By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — In some ways, University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz says it is hard to fathom North Dakota State’s current run.
The Bison have won five consecutive Football Championship Series (FCS) national titles and the program has won its last five games against Football Bowl Series (FBS) opponents.
The 11th-ranked Hawkeyes host North Dakota State in their nonconference finale Saturday inside Kinnick Stadium. The game is set to begin at 11:01 a.m. (CT), and it will be televised on ESPN2. A few hundred tickets are available through the Iowa Athletics Ticket Office.
“If you look at their team, they don’t have a guy in their program that hasn’t been a part of a championship,” Ferentz said Tuesday at a news conference in the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center. “They have a great belief in what they do and for good reason.
“The bottom line is they have good players and are well-coached. The play hard and physical and their style of football reminds me of the last two teams we played at the end of the season last year in Michigan State and Stanford. It’s a different kind of challenge for us.”
Michigan State handed Iowa its first loss in 2015, winning 16-13 in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Cardinal defeated the Hawkeyes in the Rose Bowl Game, 45-16.
Saturday will be a unique challenge for Iowa because Ferentz says it will be a “walk in the park” for the Bison coming to Iowa City.
North Dakota State has an 8-3 record against FBS opponents all-time. This season, FCS teams have seven such victories. Ferentz’s Kodak Bison moment was in 2007 when they defeated Minnesota, 37-24, in the Metrodome.
“I remember how well they played,” said Ferentz. “It wasn’t a fluke by any stretch. The way they played in that game, it’s still the same thing you have seen over the last couple of years.”
Ferentz isn’t worried about the national perception of playing an FCS opponent. He points to the 2009 season when Iowa needed two blocked field goals to escape with a 17-16 victory over Northern Iowa.
“We were fortunate to win that ballgame and we had a pretty good team that year,” said Ferentz of a team that went 11-2 and won the FedEx Orange Bowl. “That’s an illustration, when you play anybody that’s good — UNI was good that year and they have been good traditionally and North Dakota State, ditto — you have to be ready to go.
“If you look closely, they have a lot of good football players, they just don’t have 85. Their top 40 are as good as anybody’s.”
During Iowa’s 2-0 start, the Hawkeyes have been good. Iowa is outscoring its opponents, 87-24, and is averaging 43.5 points and 419.5 yards of total offense. Ferentz doesn’t put too much stock into those statistics until midseason. The only statistics he keeps an eye on are turnovers (Iowa has yet to commit one) and takeaway margins (the Hawkeyes are +4).
“We’ve done a good job taking care of the ball and penalty-wise we’re doing well,” he said. “That’s important because you’re trying to build something there.
“Those are the things we work hard on in practice and spend a lot of time in camp on those areas. You like to see that that work is paying off, but it’s going to keep getting tougher each week. The real test is how can we run this whole race.
“We still have 10 laps to go; we barely have our feet in the water right now. We have a lot of work to do.”
That begins Saturday with a Bison team that has won 73 of 78 games since the start of the 2011 season. It’s a program that has won its last 20 “win or go home” games in the FCS Playoffs.
“This is a big challenge for our football team,” said Ferentz. “We have a lot to get ready for this week.”