Walking away with a victory would be even better for them.
The time leading up to the game, though, may have the feeling of being in purgatory. The four-time defending FCS champion Bison have known since Tuesday, and surely had feared earlier, that star quarterback Carson Wentz is expected to be sidelined six to eight weeks after he broke a bone in his throwing wrist during their loss to South Dakota last weekend.
It's only natural for coaches and players to be shaking their heads over such a devastating loss, asking what could have been for the team without such an injury. Doubt for the immediate future creeps in.
The truth is, the injury can't be reversed, so the quicker a team can shake the numb feeling and move forward, the better chance it will have to remain on track for its goals.
Unbeaten Dayton has done just that since losing senior running back Connor Kacsor, the Pioneer Football League's 2014 offensive player of the year, to a career-ending knee injury. The Flyers won have two games since then and remain in first place.
Credit an attitude that's, well, necessary.
"Our success is not dependent on one individual, whether that is a player or a coach. It's a collective effort," coach Rick Chamberlin said. "Because of this, we embrace the 'next man up' approach not when something happens, but every day in practice and preparation. It's a lot easier to put those words into action when you have someone like Connor who is such a team-first guy to set the example. He never puts himself above the team goals. That's a big plus when you are trying to keep everyone focused on our goals as a team."
Sadly, injuries happen every week. They link teams. Yet how teams react can separate them.
NDSU has hope of returning to the playoffs and getting Wentz back in the lineup at that time. Others aren't so fortunate. Nationally ranked Villanova has been regrouping without quarterback John Robertson, the 2014 FCS Player of the Year, whose season is over. Two-time defending Southland Conference champion Southeastern Louisiana got smacked in the face in each of the last two weeks, losing top wide receiver Jeff Smiley and then All-America all-purpose threat Xavier Roberson.
"When you play with your second guy, it's rough because he hasn't had many reps and this league goes real fast for him," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "He's still marking time trying to figure it all out."
Change happens quickly on the FCS level because players leave after four seasons and few are stars over that long of a time period. The difference with graduation losses is they are dealt with during the offseason. There is no preparing for a key injury during the season.
But, as Southeastern Louisiana coach Ron Roberts points out, the responsibility of a team comes with "making sure the next guy up is getting ready to play."
In North Dakota State's case, redshirt freshman Easton Stick will step in for Wentz at quarterback Saturday. Like any team with a key injury, the Bison hope to find a way to make it work.
FCS GAME OF THE WEEK=
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. at Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, Virginia
Series: Richmond leads 17-15 (last meeting: James Madison won 55-20 at Richmond last Nov. 15)
The Skinny: ESPN's College GameDay comes to JMU for Homecoming Day and, more importantly, the battle for first place in CAA Football. It's a matchup of two former FCS national champions, JMU in 2004 and Richmond in 2008 - both over Montana.
Richmond has won five straight since a season-opening loss at Maryland. The Spiders' steadiness has been reflected in redshirt sophomore Kyle Lauletta (251.7 passing yards per game, 10 touchdowns, two interceptions), who's been one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the FCS. The Spiders lead the CAA in turnover margin (plus-9), which plagued them in their losses last season. They have a terrific duo at both running back (Seth Fisher and Jacobi Green) and wide receiver (Reggie Diggs and Brian Brown). Linebacker Omar Howard has been huge, leading the team in tackles four times this season, including 18 stops at Rhode Island last Saturday (no teammate had more than four). Junior Peter Yoder, the CAA preseason all-conference place-kicker, has booted 25 field goals over the last two seasons.
JMU, off to its best start ever, has to avoid the distractions of the week to focus on Richmond. Dual-threat QB Vad Lee had no trouble with the Spiders last season in throwing for a school-record 433 yards. He's totaled 24 touchdowns (19 passing, five rushing) in leading an offense ranked No. 1 in the FCS in yards per game (613.0) and No. 2 in points per game (48.7), and he's halted his early season turnover woes. The Dukes have their own top running back duo in Khalid Abdullah (732 yards) and Cardon Johnson (689), who have scored 10 touchdowns apiece. The offensive flash sometimes overshadows the athletic defense, which has 22 sacks, including Andrew Ankrah with 8 1/2. Cornerback Taylor Reynolds leads the FCS with 2.1 passes defended per game (on three interceptions and 12 pass breakups).
