Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State are powerhouses at the FBS level, but it is hard to match what North Dakota State has built in the FCS.
Running back Bruce Anderson and the second-seeded Bison advanced to their sixth FCS national championship game in seven years Friday with a commanding 55-13 victory over the No. 6 Sam Houston State Bearkats at the Fargodome.
They never looked back after scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions and are one win away from taking back the throne after James Madison snapped their streak of five straight national championships last season.
They will play the titleholders if the Dukes beat No. 5 South Dakota State in the other semifinal Saturday.
Anderson was dominant as North Dakota State gashed the Bearkats on the ground with 471 rushing yards in the blowout win. He finished with 183 rushing yards, 54 receiving yards and five total touchdowns, while quarterback Easton Stick demonstrated his own dual-threat abilities with 160 passing yards, 32 rushing yards and five total touchdowns.
Given recent precedent, it was no surprise the Bison set the tone with the running game. According to J.P. McBride of the Huntsville Item (h/t NCAA.com), Sam Houston State allowed a combined 935 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground in its playoff losses the last three years and was once again overmatched up front.
Anderson's showing was only part of the problem for the visitors in a nightmare first half as the Bison established an overwhelming 41-3 lead.
Sam Houston State couldn't get out of its own way as Jeremiah Briscoe threw interceptions to Tre Dempsey and Marquise Bridges, while Nathan Stewart lost a fumble on a kick return. Anderson scored touchdowns following the Bridges pick and the Stewart fumble, and Dempsey's interception came on the final snap of the half with the Bearkats inside the red zone.
Sam Houston State also struggled with Stick, who scored on the ground on the Bison's first possession and connected with tight end Jeff Illies and Anderson for touchdowns.
He hit Anderson over the top on a wheel route for 23 yards after Sam Houston State brought up additional defenders to deal with the run, via FCS Football:
There was a reason so many defenders were caught flatfooted.
Anderson's ability on the ground was the primary storyline, as he demonstrated a Le'Veon Bell-like patience at the line of scrimmage and waited for holes to open before he consistently burst through them for explosive plays.
He averaged 10.8 yards per carry and tallied touchdown runs of 62, 37 and 33 in the first half alone:
The game was a formality after halftime, although Stick padded his totals with touchdown throws to tight end Ben Ellefson and Anderson once again. Seth Wilson also got involved in the offense and thrived right alongside Anderson with 194 rushing yards on 24 carries, many of which came as the home team was running out the clock.
The question now is whether the Bison can replicate their head-turning offensive performance in what figures to be a more challenging championship game.
A contest against James Madison would mean a date with a stout defense that held opponents to single digits five times and allowed more than 14 points just once all season. A showdown with South Dakota State would be a rematch of a Nov. 4 game that saw the Jackrabbits win 33-21.
It is difficult to imagine the Bison will lose if they play like they did Friday. But with the championship hanging in the balance Jan. 6 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, the stakes will be higher, and the competition will be stiffer.