SDSU Needs to Do These Things to Become next NDSU [OPINION]
The South Dakota State University football program has taken a backseat to North Dakota State University for the past five years.
The new stadium and the Sanford Jackrabbit Athletic Complex that was built in 2014 have been amazing additions to the SDSU program. The training facilities and indoor practice capability will get the Jackrabbits closer to where they want to be. But they're still a couple steps behind NDSU.
Here are things they need to do.
Fill Empty Seats
South Dakota State obviously just built the Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium and from my personal experience the place is awesome. However, the Jackrabbits didn't sell out their first two home games, nor were they close to holding max capacity.
The stadium holds 19,300 people, but the Jackrabbits have only gotten 15,171 vs Drake and 16,887 vs Cal Poly. The Cal Poly game was actually the second-largest home crowd in history of SDSU football but since they opened a new stadium this season, they should've had more in attendance.
But here are the facts: the Fargodome holds 19,000 people and NDSU has had near sellout home games the past five years. I went back and looked through game notes over the past six years. From those notes (three games missing) on the GoBison website, they haven't had a game with less than 18,000 in attendance since week one back in 2011. But the three games that were missing, it's probably safe to assume NDSU hit 18,000 because all three were playoff games.
NDSU has an advantage when it comes to attendance, because the city of Fargo has a population near 118,500 and then an additional 14,500 students that go to school. While Brookings sits at just 23,400 and nearly 13,000 students.
SDSU needs to embrace the biggest city in South Dakota and convince more Sioux Falls people to make the 50 minute drive to Brookings. Whether that's through better advertising, better fan engagements at games or in Sioux Falls, it needs to happen and happen this season.
Recruit Outside Of South Dakota
There's an old saying in sports that started from John Wooden, "Winning breeds winning.."
NDSU has done a magnificent job at recruiting out of the Minneapolis area. Let's not kid ourselves, high school football in Minnesota plays at a higher level and has much better competition than South Dakota or North Dakota schools do. The larger population allows for competition to be better and for more talented players to come out of those cities. Outside of Mitchell or Yankton having an up year, Sioux Falls (include Brandon Valley) usually beat the rest of the schools.
Recruiting out of the Twin Cities area has shown to be beneficial to consistently add depth to the NDSU roster. This season the Bison have 37 players on the team from Minneapolis or the surrounding area to South Dakota State's 15.
NDSU has been able to steal kids from that area because of how mediocre the University of Minnesota football program has been and because of the academic requirements of U of M. Not saying the kids at NDSU aren't smart, I'm sure they're bright kids but U of M is a tougher academic school.
SDSU has 27 kids on the roster that played high school football in South Dakota. I'm sorry but that's not going to be good enough experience when they're playing teams like NDSU, TCU or Missouri. The speed and physicality of the game at higher D1 programs is too great for most South Dakota kids. Now there are exceptions because SDSU hit a homerun by bringing Taryn Christion in at quarterback.
The other thing that sticks out is the fact SDSU has NOT gotten a North Dakota recruit in over ten years, unless someone is missing from the SDSU rosters. That to me is absolutely shocking. You'd figure at a minimum they would have five or six over a ten year period. SDSU basically cannot get kids to come play football that live the next state over, which is only 120 miles to the border.
It's not like North Dakota doesn't produce any good football players either because they've got 23 kids this year at North Dakota State and 13 kids at University of North Dakota. NDSU hasn't come down and taken many South Dakota players the past couple years, but the kids that they have, have all been from Sioux Falls and have all stood out at their schools. With the exception of the Tuszka brothers from Warner.
Get Some Swag
NDSU has done an absolutely amazing job at bringing in players who buy into the program and know that the next guy is waiting if they don't give it all. Part of that is the players mentality, part of that is great coaching and developing a tradition.
Earlier this week I asked a former player from North Dakota State what SDSU had to do to become NDSU and he simply said "buy into the coaches and work hard."
I talked to offensive coordinator Tim Polasek last season and he said this about Wentz going down with an injury: "Carson is the epitome of our program, but we’re bigger than just one person, the kids reaction was more that the next guy will step up because that’s what we do at North Dakota State."
NDSU has made it a point of emphasis that they're in it to win, so they get players to go the extra mile in fear of being replaced. If you don't give it your all, then they find someone else to replace you and if that guy fails there's someone else behind him.
Craig Bohl started this tradition by leading the Bison to three consecutive championships before leaving after the 2013 season for the head coaching job at University of Wyoming. Now Chris Klieman has taken over that mindset and has shot down any doubt of it going away.
In my opinion SDSU doesn't really have that "badass" attitude and swagger about them that NDSU does. Part of that comes from winning a lot, but part of that is also just the way the program wants to be perceived. NDSU wants people to fear them and wants opponents to know their guys are going to come 110 miles an hour after you.
Simply Win Games - Beat The Bully
Plain and simple, SDSU needs to win more games to get more recruits and fans interested in their program.
Having records of 9-4, 9-5, 8-4 looks good on paper, but players pay attention to the early bounces in the playoffs. Players pay attention to the good fight on national TV against TCU and beating Kansas last season. But they also pay attention to when SDSU loses to teams like Cal Poly, Northern Iowa, Western Illinois and Youngstown State. South Dakota State just flat out shouldn't lose to those types of teams if they want to get to an NDSU level.
Finally, the Jackrabbits need to end the streak against the Bison. NDSU has beaten SDSU the last eight times they've played, including two playoff games. It's time to punch the bully in the mouth and prove to people that hope is not lost. I don't care how close they've been to winning the past couple of season.. because they haven't won. Someone great once said this, "It doesn't matter if you win by an inch or a mile, winning is winning."