FCS quarterfinals: South Dakota football vs. North Dakota State preview and prediction

South Dakota’s first conference win this season was in Fargo against then-No. 2 North Dakota State, which launched the Coyotes on a historic trajectory. At that point, USD was ranked 15 in the FCS Stats Perform Top 25.

Now, the Coyotes are preparing to take on the Bison again, this time on friendlier turf, and with a whole lot more on the line. South Dakota will play North Dakota State on Saturday in Vermillion in the FCS quarterfinals, which marks the first time in program history the team has made it this far into the playoffs. This will be only the fifth true road game for the Bison in 51 FCS playoff contests.

Both teams have been through a lot since their September matchup. South Dakota rode the momentum of that win to a 7-1 conference record while the Bison ended their conference season with only five wins for the first time since 2020. This will be North Dakota State’s 14th consecutive quarterfinals appearance after defeating Montana State in overtime, 35-34, on a last-second blocked field goal.

“They've gotten better,” South Dakota football coach Bob Nielson said of North Dakota State since their September matchup. “Offensively, they're moving the football really well right now, with good balance … and as always, they play great defense.”

North Dakota State quarterback Cam Miller has had a successful season and finished 11th in the voting for National Offensive Player of the Year.

The Coyotes are coming off a 34-24 second-round win over Sacramento State.

Here is the tale of the tape between the two teams.

USD football players pray before the start of the game on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023 at the Dakota Dome in Vermillion, South Dakota.
USD football players pray before the start of the game on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023 at the Dakota Dome in Vermillion, South Dakota.

No. 3 USD (10-2, 7-1) vs No. 7 North Dakota State (10-3, 5-3)

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Where: DakotaDome, Vermillion, SD

TV/Radio: ABC/ Coyote Sports Network

What’s at stake: USD’s dream season. The Coyotes have recorded their first 10-win season at the FCS level. It’s their first time receiving a top-eight seed, and this marks their first trip to the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, North Dakota State has been a force in the FCS Playoffs for over a decade and is making its 14th consecutive quarterfinals appearance. They also won nine national championships between 2011 and 2021.

Who’s better: South Dakota has been the more consistently impressive team all season long. The Coyotes collected four wins against ranked teams during the regular season while North Dakota State went 2-2 against ranked teams with losses to South Dakota State and in-state rival North Dakota. With that being said, North Dakota State may be playing their best football of the season at the right time. The Bison are third in scoring offense and 13th in total defense. They upset sixth-seeded Montana State last week and very well could escape Vermillion with another upset win.

Matchup to watch: The North Dakota State run game against the South Dakota defense. Behind the explosive trio of Miller, Cole Payton and running back TaMerik Williams, the Bison rush for 244 rushing yards per game, the fourth-most in the FCS. While South Dakota has the fifth-best scoring defense, their rushing defense ranks only 46th in the FCS.

USD wins if: They’re able to get ahead early. The last time these teams faced off the Coyotes' great start was what helped propel them to the win. The Coyotes will need to hit the ground running if they hope to advance to their first FCS semifinal in school history.

Prediction: North Dakota State, 21-14. The Bison seem to be playing their best football of the year since their loss to South Dakota State on Nov. 4. The Coyotes will have their hands full trying to contain the North Dakota State run game.

Jonathan Fernandez covers high school and college sports for the Argus Leader. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter at @JFERN31

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: USD football vs. NDSU preview and prediction for FCS quarterfinals