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TOM MILLER: UND football's problem is how they're losing

The real race in town Saturday wasn't the Wild Hog Half Marathon that weaved through the streets of Grand Forks in the morning. No, the most competitive dash of the day came later in the afternoon when fans were high-tailing to the Alerus Center ...

Tom Miller
Tom Miller portrait

The real race in town Saturday wasn't the Wild Hog Half Marathon that weaved through the streets of Grand Forks in the morning.

No, the most competitive dash of the day came later in the afternoon when fans were high-tailing to the Alerus Center parking lot at halftime of North Dakota's Big Sky Conference opener against Montana State.

At least the Wild Hog participants got gift bags.

Montana State handed UND its second-straight thumping with a 63-20 victory at the Alerus Center.

The problem isn't that UND is 1-3. UND has played three legitimate top 10 programs in South Dakota State, Montana and Montana State. Expecting UND to be an elite program in the Football Championship Subdivision this quickly after the Division I transition was a little wishful thinking.

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Losing isn't the problem. How UND is losing is the issue. North Dakota is not just getting beat. UND is not competitive. They're getting embarrassed.

And they're doing it at home. At least last year, UND got walloped on the road in Cheney, Wash., and Bozeman, Mont.

UND fans are getting a front row seat for these lashings. Since playing Black Hills State a year ago, UND has allowed 29 or more points in eight of the last nine home games. The exception? Non-scholarship patsy Valparaiso.

This is the first time UND has lost three straight at home since 1986. It's the first 1-3 start since 1989.

Adding up the Montana and Montana State thrashings (118 points), UND has given up more points in back-to-back games than in any consecutive games in program history.

Yes, there's a light (although somewhat dim and flickering) at the end of the scheduling tunnel. UND goes to Pocatello, Idaho, on Saturday to play the notoriously hapless Bengals of Idaho State before returning home to finish off the brutal slate of high-end programs against Eastern Washington.

The schedule does get easier. Sacramento State, Portland State, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado and UC Davis aren't nearly on the level of the Montana schools.

That's the good news. They're winnable games.

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The bad news is they're also games UND can lose if it continues on its current path. And you can only imagine the psyche of a bunch of college kids coming off another potential blowout against Eastern Washington on Oct. 12.

Ultimately, UND should be judged on the second half of its schedule. UND is not a Top 10 program right now but there's still a lot of respectable space on the FCS totem pole in which the program could land.

UND just can't play like it did Saturday or North Dakota is going to end up in a very scary place in that pecking order.

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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