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Pinto's Pre-Season Preview: Headaches

by Dan Gunderson

This week's edition of Pinto's Pre-Season Preview looks at the five potential problems that could derail North Dakota State University's attempt to four-peat as FCS Football National Champions.

Make sure and check out last week's edition of Pinto's Pre-Season Preview and check back here every Friday leading up NDSU's August 30 match-up against Iowa State University.

July 25: They Hold The Keys

5. Unfamiliar Names

A under publicized aspect of NDSU's success has been their depth.While the Bison return several talented players, including players like John Crockett and Zach Vraa, there are question marks about their depth this season.

Leevon Perry is not as dominate if he doesn't have a guy to spell him like Danny Luecke. Colten Heagle may not be as helpful stopping the run if not for Bryan Shepherd coming in to help out with the pass.

Now the Bison have starters, but the guys backing them up are largely unknown and untested. Those young players won't have time to get comfortable as they play against the Cyclones right away.

Being comfortable with the second guy on the depth chart is something that is rare at the FCS level and NDSU will try and make sure to reach that point in fall camp. Still, it will be something that could prove to be an issue early on in the season.

4. Team Leaders

It was never a question who the leaders of the team were last season for the Bison. Grant Olson, Billy Turner, etc... I could list names for days. Some of those leaders, Christian Dudzik and Colten Heagle, are back this season. On offense, though, it is a little unclear who the leader is.

Your leader is usually your best player or the guy who just, by his personality, wills the team to play better and rally behind him. Last season, it was clearly Brock Jensen who was the offensive team leader.

These types of things usually get decided off the field, before the first game. Potential offensive leaders would be John Crockett, Kevin Vaadeland or Carson Wentz. Crockett because of his likable personality, Vaadeland because of his experience and Wentz because of the position he plays.

Don't be shocked if it is a guy who is just a role player but is the hardest worker in the weight room or in practice. The leader is a team anointed role and one that shouldn't be taken lightly.

3. Defensive Line

We have talked about how important the offensive line is to NDSU but the defensive line has been just as vital to team success. NDSU's dominate offensive line allowed the linebackers to roam freely and make plays all over the field.

The pressure the front four created on passing downs also made it so NDSU didn't feel the need to blitz all the time on those downs. Having a solid front four is vital to having a Cover 2 scheme work. Now, NDSU is going to have to replace not only three starters but two back-ups on the defensive line.

Kyle Emanuel is the only returning starter and Brian Schaetz played quite a bit last season. Otherwise, it is a lot of unknowns. This is something that could be an issue for the Bison defense early on in the season.

2. Where's Brock Jensen?

I'm sure nobody needs to tell the team that Brock Jensen is not walking through those locker room doors. I think it will be harder for fans to understand this. Carson Wentz is not Jensen and the chances of him playing at the same level as Jensen did last season are slim.

SO.... now what? Well, Wentz is going to have to prove he is up to the task of leading this team and he will have an early test in Ames, Iowa. Fans, hopefully, will not be quick to look at Wentz's early struggles as a sign that he is not worthy of being the new QB.

The Bison may lose a couple games this year that they should have won if the quarterback play was better. They may also win a couple games because of the quarterback. The reality is, we don't know. What we do know is that Wentz is not Jensen and that is a big reason why the quarterback play could be a potential headache for the Bison in 2014.

1. Offensive Line

The offensive line has been dominate for the last three years. No questions about it. If I could put a word that starts with the a f and ends in an ing before dominate, I would. That would properly describe how good they have been.

Replacing four starters, one who was a third round NFL draft pick, will not be easy. This will be NDSU's biggest challenge. If the offensive line struggles, nothing works for the Bison offensively. Your running game stalls and your passing game has to try and survive on quick hitters.

It begins and ends in with the offensive line. It has been the reason opponents have worn down in the second half of games against NDSU. To find four new players to come together as a group and be as good as the line has been the last three years will be difficult. If the offensive line struggles to play a consistent, high level, the Bison as a team will struggle to meet that high level of play in 2014.