The last time South Dakota State played a game in Nebraska, the Jackrabbits lost 34-17 to Nebraska-Omaha in 2003. The next season, the Jacks transitioned to division 1-AA, and won the Great West Conference championship in 2007, then switched to the Missouri Valley Conference the next season. Last season, South Dakota State was ranked in the top 20 all season, losing to eventual 1-AA runner-up Montana in the first round of the "Football Championship Subdivision" playoffs.
It's easy to dismiss the Jacks as an inferior 1-AA opponent. But ask Minnesota fans, who had to sweat through four quarters with the Jackrabbits before the Cosgrove defense forced a season-high four turnovers. In the closing minutes of a tie game in Minneapolis, the Jacks mishandled the snap and the Gophers took over at the 11 yard line. But the Jacks' defense only allowed the Gophers to gain three yards, setting up the game winning field goal.
Going into 2010, the Jacks only return twelve starters, meaning this season is going to be a bit of a rebuilding season.Running back Kyle Minett is South Dakota State's top returning offensive player. A third-team all-American last season, he's been named to the preseason watch list for the Walter Payton award, which goes to the top offensive player in division 1-AA. Last season, Minett rushed for 1,304 yards and 16 touchdowns. Quarterback Thomas O'Brien started six games last season, completing 57% of his passes for 1,448 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He'll need to find new targets to throw to, as only tight end Colin Cochart returns from as a starter. The only returning receiver on the roster is Aaron Rollin, who caught 11 passes last season.
The Jackrabbit offensive line only returns two starters. Center Ryan McKnight was a first team all-conference player last season, and he'll be joined by tackle Jon Fick. Only eight offensive linemen were available for spring practice, so the depth chart is going to be a work in progress this fall.
The South Dakota State defense loses their top defender, defensive end Danny Batten, but return the rest of the defensive line. In the middle, the only returning linebacker is Derek Domino. Domino definitely didn't "layla" last season, as he led the Jacks with 100 tackles to earn all-conference honors. The entire secondary returns, including second-team all-conference safety Conrad Kjerstad, who had 81 tackles and five interceptions last season. Senior cornerback Cole Brodie was the fifth-leading tackler for the Jacks last season with 71 in 2009.
In the 2009 Sagarin rankings, South Dakota State finished the season ranked #101, higher than last season's Sun Belt foes Florida Atlantic (#114), Louisiana-Lafayette (#123), Arkansas State (#129), but slightly lower than Colorado (#91). But that was last year; considering the holes going into this season, the Jackrabbits should take a step backwards. Even so, the Jackrabbits have established themselves as a legitimate 1-AA program that you can't afford to completely ignore. This is a game Nebraska should win, but could lose if they play like they did against Iowa State last season.