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Best Ever?

by Dan Gunderson

There has been much to do about how dominate the North Dakota State University football team has been this season. From their three regular season shut outs to outscoring their opponent in the playoffs by an average of 34 points, it is easy to see why many people are considering this the best team in Bison history.

But why stop there? Assuming they win against Towson University Saturday, and I will have more on my prediction later in the week, can’t we start considering them one of the greatest teams in FCS history?

The team’s that went undefeated in the 60s and 80s for NDSU were great in their own right but we can make the separation in the fact they were not playing FCS and FBS type teams. The reason I put NDSU’s ’13 team above ’11 or ’12 is because of the undefeated regular season and the win over Kansas State University.

I don’t think people have much of an issue putting NDSU’s ’13 team on that pedestal but it gets a little hairy when we try to compare NDSU against the greatest teams in FCS history. You have to think of competition both teams were facing, the amount they won those games by and how easily they won in the playoffs.

The history of the FCS starts in 1978 and has only seen two teams go a whole season without a blemish on their records. The 1989 Georgia Southern Eagles and the 1996 Marshall Thundering Herd both had 15-0 seasons.

For the ’89 Eagles, they won their games by an average of 25 points, their playoff games by an average of 23 points and had seven All-Americans on their ’89 roster. Pretty impressive numbers but there were some things that count against them.

First off, they didn’t play a team at the FBS level. They also were not in a conference, meaning they could dictate who they played and where. This is obvious when you see they only played four road games all season. Also, they played the national title game at their home field.

This was the practice of the FCS for many years and I suppose it isn’t really GSU’s fault but it has to be taken into account. There is an advantage for those teams playing a home game for the national title. It should be on a neutral field.

The ’96 Thundering Herd are widely considered to be the best team in FCS history. They won their games by an average of 30 points, their playoff games by an average of 34 points and were up 46-6 at beginning of the fourth quarter in the title game against an undefeated Montana team.

Marshall had this guy by the name of Randy Moss? Maybe you have heard of him. He had had nine catches for 220 yards and four scores in the title game in 1996. However, just like Georgia Southern, there are some dents in Marshall’s armor.

First, they had declared earlier that spring they were headed to the FBS in 1997. Now days that would have meant they could not participate in the FCS playoffs but that rule did not exist in 1996. The other thing is that they played the national title game at home. They also did not play a FBS school on their schedule.

While comparing NDSU to GSU and Marshall, I have to give strength of schedule advantage to NDSU since they played KSU. As far as overall talent on the team is concerned, that one could be up for debate. GSU had seven All-Americans, Marshall had Randy Moss and NDSU had five All-Americans this season alone.

NDSU is winning games by an average of 28 points and has given up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter all season. I think the national exposure NDSU has given to the FCS has to be taken into consideration as well.

GSU’s ’89 team didn’t do it and while the 1996 Marshall team was known, they didn’t have a national televised game until the title game against Montana. NDSU has stayed on the mind of the national media ever since their K-State victory and it shows when Magic Johnson starts talking about tradition of the program when picking NDSU to beat Towson on ESPN’s College GameDay.

If you were to ask me where I thought NDSU would rank, I would put them above Marshall. The team is talented at all 24 (punter and kicker included) positions and the best the FCS has to offer hasn’t even come close. Outside of Northern Iowa and an eight win KSU team, not one team has been within a touchdown of NDSU this year.

This doesn’t hold true if they don’t beat Towson but it is fun to play the “what if” game, if only for a little bit. Regardless, this collection of talent will go down in the history of the FCS and will be remembered long after they have left the playing field.

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.