North Dakota State’s championship run was broken after five seasons, but Bison head coach Chris Klieman says no extra motivation is needed for his team as spring practice begins.
On December 16, 2016, North Dakota State was defeated by eventual national champion James Madison, 27-17. For the first time since 2010 the Bison ended an FCS playoff game in defeat.
The Bison had won five national titles in a row, so feelings of ending a season with a loss were unfamiliar. With a few months to stew over the missed opportunity to make it six straight, North Dakota State begins spring practice on March 29.
Will that sinking feeling from December give Chris Klieman’s team more incentive?
“I wouldn’t say it’s extra motivation,” Klieman told me in a recent interview. “Our kids are always motivated to play, and play at a high level.”
Klieman has been with the Bison program since 2011, first as the defensive backs coach, then as defensive coordinator before becoming head coach in 2014. He has recorded a 40-5 overall record, and knows his players will be ready to go.
“I think our guys are excited about entering spring ball, because it’s been three months since we’ve put on pads rather than two months. There’s just an area of excitement around because it’s been three months since we’ve been able to play.”
One area of concern for Klieman during the spring will be up front on the offensive line, as massive departures hit a unit that was one of the Bison’s strengths in 2016. North Dakota State finished No. 11 in the FCS in rushing offense, averaging 240.9 yards per game on the ground, while giving up just 1.07 sacks per game, good for 10th.
“We lost three players [on the offensive line] who will probably sign NFL contracts. So that’s the area I’m going to look at the most as to where we need to grow. We have a lot of young players that have the size and the ability, but don’t have the experience. So we’re going to take a hard look at those guys. And we are going to be as successful as our guys are up front on both sides of the ball.”
North Dakota State will enter the 2017 season as one of the favorites in the FCS, and as always, the Bison will be talented. Under Klieman’s guidance, the title could easily return to where Bison Nation believes it belongs: Fargo.