ojuri averages 73 rushing yards per game and has totaled 955 yards per game. Needless to say, they offer a difficult one-two punch for opposing defenses.
Quarterback Brock Jensen has complied a 31-5 career starting record under center and can deceive team's with his feet. The junior has rushed for 313 yards and nine touchdowns. His ability to lead, however, is perhaps his greatest attribute.
The Bison have only lost 14 turnovers this season and are effective because the offense stays on the field for long periods of time. NDSU leads the FCS in time of possession with an average of 34 minutes, 39 seconds.
Sam Houston State has the edge through the air, although the Bison give up 131 passing yards per game, good for No. 1 in the FCS. Receivers Trey Diller and Chance Nelson can give the NDSU secondary fits, if and only if Flanders and Bell can find success early on with the running game.
Perhaps the key to the game will be the ability of Ojuri and Crockett to find running room versus the Bearkats' defensive line, which has allowed just two rushing touchdowns versus FCS foes this season.
Bell, Fritz and many returning members of the SHSU program have waited a year to take the bad taste out of their mouth, after suffering a 17-6 national championship defeat in Frisco last season.
On the other hand, Bohl, and his impenetrable wall of a defense and gutsy quarterback know what it takes to get the job done.
Both teams' fans will be out in full-force in a sold-out FC Dallas Stadium, so throw out the notion of that as an advantage for either team.
The Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Sam Houston State 23, North Dakota State 21.