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FCS Sam Houston St N Dakota St Football

North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman stands on the sidelines prior to his team's FCS national semifinal game on Dec. 19 at Fargo, N.D. Klieman and the Bison meet Illinois State on Saturday in the FCS title game at Frisco, Texas.

North Dakota State football coach Chris Klieman isn't ready to say leading receiver Zach Vraa will be available for Saturday's noon FCS national championship game against Illinois State at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

Klieman also isn't prepared to declare Vraa out.

"We're still working on that. We'll find out more this week," Klieman said Monday during an NCAA teleconference. "He hasn't practiced yet, but he is running around. We're hopeful he can participate next Saturday. Obviously we've got a few days, but this week will be big for us."

The Bison have not had Vraa for its playoff run because of a hamstring injury. Vraa has 39 receptions for 580 yards and four touchdowns.

Klieman expects defensive end Mike Hardie, who has been bothered by an ankle injury, to be near 100 percent for the Redbirds.

Still familiar: Although ISU and North Dakota State did not play this season despite both being members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the teams did see a lot of each other on tape while preparing for other Valley teams.

"We saw each other so much on crossover film, and we'd look at that and say, boy, Illinois State is really good at that position, or boy, that's a really tough play that Illinois State ran or what a great defensive scheme that they would run," said Klieman. "But you weren't game planning for it. But we did see each other so often on film that you kind of marveled at the talent and how good they were."

"It's a fun group to watch being a defensive coach by trade," ISU coach Brock Spack said of the Bison. "They know what they hang their hat on. They are very comfortable in their system and they trust it. They trust their training."

Warmer weather: The forecast high temperature for Frisco is only 37 degrees Saturday with a chance of rain. But with the current wintry conditions in Fargo, N.D., and Normal, that's still an improvement.

"Well, you can get somebody from Fargo to travel to Dallas. It is a vacation to get away from here," Klieman said. "It is minus 6 on my phone right now. But there's no wind, so it's really not a bad day here."

FBS quality?: Spack believes the Missouri Valley could move up to the FBS level and compete if the programs made the increase from the FCS maximum of 63 scholarships to the 85 allowed in FBS.

"Absolutely. If our league all moved up to FBS and 85 scholarships, I think we would be very competitive," said Spack.

"I spent 22 years in FBS football (at Purdue, Wyoming), and I would not want to schedule one of our teams if I was one of those guys. Given the funds, there is no doubt this conference could move up and be competitive."

Klieman, whose Bison have made a habit out of knocking off FBS programs in the past few years, does not think Valley teams would be at similar level without the upgrade in scholarship commitment.

"For us to play them consecutively, we would struggle with only 63 scholarships," he said. "If the whole league wanted to go to 85, it would take some time to compete on a week to week basis. We've been fortunate catching some of our FBS opponents at the right time."

Home team: ISU will be the home team on the scoreboard Saturday.



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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