2016 Big Sky Preview: North Dakota

2015 Record: 7-4 (5-3)

Key Returners: Cole Reyes, John Santiago, Keaton Studsrud

Key Losses: Zach Adler (TE), Miguel Cerriteno (WR), Will Ratelle (LB), Sean Meehan (OG) Brandon Anderson (OG) Elijah Grady (OT)

New year, new nickname for North Dakota. This year will be the maiden voyage of their new nickname after the university was forced to change its nickname. This year, and going forward, they will be called the Fighting Hawks. The Fighting Hawks name was voted on by what seemed like everyone in North Dakota and went through several rounds of pairing down to land on this nickname. Not sure why the Abominable Snowmen weren’t chosen, but we’ll have to live with this. Head coach Bubba Schweigert will look to build on the success of last season and carry it forward to this season. The Hawks finished 7-4 last season, barely missing the playoffs despite having a resume that could have gotten them in. A loss to Idaho State and Weber State likely was their undoing, despite finishing with a three game winning streak.

The Hawks return quarterback Keaton Studsrud who had a nice season, as well as sophomore running back John Santiago. Studsrud finished with 1262 yards and twelve touchdowns. He also rushed for 234 yards and three scores last season as well. Santiago rushed for 1459 yards last season with 16 touchdowns. An impressive year for a freshman running back. The Hawks weren’t all that effective through the air, but seemed to do just enough to win a few football games. Santiago, if he can continue his production this season, should be in the conversation for Big Sky player of the year on the offensive side of the ball. The Hawks will return their leading receiver from last season, Luke Stanley. Stanley had 312 yards and five scores. Junior defensive back Cole Reyes returns this season. He was a second team All Big Sky pick last season. He started in nine games and finished second in tackles with 71 tackles, 50 of those were solo.

The Hawks finished 62nd in the country in total offense, averaging 379 yards per game. The Hawks finished 41st in total defense, averaging 359 yards per game against. They were -1 in the touchdown ratio. The Hawks weren’t flashy by any means, but playing decent offense and good defense had them improving last season. John Santiago’s rushing yards were good enough for eighth in the country last season. If they can find a way to balance out the offense and work in more of a passing attack this team might be dangerous. The media has them picked to finish fourth in the conference. That’s not unreasonable for this team. Whether or not it gets them into a playoff game is another story.

The Fighting Hawk schedule doesn’t start particularly easy with road games at Stony Brook and Bowling Green. They’ll return home to play South Dakota and go back on the road to take on Montana State. The Hawks should get through October fairly unscathed but if they are scrapping for a playoff spot at the end of the season they are going to need to beat Northern Arizona at home to seal up that spot. If they don’t their fate could be in the hands of the playoff selection committee. Their schedule should set them up for seven wins, they will probably need to pull off another win in their schedule against either Stony Brook or Southern Utah, to get to eight wins to make sure they get a playoff spot. Their finale vs Northern Arizona at home should be a very good football game with playoff implications as well.

9/1    at Stony Brook
9/10    at Bowling Green
9/17    vs. South Dakota
9/24    at Montana State
10/1    vs. Cal Poly
10/8    at Sacramento State
10/15    vs. Southern Utah
10/22    at Idaho State
10/29    vs. Weber State
11/5    at Northern Colorado
11/12    vs. Northern Arizona

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I'm a Wyoming native living in Missoula, Montana. I'm the owner of, a fan site for the Wyoming Cowboys. Now that I live in the heart of the Big Sky Conference I write about things that focus on those teams. I watch and read a lot of college football, probably more than is healthy. Hit me up on the Twitters @MrTitleist or @WyoNationDotCom Go Pokes, Go Griz!

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