Throughout the summer, the UNDSports.com staff will take a deeper look into the 2012 opponents for the North Dakota football team as it embarks on its first season in the Big Sky Conference.
The North Dakota football team will hit the road for the first time on week three of the schedule, heading to San Diego State on Sept. 15.
The fact that San Diego State is a FBS school in talent-rich California, is coming off a New Orleans Bowl trip and posted an 8-5 overall record in 2011 should all, and for good reason, make the Aztecs one of the more daunting opponents for UND in 2012. But, when UND visits Qualcomm Stadium in mid-September, the visitors will carry a confidence that they can compete with the Mountain West Conference member.
For starters, that confidence comes from the last time UND played a FBS opponent in the Golden State. The FCS-foe nearly upset Fresno State last season before the Bulldogs had to stave off a potential game-winning touchdown drive by the visitors late in the fourth quarter to preserve a 27-22 victory. The Aztecs also had their hands full with Fresno State in 2011, clipping the Bulldogs 35-28 in the regular-season finale.
The next rationale for confidence comes from the last time UND played a FBS opponent that was coming off a bowl trip. The Green and White nearly pulled off another victory before once again Northern Illinois found a way to hold off the pesky visitors from the Peace Garden State. The Huskies won that day 23-17, but it was another moment during the transition to Division I that UND instilled a belief in itself that they could compete on the highest level.
The only way to tell if all the cards line up properly for UND's first victory over a FBS opponent will be to play the game between the chalked lines, but the visitors will surely be ready.
And, UND will be playing a Rocky Long-led Aztec team that will be ready too. Long has six returning starters back on offense and five back on defense. Six Aztecs were named to the All-Mountain West first and second teams by Lindy's Magazine. Junior tight end Gavin Escobar and senior offensive lineman Nik Embernate earned first-team recognition on offense, while junior wide receiver Colin Lockett was named to the first team as an all-purpose selection. Senior cornerback Leon McFadden, meanwhile, was selected to the defensive first team. Senior center Alec Johnson earned offensive second-team honors and junior defensive back Nat Berhe was named to the defensive second team.
Did you know?
The Aztecs share Qualcomm Stadium with the NFL's San Diego Chargers. This will be the first time UND has played in the same stadium that also houses a professional football team.
San Diego State is in a similar situation to UND in that its starting quarterback may be a FBS transfer in his final season of collegiate eligibility. UND's Braden Hanson was named the team's starter after spring camp after transferring from North Carolina for his final season of college football. Likewise, San Diego State's Ryan Katz is vying for the top signal caller spot for the Aztecs after transferring from Oregon State.
Katz will be looking to replace Ryan Lundley, who was a three-year starter for the Aztecs and threw for more than 3,000 yards in each of those seasons.
Another similarity between the two schools is an imminent conference change as the Aztecs will be spending their final season in the Mountain West Conference in 2012. San Diego State will make the move to the Big East in 2013.
All-Time vs. FBS Opponents
Texas Tech 38-13 - 2009
Idaho 45-0 - 2010
Northern Illinois 23-17 - 2010
Idaho 44-14 2011
Fresno State 27-22 - 2011