(STATS) - North Dakota State football coach Chris Klieman is downplaying the somewhat empty feeling surrounding the Bison this offseason because a high commitment and concentration level are always part of their program.
But there's no doubt the players carry an extra edge this offseason because James Madison ended NDSU's streak of five straight FCS national titles in the semifinals last December. And JMU will again serve as a threat to the Bison as they seek to get back to a championship level in 2017.
Deep into a key part of the offseason, NDSU will conclude its spring practice on Saturday with the annual Green & Gold intrasquad game at the Fargodome.
"We know who the really good players are on our roster," Klieman said. "It's those next 25 guys that we need to find out this spring that we can count on to help us come next fall because we can't play 20 guys and have them play every special team and have them play every snap and be successful. We didn't do that last year. We're 12-2, but the ultimate goal here is to win championships. Even if you looked at JMU, I thought their backups were better than our backups, and those are the guys we have to develop."
Klieman said the retooling of the offensive line, which is replacing three starters, has been one of the focal points of the spring in addition to getting younger players more experienced.
The offense has veterans in the skills positions, led by quarterback Easton Stick, while the defense could be the nation's best, returning eight starters plus 2015 tackle leader Nick DeLuca, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury.
While the Bison's national title streak ended, they shared their sixth straight Missouri Valley Football Conference championship with South Dakota State.