FCS championship week is upon us and, as tradition dictates, the North Dakota State Bison are in the thick of the conversation. In five days NDSU will make an unprecedented 10th appearance in the national title game and with this tenth showing they take a firm lead in many major categories as far as the contest is concerned. No FCS team, past or present, has played in as many championships, won as many titles or has even compiled as good a winning percentage as the Bison have when it comes to this game. What’s perhaps more impressive is the fact that even a loss to South Dakota State this weekend won’t affect their position atop the history books in any of these categories.
There is another record, however, that assuredly won’t change hands this weekend and, oddly enough, it’s one that North Dakota State doesn’t lay claim to, even after the last decade. For all the dominance displayed by the Bison this time of year, there is still one mark that they have not reached and, quite frankly, aren't all that close to touching.
No team in the history of the FCS championship has scored more points or averaged more per appearance (minimum three) than former SoCon juggernaut Georgia Southern. The Eagles, in their eight championship games, averaged nearly 40 points per outing and totaled 306 points scored in their title game showings. North Dakota State currently sits at 278 total points with an average of 27.8 per contest. So, while NDSU can match GSU's point total by scoring 28 on Sunday, they'd need over 100 to meet that insane average.
So how did the Eagles do it?
Georgia Southern’s run in the subdivision came to an end in 2014 when they moved up but before they did they left an impressive wake behind. In their eight championship outings, GSU took home the trophy six times and put up some big time numbers while doing so thanks to some very potent offenses. Guys like Adrian Peterson left their mark on the storied program and etched their names into FCS championship history with otherworldly performances.
The Eagles gave fans a glimpse of what their title game formula would be when they first appeared in the contest in 1985. The duel against Furman was not only the first of just two FCS (then Division I-AA) championship bouts to be played in Tacoma, WA but it was an absolute shootout that resulted in 86 total points being scored. The Eagles bested the Paladins 44-42 behind an astonishing comeback featuring four second-half touchdown throws from GSU quarterback Tracy Ham.
That championship was followed up a year later with a much more comfortable 48-21 beating of Arkansas State to give the Eagles their second I-AA crown. In the back-to-back title games, Ham had thrown for over 700 total yards and was responsible for eight combined touchdowns. Holding that GSU offense down was no easy task and not many defenses could do it.
Furman would enact its revenge on Georgia Southern a couple years later by handing the Eagles their first championship loss in Pocatello, ID to wrap up the 1988 season. It didn’t take long for GSU to return to the game, though, and get back to its explosive ways once there.
In 1989, the Eagles completed one of the greatest seasons in school history and got their final trophy under head coach Erk Russell when they toppled Stephen F. Austin 37-34 for the title. In yet another championship where the teams racked up over 70 total points, Joe Ross piled up 152 rushing yards and found the end zone once. That win put a nice and tidy bow on a perfect 15-0 season and gave Russell his 83rd and final victory with the team.
A season later, GSU continued its dominance with another high-scoring title triumph over Nevada. This time they put up 36 points while holding the Wolfpack to just 13. The Eagles pounded the rock with Raymond Gross who ran for 145 of the team’s 323 rush yards. The ground game was smothering and Nevada had no answers for it.
It would take eight years for Georgia Southern to return to the big stage but when they did again in 1998, they picked up right where they left off in terms of the video game-type numbers. The Eagles did lose their second championship that year when UMass dropped a whopping 55 points on them but GSU didn’t go down without a fight, putting up 43 of their own.
One year following they got back on the right track with their most dominant championship win in team history with a 59-24 thrashing of Youngstown State who, itself, was a dynasty at the time. In that 1999 game, Adrian Peterson carried the load for 247 rush yards and three touchdowns. Peterson's work that day is still widely considered to be one of the best individual performances in FCS championship history.
In 2000, the Eagles picked up their final national title with a 27-25 defeat of Montana. It put a cap on what was the most dominant string of championships the subdivision had seen up to that point. In many ways GSU were the Bison before the Bison rose to prominence in the early 2010s.
North Dakota State, without a doubt, has fielded some very crushing offenses of their own during their current dynasty. Guys like Carson Wentz, Trey Lance and Hunter Luepke among countless others have made names for themselves in the green and gold and several opposing teams have felt their wrath down in Texas.
For all the Bison do to impress in Frisco, though, no team was more consistently dominant on the championship scoreboard than Georgia Southern in the 80s and 90s. NDSU has had their share of blowout wins in the title game but GSU did it best and the numbers show it.