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College football: Bison to face stiff test from Lennon, Salukis

FARGO -- The skill players are productive and experienced. Southern Illinois has more senior starters than most teams have seniors. And the overall team depth is pretty good, said head coach Dale Lennon.

FARGO -- The skill players are productive and experienced. Southern Illinois has more senior starters than most teams have seniors. And the overall team depth is pretty good, said head coach Dale Lennon.

Any weaknesses?

"I don't want to get into weaknesses," said Lennon, the former UND head coach beginning his second season with the Salukis.

That's because there don't appear to be many weaknesses and North Dakota State will be the first Missouri Valley Football Conference team to test Southern Illinois on Saturday. The league opener for both teams is at 6 p.m. at McAndrew Stadium in Carbondale.

It will be the second trip to McAndrew for the Bison, who fell 9-0 in the last game of the 2005 season. This one will most likely boil down to NDSU's inexperienced defense against the veteran Salukis attack.

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The Salukis are second in Division I Football Championship Subdivision in total offense averaging 505 yards a game, albeit the big explosion came against NCAA Division II Southwest Baptist University (Mo.). Running back Deji Karim is second behind NDSU's Pat Paschall in rushing -- Paschall is averaging 163.0 yards and Karim 138.5.

Karim isn't the only running threat, either. Lennon said he plans on rotating three backs, all of who have different running styles.

It all adds up to a tall order for the Bison, who will be entering their second year in the Missouri Valley.

"It's a tough conference to be in," said NDSU defensive tackle Matt Gratzek, who played his high school football at Stephen-Argyle. "I guess the time is now. We have eight games left and all are conference games. You can tell in our focus. The grind is on."

The grind is also starting for SIU. Lennon said it seems strange that it's the end of September and his team has only played two games. It has yet to play a team in the FCS -- the opener was a 31-28 loss at Division I Football Bowl Subdivision Marshall University.

"Right now, we're playing pretty well," Lennon said. "We were disappointed we couldn't find a way to win at Marshall. We felt good we went in there and competed."

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