Greg Hansen: “Mr. Football’ in UA-NDSU tie, Bison fan travel plans — and Saturday’s winner | Subscriber

Dear Mr. Football: Who is considered the father of North Dakota State football?

A: Former Arizona football coach Darrell Mudra is your guy. He coached the Bison to the first of 17 national championships in 1965, finishing 11-0 and putting himself on the football map. Before that, NDSU football was invisible.

When Arizona fired coach Jim LaRue after the ’66 season, it offered the job to San Diego State’s Don Coryell, future commander of the San Diego Chargers’ Air Coryell offense. Coryell refused. Arizona then chose Mudra over future Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy.

It seemed like a good hire in 1968; The Wildcats opened 8-1 and were ranked No. 19 in the AP poll for the first time. But the season fizzled with a disastrous 30-7 Ultimatum Bowl loss to Arizona State and a 34-7 Sun Bowl setback to Auburn.

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Darrell Mudra is carted off the field after the Wildcats’ 14-7 win over Ohio State in 1967.

Arizona Daily Star file photo

Mudra then resigned after falling out with school president Richard Harvill over budgetary issues and academic requirements. He eventually found his calling in coaching positions at Western Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Northern Iowa, where he went 129-44 overall and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

Dear Mr. Football: Is it possible that an FCS team from Fargo, North Dakota, has better players than a Pac-12 team in Tucson?

A: In the past 10 NFL drafts, North Dakota State has had seven players taken in the first four rounds, including first-round picks Carson Wentz and Trey Lance — both NFL starting quarterbacks.

Arizona had one player drafted in the first four rounds: Becca Ka’Deem Carey in 2014.

A year ago, I asked former North Dakota State baseball coach Todd Brown — a Sabino High and UA graduate — if the Bison football program was legit.

“It’s a 24-7-365 job,” said Brown, who was a standout pitcher at Arizona in 1992 and is now the head baseball coach at New Mexico. “The players and the coaches are celebrities. If they lose a game, it creates panic. But unless you live here, you probably can’t understand the expectations. They’re off the charts.”

Dear Mr. Football: Who agreed to plan the state of North Dakota?

A: In late 2016, UA athletic director Greg Byrne approved a one-game contract with NDSU, paying the Bison $425,000 to play in Tucson that week. The man who put the finishing touches on the contract was former UA director of football operations Mike Parrish.

At the time, it seemed like a risky arrangement; in 2016, NDSU stunned No. 16 Iowa 27-21 in front of a crowd of 70,858 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa, its sixth straight victory over an FBS school. This Iowa team was no fluke; later beat No. 2 Michigan to finish 8-5.

Neither of those men has a stake in Saturday’s game. Parrish is now the director of football operations at Western Michigan, and Byrne, of course, is the AD at Alabama.

Dear Mr. Football: Is it true that North Dakota State expects about 10,000 of its gold-clad fans to be at Arizona Stadium?

A: Several North Dakota media outlets suggested this week that NDSU’s rabid fan base considered the Arizona game a more attractive option than paying to attend yet another FCS national championship game the first week of January in Frisco, Texas.

Many chose to spend their discretionary travel money for a Pac-12 game in Tucson rather than potentially going to Frisco for the 10th time in the last 12 years. Incredibly, NDSU has won all nine of its FCS Championship appearances over the past 11 seasons.

Maybe Bison fans are a little jaded from beating Towson State, Sam Houston State, Eastern Washington, Montana State and others for the national title and consider conquering a Pac-12 team a more exciting endeavor.

Dear Mr. Football: Has an out-of-town team ever filled 10,000 or more seats at Arizona Stadium?

A: No Pac-12 team has done that in a regular-season game — not even ASU in its prime, like its ’87 and ’98 Rose Bowl clubs. UA is careful not to sell that many tickets to Sun Devil fans, and demand outside of ASU has never been huge, even for vintage Oregon, Washington or USC teams.

But there is precedent for North Dakota State having a notable presence at Arizona Stadium. Iowa probably had 15,000 fans in the stadium for the 1987 opener, which drew a sellout of 57,284. Ohio State could have had 10,000 fans in Tucson for a 2000 game, which drew 57,361, and BYU easily had over 10 000 fans for the 2006 season opener, which was sold out.

Bison alumni have already booked the popular Frog & Firkin campus venue before the game.

Dear Mr. Football: What is the best way to describe NDSU’s obsession with football?

A: Bison operate a radio network that includes 23 cities. The Arizona Radio Network includes five cities outside of Tucson: Phoenix, Thatcher, Lake Havasu City, Show Low and Sedona.

The NDSU Radio Network includes KYCR-AM in the professional market of Minneapolis-St. Pavel, which is 240 miles away. It includes outlets in places such as Williston, North Dakota, which is 390 miles west, and in tiny Oakes, North Dakota (population 1,798), which is 120 miles southwest.

If you’re superstitious, consider this: North Dakota State has only had the privilege of playing on Fox Sports 1 twice in history. He won both games: 2013 at Kansas State and 2014 at Iowa State, part of his six-game winning streak against FBS opponents.

North Dakota State quarterback Cam Miller has a name, image and likeness deal with a mattress store.

Michael Ainsworth, Associated pPress

Dear Mr. Football: Does name, image and likeness pay off for FCS schools like North Dakota State?

A: Bison quarterback Cam Miller was recently paid to do a series of television commercials for Comfort King, a mattress company in North Dakota. And why not? Miller won NDSU’s quarterback the FCS National Championship last season.

He calls it the “Bed of Champions.”

Still waiting to see Arizona QB Jayden de Laura in a Tucson TV commercial.

Miller typifies the Bison’s success with under-the-radar football recruits. He played at Solon High School, located 12 miles from the University of Iowa. But he was not offered a scholarship by the Hawkeyes. His three offers were from NDSU, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa.

Despite Miller’s high profile, NDSU is a run-first, always-defensive team. This is a crime against Mike Leach, Mississippi State. Miller threw just nine passes in last season’s championship win over Montana State.

It’s one thing to beat North Carolina A&T and Drake by a combined 99-17, as the Bison did this month. It’s another to bring a high profile to Arizona Stadium to play a team in desperate need of a win, one that won’t make the mistake of overlooking NDSU like NAU did a year ago.

If the Wildcats lose to NDSU, much of the offseason gains Jed Fish made will be muted and his positive approach to the 2022 season will fall flat. Arizona has too much to lose to lose to the Bison.

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or [email protected] On Twitter: @ghansen711

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