Bittersweet Victory

What you want won’t always make you happy. I guess.

NCAA FOOTBALL: JAN 04 Division I Championship Game - North Dakota State University v Towson University

 

In a vacuum, this year has been an undeniable success for NDSU Bison Football. The Bison achieved all of the goals that I thought were musts. They put together an undefeated season and won a third straight title at the FCS level, tying them with Appalachian State as the only schools to do so. They also grabbed their 24th consecutive win, tying the FCS record. However, its pretty obvious that this looks to be the top of the mountain. While they could definitely grab that 25th win to secure the consecutive wins record outright, a 4th straight title is a longshot. The losses are going to take their toll. Not just Coach Bohl (I’m getting there) but on the team itself. Eleven starters and twenty-four seniors have to be replaced next year. What’s more, a lot of the departing players are legitimate stars. Marcus Williams has a bright NFL future ahead of him and might even be a 3rd round pick. Same goes for Tackle Billy Turner and Runningback Sam Ojuri. Then theres guys like Wide Receiver Ryan Smith and Linebacker Grant Olson who respectively formed the hearts of the offense and defense. And lest we forget, no more Brock Jensen next year. Losing that kind of talent and leadership, losing it on both sides of the ball, and all at once… that won’t be easy to recover from. This would have been a tall task even if Bohl were returning… but he’s not.

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Things really aren’t all bad though. On the positive side, there is some serious safetynet-ing going on in the receiving corps to help ease the transition. Zach Vraa is and will remain a beast and Tight End  Kevin Vaadeland will return for a 6th season to help ease the transition at quarterback, and NDSU continues to be deep in the backfield with a ready-made starter in Sam Crockett. Furthermore, you’ve got a legit stud returning on defense in Carlton Littlejohn to anchor that squad and help Coach Klieman drag this new unit up to snuff.

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Nothing can fix losing the best coach in the nation at his level but I think NDSU’s Athletic Department is making all the correct moves here heading forward. I like the idea of promoting from within to replace Bohl. You can’t go from outside when you’re building upon this level of unprecedented success for the school. Moreover, Klieman seems to be doing everything right in filling up his staff. I love the mix of keeping the old staff around (can’t fix it if its not broken) and the coaches he’s bringing in to replace those leaving with Bohl all of solid coaching experience and will be just fine next year while the staff coalesces around its new leadership. Perhaps more importantly he’s keeping most of NDSU’s local recruiting network (Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska) in place, even if the program appears to be losing valuable inroads into new talent rich areas (Florida and Arizona).

And that is where the sadness begins to set in for me. NDSU will definitely be good next year. Maybe even have a chance to get hot in the playoffs and make a run at that elusive 4th straight title. None of that is guaranteed, but its possible. But NDSU has undoubtedly entered a holding pattern for the time being. With Bohl the sky was the limit. I wrote with the zealous energy of a 14 year old boy who just discovered kissing about NDSU making the Division 1-A jump earlier this season. Thats still possible but much less likely without Bohl. NDSU now has to prove itself once again. I think they will do this but it costs them time and as I already stated, NDSU was at a peak moment, a once in a decade chance to make a serious bid for membership in a D-1A football conference. This window is now closed. It might reopen some day, but the truth is, the leadership at NDSU has no desire to make this move and Bohl’s departure will give them the perfect excuse to stay where there are.

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Some of those quotes in that ESPN article honestly disgust me. Not enough money to compete with Wyoming??? The only reason Wyoming can outcompete NDSU in terms of funding is because they ARE D1-A and have made it into a top flight football conference in the Mountain West. Also, if you want new boosters and new sources of revenue… am I the only one who remembers that North Dakota is currently flush with new oil money?? How do you think Oklahoma State has fueled their rise in college athletics? Obviously NDSU doesn’t have a T. Boone Pickens, but they also need a lot less than he would be able to provide. North Dakota current economic boon would easily fuel a healthy, ascendant NDSU Athletic’s Department if Gene Taylor felt the need to get out and raise funds. More than anything though this whole situation just makes me sad.

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Wyoming has been my favorite example for why NDSU needed to go D1-A. They’re a smaller school than NDSU located in a MUCH less populous area with fewer alumni and potential financial resources to draw upon so if they can do it theres no reason NDSU can’t.  I stole the idea from my dad who always used to bring it up. My dad’s dad, my grandpa, has a ranch in Wyoming so my dad had always sortof followed the Cowboys. I picked up on it and started to keep an eye on them myself. They were always an interesting story to me. A little guy who stumbled into a real football conference with luck and timing. By the time the Mountain West rose up into the top flight football conference it is today, Wyoming already had years of history with those teams and was even a founding member of the conference. So I want them to be good. I always got a kick out of it whenever Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo would become Wyoming fans for a week…

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…the same way I got gitty when they gave NDSU the helmet treatment on national TV. These were both two of my favorite little guys.

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(Deeefinitely took this picture on my cell phone in my parents basement… I got so excited to see NDSU up there with Ohio State, LSU, and Texas that I climaxed  took a picture of a show playing on ESPN News at 3 o’clock in the afternoon so that I could text it to people…)

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Anyway, I always wanted Wyoming to be the little engine that could at the top level. I wanted both schools to win.  I just never wanted one to succeed at the other’s expense. I didn’t want NDSU to be sacrificed for Wyoming’s success. I always fantasized about NDSU joining the Mountain West and striking up a rivalry with Wyoming. And hey, Craig Bohl used to beat Wyoming for football recruits. Kids would rather step down a half level and play for Bohl than play in the Mountain West. So it just kind of breaks my heart to see my favorite shining example of why NDSU needed to move up turn into the biggest obstacle on that path. 

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I was never afraid of all the “Bohl to Nebraska” rumors. Bo Pellini is a hot head and will get fired soon enough but Nebraska isn’t what it used to be and he’s a great coach… maybe better than anything they could get otherwise. He’s gonna get himself fired eventually. But Bohl was never gonna be the guy at his alma mater. He made his start there, worked his way all the way up to Defensive Coordinator, and got fired when his Head Coach was canned. Nebraska had their chance to have a younger Craig Bohl, there was no reason for them to fire Pellini and go after a 55 year old Bohl. At this point in his life I really felt like Bohl and made a niche for himself as the stalwart overachiever. The guy who found the diamonds in the rough in America’s hinterland and turned them into Champions. I just never stopped to think that he might be able to do the same thing somewhere else.

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I’m not mad at Wyoming. I’m going to cheer for Bohl and for the Cowboys. I just hate to see things coming to an end like this. NDSU now has to compete for those same recruits AGAINST Bohl rather than with him. They likely won’t take advantage of this fleeting opportunity to move up into a bigger conference at a higher level. They probably won’t even set themselves apart at their current, lower level by winning a fourth straight title. This just feels like a calamity of missed opportunities. I want bigger and better things for my hometown school. I never want to settle or stagnate, even if “stagnation” is winning national titles. Everything will be fine in the end. I don’t think Bohl will suffer the same fate as the last FCS Champion Head Coach to take over the Cowboys football program. In fact I can’t wait to watch him succeed there. And I feel better every day about the new head of NDSU’s football program. I just wish sometimes that fine wasn’t good enough for the guys at the top at NDSU. And I wish they understood that sometimes you have to move up in the world toward bigger and better things. If Coach Bohl has taught them that much by leaving, then maybe I can be happy in the end.

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