After the dust settled on Indiana State's late decision to opt-out of the Spring season, the conference adjusted schedule and released it earlier today. While several other schools will play a MAC-esque slate of games, the Bison are set for a fairly traditional Saturday run.
The one exception, as of now, being the opener.
Sunday, Feb. 21
Youngstown State at North Dakota State
Bo Pelini won't be roving the opposite sideline for fans to mock but the season opener will still be a head-first dive into the action. With even more questions than normal to answer and less time to do it, Zeb Nolan and the rest of the next wave will be scrutinized more than usual.
Saturday, Feb. 27
North Dakota State at Southern Illinois
The first of the four away games, SIU won't present the harshest of Winter weather but even that far South the environment may lend itself well to the running backs being the focal point of the offense. With what Hunter Luepke showed in October, he may be the quintessential gadget player for Tyler Roehl and the offense. This may not end up being his best game in terms of stats but if they do run as much as I suspect then his fullback designation will have an impact on every drive.
Saturday, March 6
North Dakota State at Missouri State
The same may be true the first Saturday in March. It still wouldn't be the same as if they played at Dacotah Field but inclement weather may play a factor in what they're able to do well. The Bears have the advantage of a three-game Fall portion, including a game against Oklahoma back in September. By the third week of the season teams may be on an even plane of readiness but the two months that they were able to put in last year could help them jumpstart this portion of the schedule. I expect that NDSU's talent and years of experience will still win out, but it may lead to a closer game than casual observers would expect.
Saturday, March 13
Illinois State at North Dakota State
The first of three games set to be played in the Dome in four weeks, this is when the season will really begin. They may all count the same toward seeding for whatever playoffs may happen, but the previous three are kind of like the preseason. With that in mind, I won't be surprised if this one has one more sharpness and more explosiveness by NDSU in all three phases of the game.
Saturday, March 20
North Dakota at North Dakota State
Exhibit A. Whether it's currently deserved or not, the in-state rival will always get people fired up in a different way than the other other opponents in the conferences. Now that they've got their wish and will playing closer to home, the school up North will have to face the repercussions of the step-up in class to the Vally. NDSU will have no trouble providing that lesson!
Saturday, March 27
North Dakota State at South Dakota
Exhibit B. The South Dakota game may end up kind of getting lost in-between ND & SDS but even as a classic trap game I think that NDSU will be able to do more than enough to win. It would mark the fifth-straight victory over the Yotes and by this time we'll be well acquainted with the names of the key contributors.
Saturday, April 3
South Dakota State at North Dakota State
Exhibit C. Then comes the back-half of the trap section. With another potential loss on the court to gripe about, this one could have a unique fervor. There's no telling what limitations will be in effect by this point, but in a gambit to recover from what could happen in Sioux Falls, bunny fans may be more present than usual during the lead up to this one. As for what will happen on the field, safe to expect another game that will go down to the final seconds.
Saturday, April 10
North Dakota State at UNI
Exhibit D. Admittedly, UNI is a step down from exhibits A & C as to why these weeks are the most important. But UNI is no gimme and the regular season finale will have plenty of implications in the shorter year. It's the streamer-exclusive game this year which means that it will probably end up being a classic. In the vacuum created by the end of the tournament, it would be good if this one turned out to be a show!