By my count, there are 25 seniors on the North Dakota State University football team’s roster. Many of these players have had a major impact on the Bison in the last three seasons. To pick one of these players as the most important to the team is nearly impossible.
That is why, in my second of five Wednesday blog posts leading up to the August 30thgame between NDSU and Kansas State University, I have came up with four of the most important players on the NDSU roster.
These players are the keys to the Bison trying to become the second team in FCS history to win three national titles in a row and the players the team can ill afford to lose during the 2013 campaign.
4. Brock Jensen – 6’3” 225 lbs. Senior Quarterback
I have been highly critical of how Brock Jensen is viewed. I think he is given too much credit for the Bison’s 28-2 record in the last two years. He is a good quarterback in a great situation. With that being said, he is the fourth most important player on this team.
He has played through a series of injuries the last couple seasons, and arguably scored the school’s biggest touchdown during the team’s incredible two-year run. He is a constant leader, both on and off the field, and would the first to tell you that he hasn’t gone 28-2 in the past two seasons, the team has.
The offense the Bison incorporate doesn’t mean if Jensen is lost the season is over and the defense is so good they could win a game without an offensive touchdown. However, Jensen has been running this offense for three seasons. No one knows it better than he does.
Will I ever claim Jensen to be a great quarterback? Maybe. For right now, he has a lot more to do individual for me to put him in the “great” category. Regardless, he has been the right quarterback for this team the past three seasons. You can’t imagine Nick Mertens or Jose Mohler doing what he has done.
3. Marcus Williams – 5’11” 192 lbs. Senior Cornerback
Why is Marcus Williams third on this list and not first? Good question. He is on the Buck Buchanan watch list for top defensive player in the FCS and that is where it starts. The list of awards and accolades is so long, I am just going to send you to his bio page on gobison.com.
There is also how big of an impact he has in the return game. Case and point is last November when the Bison were trailing Illinois State 10-0 towards the end of the first quarter. The Redbirds were dominating the game to that point, but a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Williams changed the momentum and NDSU would go on to win 38-20.
There is the interception returned for the touchdown against Youngstown State last season and the touchdown against the University of Minnesota at the end of the first half that pretty much buried the Gophers. His football career will likely continue on into the NFL after this season.
However, in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, his value is not as high as it would be say in the Big Sky. The MVFC is a running conference and Williams just doesn’t factor into that type of play. In the end, the guy cuts off half the field from an offense. He is absolutely one of the top three players on this or any other team in the FCS.
2. Billy Turner – 6’6” 314 lbs. Senior Offensive Tackle
The most important thing to the NDSU offensive since they had a team to field has been the offensive line. That has become evident in the last three seasons. It is apparent to everybody that the Bison’s offensive line starts to dominate opposing defenses.
You think of every playoff game in 2011 and 2012 when defensive lines were getting blown back by the Bison offensive line. Sometimes, it is hard to pick out just one guy from a dominating offensive line. Not entirely the case with the Bison.
Turner is a bona fide pro prospect but plays like he still has so much to prove. He has started in 41 of his 42 career games. He is the blind spot protector and the linchpin to a strong offensive line. To lose Turner would mean losing a player that probably knows the offensive as well as your quarterback.
Granted, there are not really tangible stats for offensive lineman. We can talk about how well the rushing game is going and the time of possession for a team. You really cannot see or understand how important an offensive lineman is to a group or team until he is not there. In Turner’s case, NDSU hopes they don’t have to find out that answer.
1. Grant Olson – 6’ 228 lbs. Senior Linebacker
The Bison have had the best defense in the country for the last two seasons. In the last 30 games played, the defense has allowed 12 points per game. That string of consistency is unreal. The defense is the reason that NDSU has added two more national titles.
The heart of the defense is Grant Olson. He proved how great his worth was last season when he became the first Bison to have 100 plus tackles in a season since 1998. His 29 tackles against Wofford in the FCS National Quarterfinals is a school record.
NDSU has been known for having great linebackers in their school history and Olson stands to fit right with that group if he can duplicate his 2012 season. He is the quarterback of the defense and needs to know what every player is doing on what play is being called.
The reason Olson is so important is not only due to how good he is but the lack of depth behind him. The next in line to take over at middle backer is… yet to be determined. He is also one of two seniors at the position and will be asked to groom the nine freshman linebackers currently on the roster. His importance to this team will not only be felt this year but for years to come.
You can follow Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson on Twitter at @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook. You can hear him on his weekly podcast show on kfgo.com, 740thefan.com or on iTunes called “The Pinto and White Shadow Show.” Pinto is a radio producer within the Midwest Communications-Fargo company.