A year ago this weekend, the Arizona Wildcats lost at home to a non-FBS school for the first time 1961, falling to in-state foe NAU.
This year’s FCS matchup will be even tougher, as the North Dakota State Bison are defending national champions and have won nine FCS titles in the past 11 seasons.
There is no line yet for this game, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, but when one is released closer to gameday it’s expected to be very small. NDSU (2-0) may even be favored, which would be unprecedented for an FCS team against an FBS opponent.
Who will win? Here’s what our staff thinks:
Kim Doss — Arizona wins 27-24
When we predicted the wins for the season last month, NDSU was the first Arizona win I had on my list. I still feel fairly comfortable with that projection after the Wildcats split the first two games.
A lot is said about the Bison’s record against FBS schools. It’s impressive but it’s also based on games played at least six years ago.
NDSU’s last win in a string of six straight victories over FBS teams came in 2016 against Iowa. The Hawkeyes came into that game ranked No. 13 in the AP poll. They ended up 8-5. In other words, a solid team but probably overrated at the time the game was played.
The major question is whether Arizona in 2022 as good as that Iowa team. It’s tough to say one way or the other simply because the Wildcats are such a different team this season than they have been in years. Who knows how good or bad they are? While it’s unlikely that they are as good as the 2016 Hawkeyes, do they need to be?
Whether they need to be hinges on the second big question. Is NDSU in 2022 as good as it was six years ago?
The Bison have good size. They have some threats at the skill positions. The question is can Arizona be as stout against the run against NDSU as it was against San Diego State during the opening game? The Wildcats have already proved they’re able. There’s no reason to think they can’t repeat the task.
With the Bison’s dependence on the run, if Arizona can control the running game, it should be able to control the scoreboard just enough to double its win total from last season.
Ezra Amacher — Arizona wins 28-24
Welcoming in the winningest Division I football program of the past decade is a big deal. Even casual college football followers know that North Dakota State is a FCS juggernaut that would probably beat most low-tier FBS programs on a given Saturday. Arizona has to make its claim that it is not one of those low-tier schools. This feels like a game Arizona pretty much needs to win to instill confidence ahead of Pac-12 play and to assure fans that the Jedd Fisch train is on the right track.
The key will be for Jayden de Laura and the offense to establish a rhythm early like the way they did against San Diego State in the season opener. de Laura has to trust the playmakers around him, including running back D.J. Williams, who saw his carries precipitously drop in half between weeks 1 and 2. On the other side of the ball, I think Arizona’s defense will be up for the challenge. North Dakota State boasts a one-dimensional offense that likes to wear its opponents down with a powerful running attack. Arizona has the bodies to match NDSU in the trenches.
I’m rolling with the Wildcats in a close one.
Adam Green — Arizona wins 31 -17
Does anyone else feel like North Dakota State is being built up to be some unstoppable force? I get that it’s a good program and this won’t be easy, but it’s hard to believe Arizona can’t beat them.
It is easy to believe Arizona will beat them.
The common thread of the FBS teams the Bison have beaten in (not so) recent years is mediocre offense. Assuming Arizona is more the team it was in San Diego than it was last week in Tucson, the team’s skill position talent should be able to find room and holes against a solid defense. Conversely, North Dakota State’s offense isn’t particularly scary, so long as Arizona’s defense minds its gaps and plays smart.
Similar to how it was against San Diego State, this feels like a game where if Arizona can get an early lead they will be facing a team not built to catch up.
Brandon Combs — Arizona wins 24-21
I’m going to keep this short and simple...Arizona is going to win this game, but it is going to be tough. NDSU is no pushover...like at all. They have been wildly successful against FBS competition and has won 11 FCS National Championships. They are physical and confident. However, UA will not want to lose to another FCS team like they did against NAU last year.
Arizona will come out ready to go and back on track after getting knocked off-kilter against Mississippi State last week. I expect Jayden de Laura to re-establish himself and get back to normal.
The defense should be up to the task and play a physical game to stop the Bison. I also expect another multi-turnover game, which will help keep NDSU behind.
Brian J. Pedersen — Arizona wins 23-20
Arizona’s defense has held its own so far this season, including in the loss to Mississippi State, which is the only reason I’m sticking with my preseason prediction of the Wildcat victory. I’m going under the assumption that the offensive issues from last game will have been addressed properly in practice, not the least of which being getting Jayden de Laura to take advantage of running opportunities.
North Dakota State has a great scheme, both offensively and defensively, and the perfect players to play it. The Bison haven’t lost to an FBS school since 2009, but they also haven’t played once since 2016, which isn’t insignificant.
As long as the UA doesn’t shoot itself in the foot like it did against MSU, it will finish nonconference play 2-1.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.