Prediction: Not so fast, my friend! Lee Corso, Vad Lee, even Lee Fitting (the GameDay producer who is a JMU grad) ... We're putting on the head of the Dukes' mascot. James Madison, 35-24.
ALL THE PICKS=
Last Week's Record: 42-15 (.737)
Overall Record: 378-84 (.818)
(All Times ET; X-Predicted Winner)
FRIDAY, OCT. 23
SATURDAY, OCT. 24
Princeton (4-1, 1-1 Ivy) at X-No. 15 Harvard (5-0, 2-0), Noon - The Crimson have surrendered only 40 points in five games even though Brown scored 27 of them. They have been stout against the run, which is a strength of Princeton's with running backs DiAndre Atwater (if healthy), Joe Rhattigan and the versatile John Lovett.
X-Brown (3-2, 1-1 Ivy) at Cornell (0-5, 0-2), 12:30 p.m.
Saint Francis (3-2, 1-0 NEC) at X-Bryant (3-3, 1-1), 1 p.m.
Lehigh (3-3, 1-0 Patriot) at X-No. 10 Fordham (6-1, 2-0), 1 p.m. - A terrific matchup of quarterbacks: Fordham's Kevin Anderson and Lehigh's Nick Shafnisky rank in the top 20 in the FCS in passing yards per game, total offensive yards per game and completion percentage. Anderson also is third in passing efficiency.
X-No. 2 Coastal Carolina (6-0, 1-0 Big South) at Monmouth (3-4, 1-1), 1 p.m. - With a touchdown in 20 straight games, Chanticleers running back De'Angelo Henderson is tied with former Monmouth running back David Sinisi for the FCS record. Ironically, both scored 31 TDs and had the same breakdown (28 rushing, three receiving) in their 20-game spans.
X-No. 8 North Dakota State (4-2, 2-1 Missouri Valley) at No. 18 Indiana State (4-2, 2-1), 1:05 p.m. - The last time the visiting Bison dropped two straight games was in 2009, their only losing season on the Division I level. With a name like Easton Stick, the new Bison QB could promote a line of baseball bats.
X-No. 5 Chattanooga (5-1, 3-0 Southern) at Wofford (3-4, 1-2), 1:30 p.m. - The Mocs' Southern Conference-leading defense has a pick-six in each of the last three games. They could use another one this week because their team has lost seven straight times in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Columbia (1-4, 0-2 Ivy) at X-No. 25 Dartmouth (5-0, 2-0), 3 p.m. - Keggy the Keg, the unofficial beer mascot at Dartmouth, probably hasn't stopped celebrating after the Big Green earned their first Top 25 ranking since 1996 on Monday.
Tennessee State (3-3, 0-3 OVC) at X-No. 13 Eastern Kentucky (4-2, 3-0), 3 p.m. - The Colonels have scored 100 points on Tennessee State in winning the last two meetings, but they can't get caught looking ahead to their Halloween visit to Jacksonville State. Their two losses have come against FBS teams.
X-Southeastern Louisiana (3-3, 2-2 Southland) at Houston Baptist (1-5, 0-4), 3 p.m.
No. 20 Western Illinois (4-2, 3-0 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 3 Illinois State (5-1, 3-0), 3 p.m. - The last time WIU was 3-0 in league play, it won the 2000 title in what was then the Gateway Conference. The Leathernecks are looking to stop Illinois State's 15-game home winning streak, the longest in the FCS.
Missouri State (1-5, 0-3 Missouri Valley) at X-South Dakota (3-3, 1-2), 3 p.m.
