There are FCS teams, and then there’s North Dakota State.
The Bison, Arizona’s opponent on Saturday night, are the gold standard of the Football Championship Subdivision, where since moving up from Division II in 2004 they’ve been the dominant program. They’ve won nine of the last 11 FCS titles, including last season, and sit No. 1 in the latest FCS poll after a pair of blowout victories to run their win streak to 10.
This will be NDSU’s first matchup with an FBS opponent since 2016, and there’s a reason for that: most schools realized how bad an idea it was to schedule the Bison.
On Sept. 18, 2016 they won 23-21 at Iowa, which at the time was No. 13 in the country and was coming off a season in which it made the Rose Bowl. Two years earlier, NDSU opened the 2014 campaign with a 34-14 win at Iowa State, the fifth straight season the Bison beat an FBS school. In 2013 it was Kansas State, 2012 it was Colorado State, 2011 it was Minnesota and 2010 it was Kansas.
You have to go back to 2009 for the last time they did not win when playing an FBS opponent, falling 34-17 at Iowa State.
All told, the Bison are 9-3 against FBS schools. In 2007 they won at both Central Michigan and Minnesota.
So, again: why is Arizona playing this lower-division juggernaut? Well, the folks responsible for that decision aren’t around anymore. The game has been on the books since April 2017, when Rich Rodriguez was preparing for what would be his final season with the Wildcats and his ops guy Mike Parrish helped set up this matchup … one NDSU will get paid $425,000 for playing.
Amazingly, Arizona isn’t the only FBS school that has a game lined up with the Bison. Oregon was supposed to host them in 2020 but it was called off due to COVID and rescheduled for 2028, while Colorado brings them to Boulder to open the 2024 season.
NAU is back on the schedule as Arizona’s FCS opponent in 2023, though that didn’t go so well last time. The Lumberjacks are also coming to Tucson in 2024, 2026, 2027 and 2030-33 while the UA also has games scheduled against Weber State (which just won at Nevada) in 2025 and Prairie View A&M in 2028.