Focus never stops for five-time defending champion Bison
(STATS) - Chris Klieman took a break from practice Tuesday to address members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference media.
It was just a short break for the North Dakota State coach.
"(We're) continuing to strive to be better every day," Klieman said. "What we did yesterday was great, but now we're looking forward to the 2016 season."
The undisputed kings of the FCS, the Bison won an unprecedented fifth straight national championship with last season's 37-10 win over Jacksonville State in Frisco, Texas. The quest for No. 6 probably began shortly after that contest and remains in full force with this year's opener against Charleston Southern looming Aug. 27 at the Fargodome in front of a nationally televised audience.
The Bison, a remarkable 71-5 over the last five seasons, earned all but two first-place votes while topping the MVFC preseason poll unveiled Tuesday. Not even the controversy regarding a recent decision by the school to limit access to media outlets without a North Dakota State broadcast rights agreement can derail the focus of Klieman's program.
"(The media situation is) maybe overblown," said Klieman, who went 28-3 in his first two seasons as Bison coach. "I've got enough of my own problems getting ready for Charleston Southern."
One problem Klieman does not appear to have is replacing star quarterback Carson Wentz, who was selected second overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in this year's NFL Draft.
Redshirt sophomore Easton Stick played in 11 games last season, went 8-0 as a starter and won three playoff contests while replacing the injured Wentz, who returned to start and star in the national championship game. Stick completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 1,144 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also finished third on the team with 498 rushing yards (5.9 yards per carry) and scored five times.
Wentz proved to be a quality mentor and a special friend to Stick.
"Carson taught Easton everything he knows," Klieman said. "We knew we had a pretty good prospect."
Stick won't have to carry the offensive load himself.
King Frazier finished fourth in the Valley with 1,158 rushing yards and had 11 touchdowns. He was one of five Bison named to the conference's all-preseason team also announced Tuesday.
Senior linebacker Nick DeLuca is the only FCS player to be named to the Butkus Award watch list. He recorded a team-high 135 tackles plus three sacks and two interceptions for a 2015 NDSU defense that yielded 36 points in its final five games, including the playoffs.
The Bison, however, don't expect to have an easy time beginning defense of their most recent title. After opening with a Charleston Southern squad that won 10 games and lost to Jacksonville State in the postseason, NDSU hosts STATS Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp and Eastern Washington, then gets its only taste of FBS competition at Iowa on Sept. 17.
"It's the toughest non-conference schedule we've had in the six years I've been here," Klieman said. "Then the Valley is always a challenge."
That likely won't change after five teams from the league qualified for the playoffs in 2015. Northern Iowa was picked second in the preseason poll and the only other school to garner first-place votes.
North Dakota State opens conference play Oct. 1 at home against an Illinois State group it's shared the league title with the past two seasons. The Redbirds, who fell to the Bison in the 2014 national championship game, were picked to finish fourth in the league and must make up for the departures of STATS Offensive Player of the Year finalist running back Marshaun Coprich and star quarterback Tre Roberson.
"The talking season is over, so let's go play," Illinois State coach Brock Spack said.
MISSOURI VALLEY FOOTBALL CONFERENCE PRESEASON POLL=
Team (first-place votes)
1. North Dakota State (37)
2. UNI (2)
3. South Dakota State
4. Illinois State
5. Youngstown State
6. Western Illinois
7. South Dakota
8. Southern Illinois
9. Indiana State
10. Missouri State
MISSOURI VALLEY FOOTBALL PRESEASON TEAM=
QB - Aaron Bailey, senior, 6-2, 226, Northern Iowa
RB - King Frazier, senior, 5-11, 218, North Dakota State
RB - Jody Webb, senior, 5-9, 175, Youngstown State
FB - Brady Tibbits, senior, 5-10, 240, Illinois State
WR - Lance Lenoir, Jr., senior, 6-0, 200, Western Illinois
WR - Anthony Warrum, senior, 6-2, 190, Illinois State
WR - Jake Wieneke, junior, 6-4, 215, South Dakota State
TE - Dallas Goedert, junior, 6-5, 250, South Dakota State
OL - Kyle Avaloy, senior, 6-5, 330, Illinois State
OL - Zack Johnson, senior, 6-4, 329, North Dakota State
OL - Jacob Judd, junior, 6-3, 290, Western Illinois
OL - Jacob Ohnesorge, junior, 6-3, 280, South Dakota State
OL - Robert Rathje, senior, 6-3, 295, Northern Iowa
OL - Mark Spelman, senior, 6-3, 280, Illinois State
DL - Cole Langer, senior, 6-2, 295, South Dakota State
DL - Greg Menard, junior, 6-2, 240, North Dakota State
DL - Derek Rivers, senior, 6-5, 255, Youngstown State
DL - Karter Schult, senior, 6-2, 265, Northern Iowa
LB - Chase Allen, senior, 6-3, 240, Southern Illinois
LB - Dylan Cole, senior, 6-1, 236, Missouri State
LB - Nick DeLuca, senior, 6-3, 245, North Dakota State
LB - Brett Taylor, junior, 6-2, 230, Western Illinois
DB - LeRoy Alexander, senior, 6-0, 195, Youngstown State
DB - Tre Dempsey, junior, 5-10, 178, North Dakota State
DB - Tyson Graham, senior, 6-2, 210, South Dakota
DB - Alec Kocour, junior, 6-0, 190, Illinois State
LS - Joshua Appel, senior, 6-2, 250, Indiana State
PK - Zak Kennedy, sophomore, 6-0, 160, Youngstown State
P - Sam Kuhter, junior, 6-0, 207, Northern Iowa
RS - Deion Holliman, junior, 5-9, 181, Missouri State