X-No. 22 Northern Iowa (2-4, 0-3 Missouri Valley) at No. 6 South Dakota State (5-1, 2-1), 3 p.m. - UNI is a desperate team, needing to sweep its final five games to have a shot at the playoffs. If the Panthers upset SDSU, a case can be made that it's reasonably possible because three of their final four games are at home and the road game is at the other MVC cellar-dweller, Missouri State.
X-Southern (3-3, 3-1 SWAC) at Texas Southern (3-3, 2-3), 3 p.m.
No. 11 Richmond (5-1, 3-0 CAA) at No. 4 James Madison (7-0, 4-0) - The FCS Game of the Week.
North Dakota (4-3, 2-2 Big Sky) at X-No. 19 Montana (3-3, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. - A UND upset would bring some smiles to Grand Forks. The three-year battle to replace "Fighting Sioux" as the school nickname - voting this week has been between Fighting Hawks, Nodaks, North Stars, Rough Riders and Sundogs - seems to have made everybody a tad cranky.
Hampton (4-3) at X-No. 17 William & Mary (4-2), 3:30 p.m. - Tribe junior Kendell Anderson has reeled off four straight 100-yard games to take over the CAA lead in rushing yards per game at 117.5. With No. 4 James Madison on tap next, this is a spot for the Tribe to get a big lead and rest the starters to avoid injury.
X-No. 7 Eastern Washington (4-2, 3-0 Big Sky) at Northern Colorado (4-2, 2-2), 3:35 p.m. - Cooper Kupp's next touchdown reception will be the 50th of his career and bring him into a four-way tie for third place in FCS annals, including with Jerry Rice.
East Tennessee State (0-6) at X-No. 21 Montana State (3-3), 4:35 p.m. - There have been only eight turnovers in six Montana State games - four by the Bobcats and four by the opposition - the lowest total in the FCS. The Bobcats' maligned defense hopes to take advantage of ETSU's minus-8 turnover margin.
X-No. 1 Jacksonville State (5-1, 3-0 OVC) at Austin Peay (0-7, 0-4), 5 p.m. - The nation's No. 1 team is already playing its fifth road game (the Gamecocks are 3-1). Says senior defensive end Chris Landrum: "We know we have to bring our own energy to the games on the road and when it is time to kick off, we are ready to play."
X-Butler (4-2, 2-1 Pioneer) at Dayton (6-0, 3-0), 6 p.m.
Northwestern State (1-5, 1-3 Southland) at X-No. 12 McNeese State (6-0, 5-0), 7 p.m. - Everything is going right for the unbeaten Cowboys when they punt 10 times and still win a Southland Conference first-place showdown by 15 points.
Nicholls (1-5, 1-3 Southland) at X-No. 9 Sam Houston State (4-2, 4-1), 7 p.m. - Nicholls is reeling from the death of running back Altee Tenpenny in a one-car crash Tuesday. He had been arrested Sunday and then suspended by the school Monday.
No. 16 Youngstown State (3-3, 1-2 Missouri Valley) at X-Southern Illinois (2-4, 1-2), 7 p.m. - Make no mistake, SIU is in the conversation about the best FCS team with a losing record. The Salukis' four losses - on the road to Indiana, Southeast Missouri State, Western Illinois and Indiana State - have come by a combined eight points.
X-No. 23 Villanova (3-3, 2-1 CAA) at Towson (3-3, 1-2), 7 p.m. - The winner will keep wishing it could toss away one of its losses - Villanova with Penn and Towson with Elon. 'Nova QB Zach Bednarczyk is coming off a 12-for-12 performance, while Towson counterpart Connor Frazier is one of the CAA's more improved players this season.
No. 14 Portland State (5-1, 2-1 Big Sky) at X-Cal Poly (2-4, 1-2), 9:05 p.m. - No doubt Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh has kept close tabs on Portland State's turnaround. He was the Vikings' coach from 1993-2006, leading them to the playoffs in 2000, where they also hope to go this season.