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In the FCS Huddle: North Dakota State is a lot like 'Bama

8:52 AM, Apr 30, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If North Dakota State wins a national championship again this season and Alabama doesn't, maybe the Bison should earn a visit to the White House, as the Crimson Tide did once again earlier this month.

The Bison, the "other" Division I champions, are trying to do the same as Alabama - deliver on a national title three-peat. If they pull it off, they would be the second program to do so on the FCS level, following Appalachian State's title run from 2005-07.

As they embark on similar pursuits this coming season, North Dakota State and Alabama are alike in many ways.

It starts at the top with the head coaches, Alabama's Nick Saban and NDSU's Craig Bohl. Saban has won four BCS national titles, including three with the Tide over the last fours years. He's the best in the FBS.

Bohl has made a case for being the best coach in the FCS, and a national panel agreed last year when he was named the 2012 Eddie Robinson Award recipient. He's taken the Bison from the Division II level to the top of the FCS twice in a nine-season span, including four seasons of double-figure win totals.

The last time we saw Alabama, the Tide was rolling in over the Notre Dame front seven (you might remember Manti Te'o on the ground). With the behemoths up front, there's no reason for 'Bama not to rely on a power running game. Despite a recent injury to 2013 commit Derrick Henry, running back T.J. Yeldon is coming off a huge freshman season.

NDSU definitely does the same with its ground game. The Bison have posted 10 straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher, and they have had a pair in each of the last two years. Last season's two-headed monster of Sam Ojuri and John Crockett will be back this season along with All-America left tackle Billy Turner to bulldoze some holes.

Each team returns a fifth-year senior quarterback who has been the starter on back-to-back national championship squads, although Brent Musburger seems to have a preference for the girlfriend of a certain signal-caller. But A.J. McCarron of Alabama and Brock Jensen of NDSU, similar in size and composure, both tend to play well in the bigger games. They've been in plenty of them.

Alabama and NDSU actually matched each other last season by leading the FBS and FCS, respectively, in total defense and scoring defense. Eerie.

The Bison, who go with a 4-3 base alignment, might have the better unit this season with the return of cornerback Marcus Williams and a dynamite unit of linebackers (Grant Olson, Travis Beck and Carlton Littlejohn). Linebacker happens to be the strength of the Crimson Tide's 3-4 defense as well.

With the 'Bama name, Saban attracts premier recruiting classes every year. The Bison are catching up in that regard as the two straight titles are starting to pay dividends in the level of recruits.

You know they love their football at Bryant-Denny Stadium when over 100,000 pack the stands for an Alabama home game. Don't take anything away from the 19,000-seat Fargodome, which has become the place to be in the FCS with Bison faithful packing it and raising the decibel level quite a bit.

Even if you're looking for the negative, both powers have lost one game in each of their two straight title seasons, and they've all been at home. Which only means they haven't lost on the road in that time.

North Dakota State and Alabama - NDSU even more so - are prohibitive favorites to three-peat this season. Maybe Nick Saban could ask President Obama for a few more hall passes for the Bison.

The Sports Network

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