Wyoming has North Dakota State’s old coach, Craig Bohl. The Cowboys play at a higher level than North Dakota State — the Football Bowl Subdivision compared to the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).
But, at the moment, North Dakota State has the recruits.
Last week, Gillette’s Lane Tucker became the fourth player from the 2017 class to verbally commit to the Bison after receiving an offer from the Cowboys. Making matters worse for Wyoming fans is that Tucker is the highest ranked 2017 recruit from the Cowboy State.
So, time to panic?
First off, North Dakota State is not just any FCS school. The Bison have won the last five national titles at the FCS level — three under Bohl — and claim 13 national championships in total.
The Bison haven’t lost to an FBS school this decade, toppling Iowa State, Kansas State, Colorado State, Minnesota and Kansas over the past five seasons.
Since taking over for Bohl, North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman has lost all of three games. During that time, Bohl has averaged three wins a year at Wyoming.
Plus, North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz was selected second overall in the NFL Draft this spring.
But there’s a lot more to the equation than simply “championship FCS team vs. two-win FBS team.”
Let’s take a look at the four cases.
For Tucker, it wasn’t all about the championships.
“I mean, it’s nice, but winning’s not everything,” he said.
So why the Bison?
“I kind of wanted to try somewhere new, experience something a little bit new,” he said. “And I felt like going up to Fargo and NDSU gave me that opportunity.”
As much as Bohl and his staff have made an effort to lock down Wyoming’s borders, the fact is that some kids just don’t want to stay home for college.
“You get some kids that are born and raised in Wyoming and can’t wait to get out of it to something bigger and different,” Tucker’s coach Vic Wilkerson said. “You get other kids that are born and raised in Wyoming and really want to stay in Wyoming and the idea of being at the home-state school is very appealing.”
An example of the latter is Tucker’s former Gillette teammate Zach Taylor, a member of Wyoming’s 2016 recruiting class.
“I think for Zach, it had a lot to do with being the in-state school,” Wilkerson said. “That appealed to him, the way they recruited him in the visits they made up here and the things that they talked about with him and his family really hit home.”
Geography is a key factor for the other North Dakota State commits with Wyoming offers, too. All three — Luke Chuol, Nash Jensen and Tanner Sundt — are from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, well within the North Dakota State footprint.
“I’ve heard about Bison football my whole life living in Minnesota,” Chuol said. “It was like one of the premiere outlets for football in the Midwest, and so for me, it wasn’t really that hard of a decision.”
It’s also no coincidence that the Cowboys and Bison have had so much overlap in recruiting. (Two players from North Dakota State’s 2016 recruiting class also had Wyoming offers.) After all, Bohl recruited for the Bison not long ago, and those connections don’t just evaporate when green and yellow turns to brown and gold.
Chuol, who said Wyoming was one his top five options, was impressed with Bohl.
“I think that honestly he can carry over what he brought from NDSU to the Mountain West and to Wyoming,” Chuol said. “I think that it’s just a matter of time. It’s a process, and I think that what he did at North Dakota State is not easy to do. I think that he can rebuild a program and build it up.”
Tucker, too, was impressed with Bohl, who, along with defensive coordinator Steve Stanard, recruited Tucker.
Tucker not choosing Wyoming “has nothing to do with Coach Bohl or the university, I don’t think,” Wilkerson said. “They made a good effort to try and get Lane to come to Wyoming. There’s family ties sometimes. There’s kids that just want to try to get out of state and try something new. The allure of a program that is rich in championship tradition at the FCS level. For some kids, that’s a bigger appeal than playing for a D-I, even though it’s an in-state school.
“It just varies from situation to situation, and I don’t think it’s any reflection on Wyoming or their staff in what happened. It’s just what Lane ended up deciding to do.”
The irony, much to Wyoming fans’ dismay, is that Bohl’s accomplishments at his previous school have drawn players away from his current one. Now it’s a matter of getting the respect Bohl earned in Fargo to fully make the move to Laramie.
“I think that that they have a championship mentality, and I think that the culture will bring that to the players,” Chuol said. “And they already have that established, and now it’s just a matter of time and taking a team from the ground up and building it and creating a good foundation.
“And that’s why I think they’ve recruited guys from Minnesota, because Tanner, myself and Nash are guys you can build a football team around.”
It just so happens that team won’t be Wyoming.