FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Three-time defending national champion North Dakota State has a new coach and a new quarterback, but Missouri Valley Football Conference followers said Tuesday they don't expect a change in fortunes for the Bison.
A poll of league coaches, media and sports information directors picks the Bison to finish first despite losing their head coach to Wyoming and the all-time winningest quarterback in the Football Championship Subdivision to graduation.
"It doesn't matter who the head football coach is here at North Dakota State. There's always going to be high expectations," said Chris Klieman, last year's defensive coordinator who took over the program from Craig Bohl. "That's a good thing."
The Bison, who have won 24 in a row and 43 of their last 45 games, received 24 out of a possible 39 first-place votes and 370 points. South Dakota State, the only other league team to make the playoffs last season, was the second choice with eight first-place votes and 330 points.
SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said the lofty prediction is a reflection of the program's recent success.
"I think we're a mature enough team to understand that it doesn't matter at the start, it matters at the end," Stiegelmeier said. "That's what we've always preached."
Northern Iowa, with seven first-place votes and 324 points, is picked to finish third, followed by Youngstown State (240 points), Southern Illinois (237), Illinois State (197), Missouri State (180), South Dakota (121), Western Illinois (96) and Indiana State (50).
The Bison had eight players named to the preseason all-conference team that was released Tuesday. Those players will be called upon to help the team overcome a lack of experience in the offensive line, defensive line and quarterback. Junior Carson Wentz will take over at quarterback for Brock Jensen, who won 48 games in his career.
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