Conference: Missouri Valley (FCS)
Head Coach: Craig Bohl
Offensive Philosophy: West Coast/power running game
Defensive Philosophy: Tampa 2 (4-3 specialization)
2009 Record: 3-8
Key Personnel Losses: RB Pat Paschall. Now with the New England Patriots, Paschall was the top running back in FCS football last year as a senior. A consensus FCS All-American, he rushed for 1,397 yards and 16 touchdowns on just 207 carries (6.7 YPC).
As the Jayhawks prepare to kick off the 2010 season in 48 hours, Phog.net kicks off a new series of its own – "Know Your Foe." This week, we speak with Jeff Kolpack, sportswriter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, to get the skinny on KU's Week One opponent: The North Dakota State University Bison.
Phog.net: So NDSU went 3-8 in 2009, but the final scores show many of them to be closely contested affairs. What was the story of the Bison's season a year ago?
Jeff Kolpack: They were never blown out of any one game. Iowa State got away from them a little bit in the second half, but I say they were a good 3-8 as opposed to a bad 3-8, if that makes sense.
But I think they expected better things. They had some decent seniors and they had a good running back (Pat Paschall), who it hink was probably the best back in FCS. A couple of good offensive linemen, one – Keith Buckman – was in the Jets camp, and the other guy was a three year starter. They had a veteran tackle, too, so those three guys are gone.
Where they lacked, they didn't have an accurate quarterback and their receivers were pretty average at best, if not below average. And the defense was just a cluster-you-know-what. There were a couple injuries that hurt them, but they had the worst pass defense in the entire division. They had three interceptions all year, which is second from the last, and I think that ranks 116th or something like that. The defense was just, it was not very good to say the least.
Phog.net: So is the outlook brighter for 2010, or is this a rebuilding year?
JK: I think it's totally a rebuilding year. I almost think expectations are lower or more realistic than they were last year. Last year they had the talent to at least contend for a playoff berth, but that obviously didn't happen.
This year there are so many freshmen. Seven true freshmen are going to play, and that's a lot. In Missouri Valley football you don't see the top teams taking that many redshirts off. Last year, the two playoff teams had a combined one true freshman play. Although I see this year Southern Illinois is taking it off four people, which is probably more than they're used to.
For seven true freshmen to have their first game on a Big 12 stage, that's asking quite a lot. And then you add several redshirt freshmen, your quarterback – he started the last four games last year, but they were the four easiest games on the schedule so this is a different stage for him. You have a new running back, a couple of offensive guards who are new and haven't played a whole lot.
I guess I look more at this game as "A," the quarterback's gotta be accurate and I haven't seen that in a couple of years. And "B," the defense has to stop the run. The defense just has to be better. They were just goofy in all phases last year.
Phog.net: What veterans can NDSU fans expect to step up if the Bison are to have success this year?
JK: Matt Gratzek, defensive tackle, he's a senior I think going on his third year as a starter. When the Tampa 2 defense is really good, that position really creates problems. You can probably trace it back to Tampa, when Warren Sapp was there. When that defense is running well, that position is really good. They need a big year from him.
Preston Evans is a junior middle linebacker, and he's pretty solid. The big question mark is the secondary again. The safeties have been weak in the last couple of years, and the corners just need to get better at match-ups I guess. I'm sure KU is looking at those statistics from last year in the secondary going "Okay, maybe we should throw the ball a little bit."
Phog.net: What's your outlook for the season? Any record predictions?
JK: I picked them 4-7. This team is a year or two away, to me. If all of these younger kids progress better, maybe they can do better than 4-7. The Missouri Valley, for FCS, is a pretty tough and physical league. That's what its reputation is. There's not many doormats in that league. Even the bottom teams, Indiana State has been not very good the last several years, but even they look better. I don't think there's any easy wins there, especially for this team.
I think the 2007 team goes down to Kansas and wins this game. I really do, I believe that. That was a team that went 10-1. Now they're more in a rebuilding mode, and they have to find a way to get back to those teams that went to Minnesota and won, and went to Central Michigan and won 44-14, and went down to Ball State and won, and should have won at Wyoming a couple of years ago.