« Pinto's Points

Fair Question

by Dan Gunderson

Craig Haley of The Sports Network wrote a piece on why he believes we can't automatically put the North Dakota State University football team atop the 2014 pre-season rankings in FCS Football.

Reasons are numerous. NDSU loses too many talented players to be regarded as the nation's best. NDSU will have to adjust to a new head coach, no matter how familiar he is with the players and the program. Eastern Washington University, the team pegged by many to be this year's top team in the FCS with their top tier talent on offense.

I tend to agree with people like Haley because they are taking the logical approach to the rankings. However, this season, I am having a really tough time buying into NDSU not being the top team in the nation.

This has nothing to do with me being some kind of NDSU flag waving media member. It comes from seeing the defense that NDSU has and how dominate they have been in the last three years.

Make no mistake, the reason NDSU was so dominate in 2013 was because the offense was just as efficient at scoring points as the defense was at keeping points off the board. The offense will not be as potent in 2014 for NDSU without Brock Jensen and his safety valve, heck, everybody's safety valve, Ryan Smith.

As a disclaimer, I will say that the running game should be as potent as it has been for several years for the Bison. I have to believe the Bison could clear the 2,000 yards rushing hurdle again this season. However, Jensen's play last season put the Bison offense on a different level and Smith was a large benefactor of that play.

I think I didn't appreciate how big Smith was to Jensen's success in his years at NDSU. Sure, first Warren Holloway and then Zach Vraa provided the deep ball threats that opened up the offense, but Smith seemed to always be there for a five yard catch on a third and four.

We don't know if new starting quarterback, junior Carson Wentz, will have that kind of connection with any one of the receivers. We do know, however, what kind of performance we are going to get from the the 2014 linebackers and secondary.

NDSU was able to survive the loss of Grant Olson last year and will have the same three linebackers, Travis Beck, Carlton Littlejohn and Esley Thorton, back this season. You also have last year's best cornerback in CJ Smith. Yes, Smith played better defensively than Marcus Williams last season.

You have two of the best safeties in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in Christian Dudzik and Colten Heagle and one of the best pass rushers in the nation in Kyle Emanuel. The biggest question, and it is a rather large one, is what kind of production are you going to get from your interior lineman.

Even so, this defense looks to be as stout as it has been in years past. That is why I see no need to not put NDSU as the number one team in the FCS pre-season rankings for 2014. Until some other team in the FCS proves otherwise, I don't think you could put NDSU anywhere else.

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.