A week that we have seemingly been crawling towards has finally arrived. The week leading up to North Dakota State University's 2014 season opener with the Iowa State Cyclones is here.
Kick-off is scheduled for 11 a.m., so be ready to wake up early on Saturday, August 30. Or don't go to bed at all. Travel through the southern Minnesota night and arrive in Ames, Iowa all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
What do we know about ISU? We know they are not expected to be that good. They are picked to finish ninth in the Big 12, a conference with only 10 teams.
They return 11 offensive starters from last season. They also have a ton of question marks on defense, which gave up 36 points per game last season. Good enough for 108th out of 123 FBS schools.
I will get more in-depth with Iowa State's football team later in the week, so let's start here:
Three match-ups that will be major factors in determining who wins the NDSU vs. ISU game on Saturday morning.
E.J. Bibbs vs. NDSU Coverage
Bibbs is the Cyclones massive (6'3" 264 lbs.) tight end that will create match-up issues for who ever covers him. I put coverage because it won't be just the linebackers who have to deal with him.
When NDSU head coach Chris Klieman was asked about Bibbs, he kind of laughed, shook his head and said, "We don't have anybody to match up with him."
He is big enough to bully not only safeties but linebackers that may have to cover him. He is strong enough to be able to block a rushing defensive end. Do you want to try and chip this guy off the line as he goes out for his route?
Oh, and by the way, he will start out away from the line of scrimmage from time to time. He could be a decoy and a key blocker for your offense before you get to the red zone. Then, when you enter the 20, you don't go away from someone that big. This guy should scare NDSU fans.
Sam B. Richardson vs. NDSU Defense
Richardson was named the starting quarterback after beating out Grant Rohach in Fall Camp and is hoping he will reward head coach Paul Rhoads' confidence with a solid performance. It won't be easy.
This defense is loaded for NDSU, with arguably the two best players for the Bison being safeties Christian Dudzik and Colten Heagle. These two guys are going to be huge for NDSU on Saturday.
Richardson is know as a dual threat QB as he ran for 356 yards last year, along with throwing for 1,397. Heagle will no doubt have a hand in making sure Richardson does not carve the Bison "D" for long runs.
Dudzik will be needed in coverage. Dudzik, who led the team in interceptions last season with six, should do a good job of disguising coverages and making Richardson throw into some less than desirable situations. Iowa State fans should be scared of these two safeties.
Carson Wentz vs. The Crowd
Wentz, a redshirt junior quarterback, will be starting his first career game in a hostile environment. Jack Trice Stadium holds 55,000 and will be rocking for the Cyclones. How NDSU does will rely heavily on how Wentz reacts.
If he is nervous and struggles out the gate, he may not recover. If he comes out of the gate steady and strong, NDSU will be tough to beat. The coaches will do a good job of easing him into the game, most likely calling runs and easy passing plays early on.
If the Bison are put into some third and long situations early in the game, don't expect play calls with complex routes. I'd expected some mass protect plays with only a couple of routes being run. It isn't as if Wentz can't handle the offense. It is more that you don't want to overload Wentz so early on in the game.
Keep it simple, avoid an early turnover and build confidence with each play and each drive. You do that, Wentz will take the crowd out of the game, which will give NDSU a huge advantage.
You can follow Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson on Twitter at @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook. You can hear him on his weekly sports talk show on 740 The Fan and 740thefan.com called Fan Sports Saturday from 8-10 a.m. Pinto is a radio producer and talk show host within the Midwest Communications-Fargo company.