By Josh Sullivan, Sports Editor
If it were up to UNH head coach Sean McDonnell, North Dakota State would be the No. 1 seed in the FCS standings right now. Why?
“Because they’re the best football team in the country,” he said. “You talk about 33 straight games with having a target on their back all that time — what a credit to them and what they do.”
But whether he thinks his team deserves it or not, the Wildcats is now the top-ranked football team in the Football Championship Subdivision after their win over Rhode Island this past Saturday. North Dakota State fell to No. 19 Northern Iowa 23-3, dropping from the top spot in The Sports Network’s poll down to No. 4. But to McDonnell and the rest of the team, none of this matters one bit.
“You could be No. 12, 14, 16 but when you hit the tournament, anything can happen,” McDonnell said. “If anyone in this program is satisfied with being No. 1 right now, they’re dead wrong.”
The Wildcats have not been ranked No. 1 since Oct. 9, 2006, when quarterback — and current wide receivers coach — Ricky Santos led a team that ended up going 9-4. That day was the last time that season they would be ranked at the top. The team’s offensive coordinator that season? Current Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.
McDonnell acknowledged several similarities between his ‘06 team and the current Wildcats.
“They both have good quarterback play. Ricky Santos was a hell of a quarterback who had an outstanding receiver [in David Ball] that made you a better football program on the perimeter,” McDonnell said. “Both offensive lines are similar, both have a good tough center.”
Santos attributes the team’s success thus far to senior leadership out of guys like Rob Bowman and Jimmy Giansante, who he credited as the best blocking wide receiver in the league.
“Obviously guys talk and they’re excited,” he said. “But [McDonnell] does a great job of challenging them everyday. You have to take it game by game.”
It’s clear to see that the Wildcats aren’t getting ahead of themselves. When senior defensive end Robbie Zauck was asked in a press conference if he and his teammates have been able to enjoy the No. 1 ranking yet, running back Jimmy Owens — who was sitting off to the side, awaiting his turn to be questioned — shook his head no with a stern look on his face.
“Being No. 1 doesn’t mean much,” Zauck said, matching Owens’ silent response. “We have to be dialed in towards getting that ‘W’ on Saturday.”
UNH will be taking on a Delaware Blue Hens team whose 6-4 record doesn’t quite do them justice. According to McDonnell, quarterback Trent Hurley is up there with the best in the league and, with an average of 188 passing yards a game, the UNH defense will be forced to put pressure on him early and often, something they neglected to do against Rhode Island this past weekend.
“The next two games determine where we go,” McDonnell said. “These are the games you want to be playing in November.”