In the fourth installment of Pinto's Pre-Season Preview, I will make three predictions regarding the North Dakota State University football team's 2014 season. Warning! One of these predictions may not be to your liking. So, you know, rip me appropriately after reading.
Make sure and check out the last three installments of Pinto's Pre-Season Preview as we move towards NDSU's season opener in Ames, Iowa against Iowa State University on August 30.
July 25: They Hold The Keys
August 1: Headaches
August 8: High Importance
I like to make predictions. Really, we all like to make predictions. We like to guess how things will come out. It is in our blood. I'm just scratching an itch, I guess.
The 2014 Bison were a team already having predictions thrown their way last season. People saying there would be a drop-off in production and they won't be as good in 2014 as the were in 2013.
I'm not going to predict the whole season (yet). What I will do is look at three things that might happen in the 2014 season. Some general. Some more specific. Agree. Disagree. I don't care. That is why we predict. To start the discussion as to why it makes sense or doesn't.
Prediction: A Bison defensive player will have a 100 or more tackles.
Take a guess on how many Bison players have had 100 or more tackles in a season since 1999. If you guessed one, you were correct. In 2012, Grant Olson had 148 total tackles. Before that, it was Ben Ahneman in 1998 with 116.
I think this Bison defense is prime to have another player reach that 100 tackle plateau. The number itself is impressive but you have to hope, as a defensive coach, tackles get spread around the team. Why?
If you are a good player on a bad defense, your stats can get a bit inflated. You are the only one making plays out there and you end up getting more tackles than you should. If the tackles are getting spread around, that means other people are making plays.
That is not to say the '14 version of the Bison "D" is going to be bad. On the contrary. I think they are going to be as solid as they have been in the past couple seasons. I just think a couple Bison players may end up with a high number of tackles.
The two players in specific I see reaching this number are Colten Heagle and Carlton Littlejohn. Heagle because the dude is involved in every play anyways. If there is a football game going on in South Fargo, be sure that Heagle is making plays in that game. He is everywhere.
Littlejohn because of the position he plays. He has to be in the middle of every defensive play and last year proved he can handle the duties of a middle backer in a Cover 2 defense. Also, Travis Beck has been injury prone the last couple years and Esley Thorton will most likely see his time on the field interrupted by different defensive packages and back-ups.
Taking tackles away from the other linebackers plus having Littlejohn out there about 90 percent of the defensive snaps will allow for him to reach the 100 tackle plateau.
Prediction: The Bison will lose a game on the road this year.
Stop yel... STOP YELLING!!! Let me explain this one. The Bison have won 15 consecutive road games, dating back to 2011. This includes wins against the University of Minnesota, Colorado State University, Kansas State University, South Dakota State University and the University of Northern Iowa. Let all of that sink in for a moment.
Of all the accomplishments over the last three years, this might be the most impressive. Winning on the road, in any sport, is difficult. NDSU has made it seem like a walk in the park. They have also had Brock Jensen start everyone of those road games.
A new quarterback who has no experience starting, four brand new starting offensive linemen and three new starting defensive linemen and you start to think this run may end.
NDSU has six scheduled road games this year, as opposed to the five they've had scheduled the last three years. The three games I see them potentially losing on the road this season are Missouri State University, University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University.
I have always felt the Bears, for whatever reason, have been NDSU's toughest road opponent. They barely escaped with a win in 2012 and lost 3-0 in Springfield in 2010.
UNI will be looking for a little... A LOT of revenge when NDSU heads to Cedar Falls in November. This game is always an entertaining and hard fought one. Toughest road conference game of 2014 to be sure.
ISU because they are a FBS school and it is the first game of the year. NDSU will be introducing those new players in a hostile environment. Never easy to start your career on the road, but it gets even tougher when you are doing it in front of 55,000.
At any rate, the Bison will have to have nearly flawless play from the lines and quarterback in order to keep this streak going. I just have a hard time seeing that happen.
Prediction: John Crockett will reach 1,500 yards rushing this season.
I feel the most comfortable with this prediction for a few reasons.
Crockett will be the feature back this season. Unlike the last three years, NDSU does not plan to give out equal carries. Not to say Crockett won't get a breather here and there, but he will be receiving a majority of the carries.
Easy to assume more carries means more yards. You also have a new offensive line and quarterback. The best way to make both of them comfortable is to run the ball. Offensive lineman would rather run block than pass block and a quarterback handing off is the easiest play for him to execute outside of taking a knee.
We can also add in the fact that there is one more regular season game on the schedule than the previous years. Even if NDSU were to do well enough to get a bye going into the playoffs, Crockett could still potentially play in 16 games this season.
More carries, more run plays and more games. Has to equal more yards.
Oh. And Crockett is really good. To say he is going to average at least 100 yards a game is not too crazy.
In 190 carries last season, Crockett gained 1,277 yards. My Mr. Meyer math tells me that is 6.7 yards per carry. Let us say he gets up to 230 carries in 2014, averaging the same yards per carry.
If NDSU were to play a full 16 games, an extra 40 carries would equal out to an extra 2.5 carries a game. We could also calculate that Crockett, at the same ypc rate, would get near 1,541 yards rushing on the season.
Obviously I'm not accounting for injuries or NDSU not making it as far. I'm confident in this prediction even when considering those things. NDSU will be in the title hunt this year and the Bison will do a good job of making sure Crockett stays fresh down the stretch.