Legacies ride on James Madison-NDSU winner


STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - As the favorite entering recent FCS championship games, the most pressure has resided with either James Madison or North Dakota State.

When they square off to end the 2017 season Saturday in Frisco, Texas, both national powers are probably feeling more pressure than ever. So much of their current players' legacies ride on this game.

Top-seeded James Madison (14-0) is seeking to claim back-to-back national championships. There's a big difference between winning two in a row and just interrupting the North Dakota State dynasty for a year in 2016.

Whether North Dakota State's dynasty is over also is at stake. The second-seeded Bison (13-1) had their record run of five straight national titles end against James Madison in the semifinals last season.

NDSU coach Chris Klieman describes his team's success as "we've had a lot of former guys that have come back and talked to the guys about doing it for the guy next to you and doing it for all the guys that have put the jersey on before you. That's hard to find in college football these days, is sustained success for that long a period of time."

James Madison's 27-17 win over NDSU in the 2016 playoffs changed the landscape across the FCS. There's no longer just one program that has separated itself.

The Dukes have won 26 straight games and are 28-1 over the last two seasons, with the only loss to an FBS program, North Carolina. But this season's No. 1-ranked team likely needs a win Saturday to validate NDSU has been reeled in fully.

"I think number one is certainly a respect for the level of program that North Dakota State is," James Madison coach Mike Houston said. "They've been the top team in FCS for many years, and I think that after that matchup last year I'm sure that all the coaches just like me and all the players come away with a tremendous amount of respect just for the way they play and the level of program that they are.

"Probably the second thing we bring out of that is just the confidence that our program is at that level as well. So I think those are probably the two biggest things that we took out of that game."

Although it's just the third all-time meeting between JMU and NDSU, Houston said he senses a rivalry growing between them.

James Madison also won the FCS title in 2004 and could become the fifth program in FCS history with at least three overall. A sixth title by North Dakota State would tie the Bison with Georgia Southern for the most all-time.

Updated January 2, 2018

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