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Mid-Season Awards

by Dan Gunderson

The North Dakota State University football team has hit the halfway point on their 2013 regular season. Some people thought the 6-0 record to this point was attainable but most people thought that there was going to be an opening season loss to Kansas State University.

What no one expected was ESPN’s College GameDay coming to Fargo in mid-September. While that was the most surprising thing to happen off the field, it does not make an appearance in my Mid-Season Awards for the Bison football team.

Offensive MVP: Brock Jensen

The senior’s completion percentage is at 66 percent. He has thrown for 12 touchdowns and over 1,000 yards. He engineered the biggest drive in school history against Kansas State University and followed that up with big plays in the fourth quarter against the University of Northern Iowa.

The emergence of wide receiver Zach Vraa has made us remember that Jensen, in fact, can throw the deep ball. While there have been some bad interceptions, KSU and the one against Missouri State University come to mind, he has avoided the type of game costing errors he ran into last year.

Defensive MVP: Grant Olson

There could be about seven other players picked as the defensive MVP here but Olson is the best fit. Olson leads the team in tackles, tackles for a loss and is tied for the team lead in sacks. This all is happening while having to be the quarterback of the defense.

He is backing up his head coach’s statement about his football smarts by rarely being out of position and leading the one of the best defenses in the nation. You also have to give him credit for making sure to get this defense to play their best when it counts. NDSU has only given up 6 points in the fourth quarter all season.

Most Underrated: Special Teams

The coverage, which at times during head coach Craig Bohl’s tenure has been suspect, is having one of their best seasons in years. The kicking game, led by Adam Keller, has been solid in the limited opportunities he has had.

The best part about the special teams is sophomore punter Ben LeCompte. LeCompte has put 13 of his 24 punts inside the 20, is averaging 43.9 yards per kick and has a long punt of 75 yards. The defense success is due in large part to the fact that the opponent is normally facing a large amount of field between them and the end zone.

Most Overrated:

Outside of Ryan Smith and Zach Vraa, there hasn’t been the depth at wide out we expected this year for NDSU. The Bison ranked 73rd nationally in passing offense and outside of Smith and Vraa, not one other receiver has double digits in catches this season.

You also don’t have anybody else, besides, of course, Smith and Vraa, over 100 yards receiving this season. Finding that third wide receiver has been difficult for this team. Trevor Gebhart has not produced this season and younger receivers Eric Perkins and Carey Woods have yet to capitalize on seeing more playing time.

Biggest Surprise: Zach Vraa

The one thing NDSU missed last season was a deep play threat at the wide receiver position. Vraa, finally healthy, has stepped up in that regard, leading the team in receiving yards and touchdowns this season.

He is also averaging 17.9 yards per catch and with three of NDSU’s final games coming against the three worst pass defenses in the conference, it is safe to say his 179 yard performance last week may repeat itself.

Biggest Disappointment: Marcus Williams

The All-American has probably been thrown at this year more so in the past. Maybe it has been a conscious effort going into the game by the opponent to go after Williams or maybe it is something he has been doing during the game that opponent can exploit. It seems that Williams has been losing more one-on-one battles.

We are also seeing how bad Williams is at tackling. Not that a cornerback is going to be your best tackler but you would at least hope he could stop and/or slow somebody down in the open field. He hasn’t been as unreal as he has been in the past that much is obvious. Of course, he still leads the team in pass break ups and interceptions.

Dumbest Pre-Season Statement: Brock Jensen is overrated.

The guy who made this statement has to be the most ignorant and blind sports commentator… that… Oh…. Wait… I made that statement…

Second Half Prediction: Bison finish the regular season at 11-0

NDSU has five games left on the docket with three of them on the road. A couple of the teams left, Southern Illinois and Youngstown State, have vastly overachieved so far this year. Of those two teams, SIU scares NDSU and YSU is a yet to be determined type of squad.

At this point in the season last year, NDSU had better overall stats on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. However, they were 5-1 at the halfway point with a home game against South Dakota State University and road game against Illinois State University still to come.

NDSU is 6-0 with a much tougher first half of the schedule this season compared to last and it gets easier this year with ISU, Indiana State and South Dakota yet to go. With plenty of room for improvement, this team has yet to hit the stretch of dominance they reached during the 2011 & 2012 playoff runs. The best has yet to come for the Herd.

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.