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NDSU-SDSU an improved competition, but not a rivalry

by Mike McFeely

Do North Dakota State and South Dakota State have a rivalry in football?

It seems the question has come up every year since then-NDSU president Joe Chapman, football coach Craig Bohl, athletic director Gene Taylor and others headed south in April 2004 to hold a ceremony with colleagues from SDSU and students groups from each school to announce: There is a football rivalry between NDSU and SDSU and we've invented a trophy called the Dakota Marker.

Count me as one of the (many) skeptics at the time. You can't invent passion, I said. You can't invent dislike, I said. You can't invent history, I said.

I was, and remain, right.

I had covered NDSU football for about seven years prior to the announcement and I knew what I saw. The "rivalry" between NDSU and SDSU didn't exist. The Bison generally clobbered the Jackrabbits. There was no sense of animosity between the schools and fans. It was just another game.

I wasn't the only one.

Bohl was skeptical, too.

"We had a big ceremony, and I hopped back in my truck with a couple other players and thought, ‘Really? Is that going to work? I guess we're trying to maybe make something of nothing,’" Bohl said early this week. "But I can tell you to our players and our coaches it's a big, big deal.”

The second part of the coach's statement is interesting and informative.

Because while the fans and media still haven't embraced the Dakota Marker game as anything near the NDSU-UND or SDSU-USD rivalry, the players and programs have bought into it. And that counts for something. If it matters to the players, there is something there.

But the fact is that Saturday's game between the Bison and Jacks in Brookings, S.D., remains a good football game between two strong programs that appear to respect each other. It is not the "364 days of hell" that former Bison coach Rocky Hager referred to when it came to losing the Nickel Trophy to UND.

From a fan's standpoint, it hasn't reached the level of zany, over-the-top shenanigans and buzz that NDSU's and SDSU's real rivalry games reached. On my KFGO radio show this week, I asked listeners to call or text and give me examples of why they "hate" the Jackrabbits or "hate" Brookings. The response was essentially a loud chorus of crickets chirping. There's really no passion there. And I would argue there is greater passion among NDSU fans for next week's game against Northern Iowa.

so we have reached this point when it comes to NDSU-SDSU: The game is much more competitive and interesting than it was in the pre-Division I days and there is a spark of rivalry there, but it is not yet a buzz-worthy rivalry game. And that is fine. The football should take center-stage.

And it will.

We'll see the passion on the field.

As Bohl said: "The competition has been very keen. The battles have been close and for the team that wins it, it’s exciting to go out and grab it. I tell you what, when you lose it, it sucks.”

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at mike.mcfeely@mwcradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)