No, it’s NOT the North Dakota State Bison; Nebraska is playing the North Dakota F’n Hawks in the home opener on Labor Day weekend. Nebraska Omaha hockey fans are well aware of NoDak, who are UNO’s designated rival in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, the nation’s premier college hockey conference. The NCHC is to hockey what the SEC thinks they are to football; NCHC teams have won four of the last five national championships with two runner-up finishes.
But this is football, not hockey. And while the Hawks aren’t the Bison, NoDak has been a fairly solid 1-AA football program. Last year’s 5-6 season was North Dakota’s first losing season since 2017, and with 12 returning starters (eight on offense), 2022 looks like another transition year.
(OK, North Dakota is technically the “Fighting Hawks” but “F’n” just looks cooler, especially on a visitors scoreboard. And not nearly as controversial as North Dakota’s previous “Fighting Sioux” nickname.)
North Dakota’s offense ranked 33rd in 1-AA last season in total offense, but only 73rd in scoring offense. Junior quarterback Tommy Schuster (6’0” 195 lbs.) is a two-year starter who completed 65% of his passes last season for 2,493 yards and 13 touchdowns with six interceptions. He’s not a terribly mobile quarterback, rushing 41 times for 89 yards last season. Schuster ranked 50th in division 1-AA last season with a passer efficiency rating of 131.30. (For perspective, Adrian Martinez’s passer efficiency rating was higher at 148.9 last season.)
Junior wide reciever Bo Belquist (6’1” 180 lbs.) led the F’n Hawks with 52 catches for 535 yards and five touchdowns last season. Junior tight end Adam Zavaleny (6’4” 239 lbs.) had 20 catches for 303 yards and four touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Garett Maag (6’4” 215 lbs.) is a three year starter who caught 21 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore running back Isaiah Smith (6’0” 200 lbs.) takes over after rushing 52 times for 356 yards (6.8 yd. average!) and two touchdowns as a backup. In his first game, Smith rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown against Drake, earning him Missouri Valley Football Conference player of the week honors.
On defense, only five starters return from one of the better 1-AA defenses last season. NoDak ranked 22nd in scoring defense (allowing 20.27 pts./game) and 30th in total defense (336 yds/game). The F’n Hawks were a bit stronger against the pass (ranking 27th in 1-AA) than the run (ranking 44th in 1-AA), for what it’s worth. The strength of North Dakota’s 3-4 defense will be their defensive line which returns stronger than they finished an injury-filled season. Senior nose tackle Jalen Morrison (6’2’ 290 lbs.) is a three-year starter along with senior defensive end Jaelen Johnson (6’2” 255 lbs.); each had their 2021 seasons shortened by injury but were back for spring football. Junor defensive end Ben McNaboe (6’3” 240 lbs.) filled in for Johnson and should retain a starting role in 2022.
Senior middle linebacker Devon Krzanowski (6’2” 235 lbs.) has led the F’n Hawks the last two seasons in tackles, earning him second team All-MVFC honors in the spring 2021 season and honorable mention honors last fall. But NoDak will need to replace the other three linebackers in their 3-4 alignment.
Likewise in the secondary, only senior cornerback C.J. Siegel (6’0” 180 lbs.) returns. A three-year starter, Siegel has 78 tackles, three interceptions and 15 pass breakups in his career. Junior safety Jayson Coley (6’0” 180 lbs.) has been a key reserve and spot starter in his North Dakota career, and most notably has blocked three punts for the F’n Hawks.
With an undersized and inexperienced defense, you have to expect that Nebraska should be able to control the line of scrimmage when the Huskers have the ball. North Dakota’s offense should provide a young NU defense a bit more of a challenge and chance to build some experience and depth. But remember: this is the University of North Dakota football team. It’s not the dominant hockey team and it’s definitely not the North Dakota State football team that dominates the 1-AA and regularly challenges big name programs. This looks like the ideal opponent for a Husker team that spent part of the week recovering from jet lag following the season opener in Dublin.
What happens when the F’n Hawks come to Lincoln?
This poll is closed
Jet lag is the worst...the Huskers find a way to lose.
It’s sloppy, but Nebraska manages a win.
NoDak wishes they were still playing UNO. The hockey school gets a basketball score posted on them.