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FRISCO, Texas — The center of the ring.

That's where Illinois State coach Brock Spack believes Saturday's noon FCS national championship game with North Dakota State will be decided.

"There is no doubt about it. It will be a physical game," Spack said. "Everybody across the board is physical on both sides."

The No. 7-ranked Redbirds (13-1) try to complete a dream season that has taken them from a 5-6 record in 2013 to the brink of a national title.

In their way are the No. 2-ranked Bison (14-1). NDSU has won 15 straight playoff games and is gunning for an unprecedented fourth consecutive national championship in a showdown of Missouri Valley Football Conference co-champions televised by ESPN2.

"When you want to be the best, you've got to play the best," said Spack. "Right now, North Dakota State is the best."

First-year NDSU coach Chris Klieman is wary of ISU's one-two punch of quarterback Tre Roberson (3,064 yards passing, 868 rushing) and tailback Marshaun Coprich (2,168 rushing).

"They are two tremendous football players," Klieman said. "We know we can't shut them both down. A lot of people have tried to shut one down and the other one beats them. We've got to be able to try to control both of them."

The Redbirds also boast receiving threats in wide receivers Cameron Meredith and Lechein Neblett and tight end James O'Shaughnessy. That trio has combined for 144 catches and 24 touchdowns.

The Bison defense ranks second nationally at a mere 13.2 points surrendered per game, while the Redbirds score 39.1.

"Their offensive line is huge and can move," NDSU defensive end Kyle Emanuel, the Buck Buchanan Award winner as top FCS defensive player. "Roberson and Coprich are both extremely mobile and can make you miss."

The Redbird offensive line will try to keep Emanuel and his Missouri Valley-record 19½ sacks away from Roberson and Coprich.

"He's got a great motor and he understands offenses so well," Klieman said of Emanuel. "He uses his hands so well. He's a very strong guy."

The Bison defense also features playoff savvy veterans in linebacker Carlton Littlejohn and safeties Colten Heagle and Christian Dudzik.

Quarterback Carson Wentz has brought NDSU back to Frisco in his first year as the successor to Brock Jensen, the FCS career leader in wins as a quarterback.

Wentz has completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 2,874 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Tailback John Crockett rivals Coprich with 1,920 yards on the ground.

"He has a very strong arm and can run," Spack said of Wentz.

The Redbirds have defeated No. 4 Eastern Washington and No. 1 New Hampshire on the road to get to the title game.

"The more you win, the more you want to win," safety Dontae McCoy said. "This is the last game we're playing together as a whole team. The opportunity to go out with a national championship, there's nothing like it."

ISU embraces the underdog role ahead of trying to dethrone the elite program in FCS. 

"We love it. We take it in and accept it," said Coprich. "We love how people doubt us. Just prove them wrong."



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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