In the FCS Huddle: Bison charge is from the offense

Philadelphia, PA ( - If you've seen the funny photo of North Dakota State's four FCS championship trophies strapped into car seatbelts and out for a drive this spring, it's easy to discern things are done a little differently with the Bison.

It might be surprising to many people how the Bison football team expects to continue its dynasty a little differently this year.

NDSU's record four straight FCS titles have been built around a smothering defense, the most consistent in all of college football during this grand period of Bison football.

The defense has been so good - ranking first in FCS scoring defense from 2011-13 and then third last season - that it's overshadowed the excellence of the Bison offense, which also has pounded opponents into submission.

Not this year, though, as the offense is viewed as one of the best in the FCS while the defense reloads with new leaders following the graduation of key standouts, including 2014 Buck Buchanan Award winner Kyle Emanuel, the national defensive player of the year.

The Bison offense is more experienced than the defense, although it has to overcome the loss of running back John Crockett, who was six yards shy of 2,000 rushing yards last year. Still, there's great depth in the power run game, including returnees King Frazier, who transferred in from Nebraska last year, and Chase Morlock - both No. 1 backs at many FCS programs - and the sensation of spring practices, redshirt freshman Lance Dunn, who's strong and has a second gear to the outside.

The run game also features a key component in 6-foot-6 quarterback Carson Wentz, voted the most outstanding player of last season's national championship game. He, too, will run over overmatched tacklers.

Plus, the pass game will be stronger after Wentz set school records for passing yards and total offense last year. The Bison will pair together record-setting wideout Zach Vraa, who gained a sixth season of eligibility, and postseason standout RJ Urzendowski, only a sophomore. The addition of athletic tight end Jeff Illies, also a standout in the spring, will spread out defenses.

"Everybody knows if you give Carson a little bit of time and you give some of our backs a little bit of daylight, I think we can score some points," said second-year coach Chris Klieman, whose offense put up 33 a game last season.

Perhaps the true strength of the offense is the line, which has plenty of veterans. Left tackle Joe Haeg (6-6, 300) is a first-team All-American and 6-4, 317-pound Zack Johnson, who missed last season after knee surgery, hopes to return to at least an All-Missouri Valley Conference level. Last year's right side of the line, Landon Lechler (6-7, 299) and Jeremy Kelly (6-6, 286) as well as key reserve Jack Plankers (6-7, 321), add to a hulking unit that would make even the Bison basketball team blush.

Replacing place-kicker Adam Keller, who departed with 56 field goals and 359 points in just three seasons, actually might be the toughest task for the high-scoring Bison.

But that's the job of special teams coordinator Atif Austin. Offensive coordinator Tim Polasek will have it much easier this season.