(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)
The Fighting Hawks dispatched their third ranked side this afternoon as they vanquished the number nine ranked Bobcats of Montana State 16-12 thanks to a recovered blocked punt for a touchdown and a defense that held them in the game, limiting the Bobcats big plays and keeping the team in the game.
Now UND heads into a bye week for the second time this season with a chance to rest up, especially on defense where injuries have forced underclassmen to step into bigger roles a bit faster than initially thought.
What does all of this mean for where UND should be ranked? Well one could argue for ranking the Fighting Hawks in the low 20’s based on their win this weekend and without looking at the rest of the FCS I could certainly see that. It is a subject that will be debated fiercely by pundits and fans, especially those who interact with Brian McLaughlin and Sam Herder of Hero Sports who have two of the votes in the FCS Stats Poll publish their ballot and in at least Brian’s case why he votes the way he does as well.
Sam discusses his picks and votes extensively with Brian on their weekly podcast hosted through Hero Sports, give it a listen sometimes, these are two of the most plugged in folks in the FCS you will meet. They follow every team in the country at this level to the best of their ability and this sport is better because of them.
To re-purpose a phrase from Brian he likes to use when describing things in the FCS landscape, on this UND team we need to see more data. That is yes, the win today is great and this Fighting Hawks side has shown resiliency throughout the year when dealing with adversity. Can we overlook the Idaho State loss and potentially the Eastern Washington losses on the road? Maybe we can if UND plays well enough to allow it.
If this team goes 7-4 in total and loses one of its last two home games that look winnable against Northern Colorado or Southern Utah, do they make the playoffs over say a 7-5 win team with an FBS win and a better strength of schedule. I do not know. I honestly don’t know what to make of this team other than they merit perhaps a low rank in the applicable polls and a spot on the good side of the bubble, for now. The polls, especially the FCS Stats Poll are merely a snapshot of a wide open landscape of football full of wonderful people who cover the game to the best of their ability.
If a MEAC team like the Aggies of North Carolina A&T finishes second and does not make the Celebration Bowl, and finishes with a 9-2 or 8-3 record and UND loses a must win game at home should they be in over the Aggies at that record with a 7-4 finish? I do not know. Southern Illinois could finish 7-5 and have a case to be in over the Fighitng Hawks as they have an FBS win to their credit.
As to the Fighting Hawks, their decision to play 11 games will either be a stroke of genius or seen as myopic if they finish on the wrong side of the bubble if they finish 7-4 and are eclipsed by a 7-5 team with an FBS win or a 9 or 8 win MEAC team like the Aggies? That is the reality of a 12 game maximum schedule season. Schools make their choice and live with the results and consequences, good and bad either way.
What I know for sure is this team needs to have a strong finish and go 8-3 to remove more questioning articles like this being written. If this team wins out it will 100 percent make the playoffs barring some odd circumstances around the FCS. In that case we will be focused on UND’s first or second round opponent depending on their position in the field.
In a few weeks if UND finishes out of the playoffs due to losing any of its must win games at home or being on the bad side of the bubble beating Weber State and losing the other two games then the questions raised by those not voting for or voting for UND lower will be valid.
All of this is to say, do not read too much into the polls this week or next week. UND needs to win three more games to remove as much doubt as possible and cement a playoff spot and potential national seed. This team will not (hopefully) focus on the polls and keep their eyes on Weber State. They face a potential top 10 opponent on the road in their last chance to add a quality win to their resume before playing two must win games to end the season.
To those following this team, focus on the on field results. They guide the polls and what writers will say about UND’s playoff chances. More data is required to determine the fate of the 2019 UND Football team, two weeks from now is the next chance to acquire some based on their result against Weber State.
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