Greg Hansen: ‘Mr. Football’ on the UA-NDSU connection, Bison fans’ travel plans — and Saturday’s winner | Subscriber


Dear Mr. Football: Who is considered the Father of North Dakota State football?

A: Former Arizona football coach Darrell Mudra is your man. He coached the Bison to their first of 17 national championships in 1965, finishing 11-0 and placing himself on the football map. Before that, NDSU football had been invisible.

When Arizona fired coach Jim LaRue after the ’66 season, it offered the job to San Diego State’s Don Coryell — future commander of the San Diego Chargers’ “Air Coryell” offense. Coryell declined. Arizona then chose Mudra over future Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy.

It looked to be a good hire in 1968; the Wildcats opened 8-1 and were ranked for the first-time ever in the AP poll, No. 19. But the season came crashing down in a calamitous 30-7 “Ultimatum Bowl” loss to Arizona State and a 34-7 Sun Bowl setback to Auburn.

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Darrell Mudra is carried off the field following the Wildcats’ 14-7 win over Ohio State in 1967.


Arizona Daily Star file photo


Mudra then resigned after quarreling with school president Richard Harvill about budgetary issues and academic requirements. He ultimately found his calling in coaching posts at Western Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Northern Iowa where he went a combined 129-44 and in 2000 was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Dear Mr. Football: Is it possible that an FCS team from Fargo, North Dakota, has better players than a Pac-12 team in Tucson?

A: In the last 10 NFL drafts, North Dakota State has had seven players taken in the first four rounds, including first-round picks Carson Wentz and Trey Lance — both starting NFL quarterbacks.

Arizona has had one player selected in the first four rounds: Running back Ka’Deem Carey in 2014.

A year ago, I asked former North Dakota State baseball coach Tod Brown — a Sabino High School and UA grad — if the Bison football program was legit.

“It’s a 24-7-365 thing,” said Brown, who was a standout pitcher at Arizona in 1992 and is now the head baseball coach at New Mexico. “The players and coaches are celebrities. If they lose a game, it creates a panic. But unless you live here, you probably can’t understand the expectations. They are off the charts.”

Dear Mr. Football: Who agreed to schedule North Dakota State?

A: In early 2017, UA athletic director Greg Byrne approved a one-game contract with NDSU, paying the Bison $425,000 to play in Tucson this week. The man who did the leg work on the contract was former UA director of football operations Mike Parrish.

At the time it seemed like a risky agreement; in 2016, NDSU stunned No. 16 Iowa 27-21 before a crowd of 70,858 at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium, its sixth straight win over a FBS school. That Iowa team was no fluke; it later beat No. 2 Michigan and finished 8-5.

Neither of those men have a stake in Saturday’s game. Parrish is now the director of football operations at Western Michigan and Byrne, of course, is the AD at Alabama.

Dear Mr. Football: Is it true North Dakota State expects about 10,000 of its gold-clad fans to be at Arizona Stadium?

A: Several North Dakota media outlets this week suggested that NDSU’s rabid fan base considers the Arizona game a more appealing option than paying to attend yet another FCS national championship game the first week of January in Frisco, Texas.

Many have chosen to spend their discretionary travel money on a Pac-12 game in Tucson rather than potentially go to Frisco for the 10th time in the last 12 years. Incredibly, NDSU has won all nine of their FCS championship game appearances in the last 11 seasons.

Maybe Bison fans are a bit jaded by beating Towson State, Sam Houston State, Eastern Washington, Montana State and others for the national title and consider a conquest of a Pac-12 team a more exciting endeavor.

Dear Mr. Football: Has an out-of-town team ever filled 10,000 or more seats at Arizona Stadium?

A: No Pac-12 team has ever done so in a regular-season game — not even ASU in its best years, such as its ’87 and ’98 Rose Bowl clubs. The UA has been careful not to sell that many tickets to Sun Devil fans anyway, and the demand outside ASU has never been overwhelming, not even for vintage Oregon, Washington or USC teams.

But there is precedent for North Dakota State to have a notable presence at Arizona Stadium. Iowa probably had 15,000 fans in the stadium for the 1987 opener that drew a sellout of 57,284. Ohio State might have had 10,000 fans in Tucson for a 2000 game that drew 57,361 and BYU easily had 10,000-plus for the 2006 season opener that sold out.

Bison alumni have already booked the popular campus pre-game location of Frog & Firkin.

Dear Mr. Football: What’s the best way to describe the mania for NDSU football?

A: The Bison operate a radio network that includes 23 cities. Arizona’s radio network includes five cities outside of Tucson: Phoenix, Thatcher, Lake Havasu City, Show Low and Sedona.

The NDSU radio network includes KYCR-AM in the pro market of Minneapolis-St. Paul, which is 240 miles away. It includes outlets in such places as Williston, North Dakota, which is 390 miles west, and in tiny Oakes, North Dakota (population 1,798), which is 120 miles southwest.

If you are superstitious, consider this: North Dakota State has been privileged to play on Fox Sports 1 just twice in history. It won both games: 2013 at Kansas State and 2014 at Iowa State, part of its six-game winning streak against FBS opponents.






North Dakota State quarterback Cam Miller has a name, image and likeness deal with a mattress store.


Michael Ainsworth, Associated pRess


Dear Mr. Football: Is name, image and likeness paying off for FCS schools like North Dakota State?

A: Bison quarterback Cam Miller was recently paid to do a series of TV commercials for Comfort King, a North Dakota mattress company. And why not? Miller quarterbacked NDSU to the FCS national championship last season.

He refers to it as the “Bed of Champions.”

I’m still waiting to see Arizona QB Jayden de Laura in a Tucson TV commercial.

Miller is typical of the Bison’s success with under-the-radar football recruits. He played at Solon High School, located 12 miles from the University of Iowa. He was not offered a scholarship by the Hawkeyes, however. His three offers were from NDSU, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa.

Despite Miller’s high profile, NDSU is a running-first and defense-always team. It’s the anti-Mike Leach, Mississippi State offense. Miller only completed nine passes in last season’s championship game victory over Montana State.

It’s one thing to beat North Carolina A&T and Drake by a cumulative 99-17, as the Bison have done this month. It’s another to carry a high profile into Arizona Stadium to play a team desperate for a victory, one that won’t make the mistake of overlooking NDSU like it did NAU a year ago.

If the Wildcats lose to NDSU, much of the offseason gains Jedd Fisch made will be muted and his positive approach to the 2022 season will go poof. Arizona has too much to lose to lose to the Bison.

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or ghansen@tucson.com. On Twitter: @ghansen711



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