No. 13 Iowa faces FCS power North Dakota St
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) No. 13 Iowa's only game against an FCS opponent just might be its toughest non-conference challenge of the season.
North Dakota State, which visits Iowa City on Saturday, has won five straight national championships and five straight games over FBS teams since 2010. It is the top-ranked team in the Championship Subdivision.
But a closer look at the two teams suggests that North Dakota State's FBS streak is in serious jeopardy. The five top-tier teams the Bison have upended recently finished with a combined record of just 20-41 – and only Kansas State in 2013 went on to earn a bowl bid.
The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, look ready to compete for a Big Ten title. Iowa has yet to be threatened, outscoring its first two opponents 87-24. The Hawkeyes throttled rival Iowa State by 39 points last weekend – the biggest win over the Cyclones in Kirk Ferentz's 18 seasons as coach.
North Dakota State (2-0) needed a home field and overtime to beat Charleston Southern and Eastern Washington in its first two games.
Still, Ferentz knows better than to sleep on a program that he and his players compared more to Wisconsin and Michigan State than any of the FCS teams they've faced recently.
''Just look at them on film. They're a first-class team,'' Ferentz said.
Here are some of the facts to consider as Iowa hosts the Bison ahead of its nine-game Big Ten schedule:
SCOUTING THE BISON
Quarterback Easton Stick led the Bison to an 8-0 record while former star Carson Wentz was injured last season, throwing 13 touchdown passes with a completion percentage of 61.2. Stick has thrown for 451 yards with four touchdowns and an interception this season. Lance Dunn keys their rushing attack, with 179 yards on nearly seven yards per carry. The Bison defense looked a bit shaky last week, albeit against a very strong Eastern Washington offense. North Dakota State allowed four TDs in five red-zone trips, escaping 50-44 in OT.
''Make no mistake. I think this is the best … in my five years here, (and) the most complete team that the Bison will face,'' coach Chris Klieman said about Iowa.
NOT SO LITTLE KITTLE
Iowa senior George Kittle came to Iowa City as an undersized wide receiver. These days he's among the most underrated tight end in the country. Kittle, now 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, is a devastating blocker for the Hawkeyes' backs. And although Kittle has just 31 career catches, eight have been for touchdowns, including the opening score in last week's win over Iowa State.
''He's one of the most athletic guys on the team,'' quarterback C.J. Beathard said.
Iowa's defense looked sloppy at times in a 45-21 win over Miami (Ohio) in its opener. The Hawkeyes played a much cleaner game last week, holding the Cyclones to 291 yards and forcing Iowa State to go to its backup quarterback after starter Joel Lanning completed just 8 of 20 passes for 86 yards.
North Dakota State has a pair of new starting cornerbacks in Jalen Allison and Jaylaan Wimbush. They'll be tested by Beathard and Matt VandeBerg, who have a unique chemistry after playing together for five years. VandeBerg caught seven passes last week against Iowa State.
HE SAID IT
''They have a lot of good players. They just don't have 85 of them. Their top 40, I would say, probably is as good as anybody's.'' – Ferentz on North Dakota State. The Bison have just 63 scholarships, compared to 85 for FBS teams.
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