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Pinto's Pre-Season Preview: High Importance

by Dan Gunderson

In the third installment of Pinto's Pre-Season Preview, we will look at the four most important games on the North Dakota State University football schedule for 2014.

Make sure and check out the last two installments of Pinto's Pre-Season Preview as we move our way towards the opening of the 2014 season on August 30 against Iowa State University.

July 25: They Hold The Keys

August 1: Headaches

When I look at football schedules, I always look for four games that I believe will make or break a team's season. Sometimes, it is a stretch of four straight games that look incredibly tough. Other times, it will be four games at different points on the schedule.

For the 2014 NDSU football team, their four games are spread out throughout the year. They are as follows: August 30 at Iowa State University, September 20 versus the University of Montana, November 1 versus South Dakota State University and November 8 at the University of Northern Iowa.

Each one carries more importance than the other, but they are all vital to the team's success or demise in 2014. I will list them in reverse order and explain why the game is so important to NDSU.

4. Iowa State University - Ames, Iowa - Saturday, August 30 - 11:00 a.m.

The NDSU Bison have won their last four straight games against FBS schools. Their last lost to a FBS school was back in 2009 when they lost to... Iowa State University.

Now, that '09 version was bad. (Jose Mohler anybody?) This '14 version is much better and the '14 version of the Cyclones might be worse. I think the Bison have a better shot at winning against ISU this year than they did in '09.

This game matters more to fans than it would to the players. If NDSU loses, big deal. In the long run, it will not hurt them as they go for a 4th straight title. It is a matter of bragging rights for a FCS team to beat an FBS team.

Still, we can look back to the 2010 Bison team and their win over Kansas. That game was the reason the Bison were able to sneak into the playoffs, despite a late season loss to Missouri State University. The Bison don't necessarily need to win the game, but it would be nice.

3. University of Montana - Fargo, ND - Saturday, September 20 - 2:30 p.m.

The Bison never got a shot to play Montana State University last season because the Bobcats backed out of their deal at the last second. NDSU gets the second best thing in a match-up with #5 Montana.

The Grizzlies, who are picked to finish second in the Big Sky this year, have good team coming back from last season and one that is hungry to not disappoint. You also are beginning to have a rivalry brew between the Big Sky and the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Both conferences believe they are better than the other, but the MVFC has three straight titles to back this claim up. The Big Sky has teams losing early in the playoffs the last three years. Montana would love nothing more than to come to Fargo and prove who is the better team in the better conference.

Playing a highly ranked team in the non-conference schedule is new for NDSU. They've clearly challenged themselves. Non-conference games do not matter as much as conference games but this one is big for NDSU. They will get a clear indication if this group is ready to play at an elite level in the FCS.

2. South Dakota StateUniversity- Fargo, ND - Saturday, November 1 - 2:30 p.m.

I don't care what you say. This is not a rivalry. Yes, they are the closest team in proximity to NDSU, but there is no hate there. This will never be a rivalry. What is it than? A competitive game that must be circled on the schedule every year as the second toughest conference game.

That is no different this season, as the Jackrabbits are picked to finish second behind NDSU. Zach Zenner is an all-world running back who the Bison have kept in check the last couple seasons. They need to do so again if they want to win this game.

This is big for a couple reasons. 1) November is the biggest month of the season for college football teams as they look to solidify their playoff resumes. First home game of November and their last one until the 22nd.

2) This is the beginning of their toughest stretch of conference games for the season. After SDSU, it is UNI, then Missouri State on the road. They end the season at home against Youngstown State University. You need to start this four-game stretch off with a win.

1. University of Northern Iowa - Cedar Falls, Iowa - Saturday, November 8 - 4:00 p.m.

This is a rivalry. Their is hatred there. I keep thinking back to 2009 and NDSU's game against the Panthers in the Fargodome that year. There was a scuffle between linebacker L.J. Fort and Pat Paschall that resulted in Paschall being suspended for a game and Fort receiving no discipline.

That game, to me, was the start of the Division I rival between UNI and NDSU. It has only grown in the last few years. UNI was the MVFC king... until NDSU starting winning titles. Now, the Panthers are feeling a little forgotten these days.

UNI is on a three-game losing streak to NDSU and last year's 24-23 loss was especially gut-wrenching. Frustration is mounting and they may view this year as time to unload some overdue punishment on NDSU.

With this being NDSU and UNI's third to last game of the year, the winner could become the front runner for the MVFC crown. The loser may have to hope things beyond their control fall into place so they can sneak into the playoffs. It is the year's most important game, for both teams, as they will be looking to grab a late season win.

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.