Countdown to … North Dakota

Here’s a pile of news and notes in advance of South Dakota State visiting North Dakota on Saturday evening. I’ll have complete live coverage starting around 5 p.m.:

Remember how SDSU last week held a ground breaking for its forthcoming indoor practice facility? UND is doing the same this week. Both buildings will have 300-meter tracks and 100 yards of synthetic turf.
However, the NoDak venue - to go up on the site of the old Ralph Engelstad Arena - will cost $13 million. SDSU is spending up to $32 million.  

This game is the Potato Bowl - there’s reason to fear that designation. North Dakota has won the event 10 years in a row and 17 of the last 18.

The Jacks haven’t played in Grand Forks since 2001 meaning nobody on the team has a frame of reference for that. However, coach John Stiegelmeier does. He’s led SDSU there three times in the past, losing each meeting and by a combined score of 114-16 with one of those being in the Alerus Center. Plus, the Jacks are 1-9 indoors at the FCS level.
Former UND coach Dale Lennon, now at Southern Illinois, said this week that the Alerus Center - which had new turf put in during the offseason - is toughest on opponents when it gets noisy. 

On the injury front, Stiegelmeier said that SDSU continues to be in good shape, while UND coach Chris Mussman is hoping that starting center Shea Walker will be able to play. He dinged a shoulder against Valpo. North Dakota has the benefit of two additional days off by virtue of opening on a Thursday.

Don’t be surprised to see the Jacks use more of the new nickel look it debuted last week against Butler. In that set, CB Winston Wright lines up as the third linebacker. 

UND has a unique schedule this season. It doesn’t play an FBS foe and plays the first four games at home – three against top-25 teams (SDSU, Montana, Montana State). Highly regarded Eastern Washington will travel to Grand Forks, too. 

Between the two teams, there are a few skill guys left who factored into the last series meeting in 2010, a 21-0 Jacks victory in Brookings. Included: North Dakota RB Jake Miller and WR Greg Hardin and SDSU WR Brandon Hubert. 
Stiegelmeier said this about Hardin: “He can wiggle and make you miss and he can run really fast upfield and in cuts. He’s a really special player. We’ve seen some of these types of guys in the Missouri Valley, but he’s as complete as we’ve seen.”

Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.