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Rare turf for Bohl

FARGO -- The voice on the football practice fields has been loud and distinct since early August, and Craig Bohl has been using it more than in the past.

FARGO -- The voice on the football practice fields has been loud and distinct since early August, and Craig Bohl has been using it more than in the past.

It's the nature of the new season: Expectations haven't been this low since the head coach's first year or two at North Dakota State. Last year's senior class, after all, started a combined 374 games.

They were part of back-to-back 10-1 seasons in 2006 and 2007. They were the backbone of the Division I transition that brought so many landmark victories in such a short amount of time.

It's a new team that will open the season tonight at Iowa State, and perhaps the challenge has put a little zip in Bohl's step -- certainly his voice.

He said some of it has to do with the makeup of a young team and he's been quick to praise at a high pitch as well as push them.

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"I think I looked at last year and said, 'OK, as the head football coach, what kind of things I could do better,' " Bohl said. "One of the things is sometimes you take some things for granted and when they're not there, I think you instill more leadership, so that's what our staff has done."

Bottoming out

Despite all the experience and the talent, the Bison went just 6-5 last year in a season that was targeted for playoff success since Bohl arrived at NDSU in 2003. Last year was the first playoff-eligible year for the football program.

All was going according to plan until four losses in five games in the middle of the season. What once was the No. 1-ranked team in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision was suddenly fighting for a playoff spot.

It never came.

Welcome to the Missouri Valley Football Conference, which can put a dent in anybody's hopes. It's part of the answer Bohl gave when asked if he feels like he has to prove himself again as a head coach.

"If you look at the losses we had last year with the exception of Wyoming, all of those losses were in our league," he said. "Every year I think as a coach you do the very best that you can and coaches are their own worst critics. Certainly, there are things I need to improve on from last year to this year. We've addressed those and I'm excited to see how this team will perform."

Time for a

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jaw-dropper?

There haven't been this many unknowns since the Bison marched into Missoula, Mont., on Sept. 6, 2003, with only an average 28-7 win over Tusculum College (Tenn.) to their credit. And everybody knows what happened at Missoula that day.

The win jump-started the Bohl era.

He probably wouldn't mind another jolt.

"With this group, what a great opportunity," he said during his weekly news conference on Monday. "There are a lot of names that aren't household names. There are always great surprises and that's fun as a head football coach. Which guys will seize that opportunity?"

The thought, he said, has made for a fun fall camp for him. NDSU will have 12 players who, for the most part, are in their first year as regular starters. Most have played a lot, but it's still a new role.

Otherwise, NDSU will go into Jack Trice Stadium tonight as green as their football pants. The Bison will do it behind a head coach who is 49-17 at the school.

Reaching success is one thing, but as last year proved, staying there is tougher. Bohl acknowledged that this is his biggest coaching challenge since coming to NDSU.

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"Without question, simply because we don't have as much experience," Bohl said. "Certainly, we need to be more interactive and more mature as a coaching staff than we ever have been."

NDSU at Iowa State

When: 5 p.m. today.

Series record: First meeting.

What's at stake: Iowa State is itching to play after coach Gene Chizik shocked everyone in Ames and left for the Auburn job after just two seasons and a 5-19 record. For new coach Paul Rhoads, a native of nearby Ankeny, Iowa, a convincing win over an FCS school like NDSU would give the Cyclones some much-needed confidence heading into next week's showdown with rival Iowa.

Key matchup: Iowa State's defensive front 7 vs. NDSU's offensive line. The Cyclones are experienced but undersized at defensive line and linebacker. If Iowa State can't get pressure on Bison QB Nick Mertens, then how will they expect to do against Big 12 foes? NDSU's offensive line is a big one for an FCS school, with all five projected starters over 6 feet and 300 pounds.

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