Defending FCS national champion North Dakota State will be favored to win each of its 11 regular-season games in 2018 barring something wildly unforeseen (maybe Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles will be subbed in for North Alabama?).
The schedule provides the distinct possibility that Chris Kileman's Bison will take an unbeaten record into the playoffs, where they will seek a record seventh FCS title in eight years. The Missouri Valley Football Conference power only leaves the deafening Fargodome four times, only play outdoors twice and doesn’t have an FBS opponent on the schedule for the second consecutive season (although NDSU has won six in a row against the upper tier of Division I).
While there's the misfortune of having an early bye week, it’s easy to see why North Dakota State (14-1 last season) could stay ranked No. 1 throughout the regular season.
North Dakota State Bison 2018 Schedule
Bye: Week 2
Week 1 - Sept. 1 vs. Cal Poly (Fargo, N.D.)
This is a tougher opener for NDSU than Cal Poly’s 1-10 record last year suggests because injuries led to it following the Mustangs’ playoff season in 2016. Plus, it’s never easy to face a triple-option offense. But NDSU has all offseason to prepare for it, so the Bison’s dominating run game likely will end up with more yards.
Week 3 – Sept. 15 vs. North Alabama (Fargo, N.D.)
A game inside the Fargodome will be a great experience for new FCS program North Alabama, but it basically is a scrimmage for the Bison, who have won 63 of their last 65 non-conference home games. Think 50-, 60-point NDSU win.
Week 4 - Sept. 22 vs. Delaware (Fargo, N.D.)
Now we’re talking - on Homecoming Day, no less. The Bison’s one tough non-conference game is a first-ever meeting with a tradition-rich Delaware program that is back on track under second-year head coach Danny Rocco. The CAA Football invaders have a strong run game and defense. The Blue Hens were 7-4 last season, but only 2-3 on the road.
Week 5 - Sept. 29 vs. South Dakota State (Fargo, N.D.)
While the Bison have won six national titles in the last seven seasons, the only program to beat them more than once is SDSU, which has done so in the last two regular seasons. The Bison want this MVFC win, and the Dakota Marker trophy that goes along with it, more than any in the regular season.
Week 6 - Oct. 6 at Northern Iowa (Cedar Falls, Iowa)
Few FCS games are more physical at the line of scrimmage than this rivalry. The trip to the UNI-Dome should be the Bison’s toughest road game. They sacked UNI quarterback Eli Dunne six times in last year’s 30-14 win.
Week 7 - Oct. 13 at Western Illinois (Macomb, Ill.)
Western Illinois struggles to draw at Hanson Field (only 21 percent of capacity last season), so a visit by the Bison is welcomed. But a tough early-season schedule could wear on the Fighting Leathernecks beforehand.
Week 8 - Oct. 20 vs. Illinois State (Fargo, N.D.)
Last year’s matchup was played in the snow in Normal, Ill., so this one shouldn’t be as fun. Still, it’s an important one in the MVFC title race. Their 2014 meeting in the FCS championship game is the only time two teams from the same conference have squared off there. This year’s fifth-year seniors will remember it.
Week 9 - Oct. 27 at South Dakota (Vermillion, S.D.)
NDSU is back indoors at the DakotaDome. While South Dakota is replacing quarterback Chris Streveler, the 2017 MVFC offensive player of the year, the Coyotes return 16 starters. NDSU’s No. 3 (Ty Brooks) and 4 (Seth Wilson) running backs combined for 242 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in a 49-14 rout last season.
Week 10 - Nov. 3 vs. Youngstown State (Fargo, N.D.)
Bison fans will be rooting for Youngstown State head coach Bo Pelini to lose his temper on the sideline, a la the 2015 game. But there’s hope for a great game, too, as NDSU needed a Cam Pederson field goal in overtime to escape Youngstown last season.
Week 11 - Nov. 10 at Missouri State (Springfield, Mo.)
With seven consecutive wins in the series, the Bison should not be overly taxed in their easiest road game of the season. Quarterback Easton Stick has seven touchdown passes in his three wins over Missouri State.
Week 12 - Nov. 17 vs. Southern Illinois (Fargo, N.D.)
A likely improved SIU squad could be standing between the Bison and guaranteed home-field advantage through the playoff semifinals, so more than MVFC supremacy (seven straight conference titles entering 2018) could be at stake. This is the first meeting since a 35-29 NDSU win on Halloween in 2015.
-- Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photos courtesy North Dakota State Athletics)