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TOM MILLER: UND hits an important stretch

August 28, 2014; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose State Spartans wide receiver Tyler Ervin (7) scores a touchdown against North Dakota Fighting Sioux defensive back Deion Harris (19) during the third quarter at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Fighting Sioux 42-10. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In the beginning stages of a program overhaul, first-year UND head football coach Bubba Schweigert has stressed that the scoreboard isn’t as important as effort and discipline.

Most fans understand that, and they should. The new coaching staff needs time. No one expects the ship to be righted overnight.

Still, UND’s going to have to offer encouraging tidbits from time to time to keep the Green and White faithful on the Bubba Bandwagon.

Late in the 2013 season, we saw what the Alerus Center can look and feel like when the hometown fans lose faith in the local product.

That makes UND’s next three-game stretch a significant opportunity to keep everyone on board.

After a 42-10 loss to San Jose State to open the year, we still don’t know much about the makeup and potential success of the 2014 team. At times against the Spartans, it looked like the 2013 version of UND. At times, you could see clear progress.

We’ll learn much more this weekend.

UND returns home Saturday to host Robert Morris — a team North Dakota State beat 52-0 in 2012 — in a Potato Bowl matchup. The team then travels to Missouri State, followed by a home game against Stony Brook, which UND defeated 31-24 in 2009.

None of these three games are expected to be a pushover. Far from it. But none of these teams would challenge for the Big Sky Conference title, either.

They are the swing games for a 2014 record that’s either ugly or respectable.

Expectations for UND in 2014 aren’t high, but a winning record in this three-game stretch would go a long way to impact future attendance and future recruits.

The games against Robert Morris, Missouri State and Stony Brook are worth highlighting even more because of the gauntlet UND faces afterwards.

Following Stony Brook, UND goes up against Montana State, Montana, Portland State, Southern Utah and Eastern Washington. The games at MSU, SUU and EWU are all on the road and will almost certainly be very challenging. UND has yet to prove it can compete on the road with the likes of Montana State and Eastern Washington.

UND closes out the season with Weber State, Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado. Both Weber and UNC have struggled mightily to gain traction in the Big Sky and should offer UND an opportunity to show off its growth.

But those November home games against Weber and Northern Arizona could certainly have a different atmosphere in the Alerus Center if UND can offer fans something to get excited about in September.

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department for the past 13 years. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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