The North Dakota State Bison ruled FCS with an iron first for a decade, winning a staggering nine national championships from 2011 to 2021. Their dynasty cast a shadow over the entire sport, and no one was blanketed by that shadow more than their Dakota Marker rival in the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.
SDSU itself was a well-regarded power, but had a clear ceiling on its success as long as its rivals from Fargo were running things. But the Jackrabbits got their ultimate moment of catharsis in the FCS title game one year ago when they hammered the Bison 45-21 to claim their very first national championship. Fast forward to now and they have a shot at successfully defending their belt when facing the Montana Grizzlies in this year’s championship game. A win would secure back-to-back titles and secure the program its very first perfect season. But it could mean even more than that.
It could be the dawn of a new dynasty in FCS.
Defensive coordinator/SDSU alum Jimmy Rogers was promoted to head coach this year following the retirement of John Stiegelmeier. What he put on the field this season should absolutely send a warning to the rest of the country for what the Jackrabbits can accomplish when firing on all cylinders. SDSU was the epitome of pure domination throughout the 2024 season, ranking either or near top of the country in several statistical categories like scoring offense, scoring defense, passing efficiency, rushing offense, and first downs among others. Blowouts were routine throughout the 2023 campaign as just two of their games came within a touchdown. The Jackrabbits basically walked through the playoffs, opening with a 41-0 shutout of Mercer before rocking Albany 59-0 to reach the title game.
Rogers got the most out of his talent this season as quarterback Mark Gronkowski became a Walter Payton Award finalist with 2,883 passing yards, 349 rushing yards, and 35 total touchdowns. He shared Co-MVFC Offensive Player of the Year honors with running back Isaiah Davis, who has 1,491 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. The likes of offensive linemen Gus Miller and Mason McCormick were First Team All-Americans while players like receiver Jadon Janke, DE Cade Terveer were among the several individuals to be named First Team All-MVFC. When you have a roster this stacked, then this year’s results shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The landscape of FCS is constantly shifting with more programs jumping to FBS with each passing year. That means powerful programs on stable footing are likely to stay entrenched at the top of the sport and SDSU fits that mold to a tee. They have a young coaching staff where the head coach and both coordinators are all alums of the school. The staff is well connected with high schools in the Dakota’s and surrounding states, and they’ve done a great job at identifying the kids that they can mold into the next Jackrabbit stars. They can even steal some kids with FBS interest, evidenced by the Jackrabbits currently having five three-star prospects signed to their 2024 recruiting class.
So yeah, get used to South Dakota State playing on this stage in early January. This could become a regular occurrence like their NDSU rivals did for the past decade.