(Stats Perform) - Any North Dakota State player thinking of departing the reigning FCS champion's program before the spring semester is surely thinking twice - the Bison will play a marquee game this fall.
The Bison will host Central Arkansas on Oct. 3 at the Fargodome, the two schools announced Monday.
The game comes as a reversal to North Dakota State's announcement on Aug. 14 that it would not play this fall and instead turn attention to its potential spring season. Previously, its Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule was postponed due to concern over the COVID-19 pandemic, but nonconference games are allowed by the 11-school league.
"Due to the challenge completing a full nonconference schedule, we took a pause to consider all our options for this fall, knowing full well it could mean not having the opportunity to play," athletic director Matt Larsen said. "Upon further consideration, coupled with recent information provided by the NCAA, we felt it was in the best interest of our football program to practice and play one game this fall."
The Bison went 16-0 under first-year coach Matt Entz last season, claiming their third straight FCS title and record eighth in the last nine seasons. They're riding a 37-game winning streak, also the standard in the subdivision.
Without a fall season at North Dakota State, there's been concern the Bison would lose NFL prospects such as quarterback Trey Lance and offensive tackle Dillon Radunz to training for the draft next spring or a transfer to an FBS program that is playing a schedule this fall. Fifth-year seniors such as linebacker Aaron Mercadel were ready to return for a fall season, but not necessarily a spring campaign.
But now there's a game that just may be the biggest in the FCS this fall. Central Arkansas was the preseason favorite in the 11-team Southland Conference after it won a share of last year's title. The Bears would have played the Bison in Fargo in the national quarterfinals last December had they not lost at home to Illinois State in the second round of the playoffs.
"What a great opportunity for our program to get to play a team and a university like North Dakota State," UCA coach Nathan Brown said. "This has been a whirlwind with the way the season has happened and the decisions to not play by a lot of conferences and schools. One thing I do know is we were willing to play North Dakota State from the start and I am glad it is going to work out in the end."
Like Lance, who swept the 2019 Stats Perform Walter Payton Award (FCS offensive player of the year) and Jerry Rice Award (FCS freshman of the year), Central Arkansas features one of the top FCS quarterbacks, Breylin Smith. He set the school's single-season record for passing yards and tied the touchdown mark in a 9-4 campaign.
North Dakota State becomes the 15th FCS program out of 127 overall to announce at least one game this fall. Central Arkansas, though, is the busiest with the Bison becoming their ninth opponent. The Bears, whose conference also is allowing nonconference games, open the college football season against Austin Peay Saturday night at the FCS Kickoff in Montgomery, Alabama.
Central Arkansas will receive a $100,000 game guarantee from North Dakota State, according to Dom Izzo of WDAY in Fargo. The matchup is part of a three-game contract, with the two schools also set to play in Fargo on Sept. 16, 2023 and meet in Conway, Arkansas, on Sept. 20, 2025.