MACOMB, Ill.-Trying to decipher Division I FCS football on a Saturday-by-Saturday basis is like trying to figure out why the folks in this area of Illinois have little interest in watching the home team. It's difficult. Western Illinois University has been pretty good over the years, very good last season, yet the fans don't seem to care.
The students were on break Saturday night, Oct. 13, when North Dakota State came to town. We'll give a partial pass for that.
"It's a different environment, not as many people," said Bison running back Lance Dunn. "We knew coming in we would have to create our own energy and play our game."
Most programs play it up when the defending national champs come to their turf. There was no such excitement around Macomb, other than maybe the 10th annual Performing Arts Society Beer Fest earlier in the day.
They're even selling beer these days at WIU's Hanson Field. It was a cool night and the weather was probably not conducive for Beer Fest goers from continuing their tasting. Whatever the case, the Bison marched into Macomb and took a 34-7 victory over the Leathernecks in front of 2,709 fans.
"It's Macomb, it's a small town," said Western defensive lineman Khalen Saunders. "Not a lot of people know where Macomb is. That's fine, we have a motto 'we're all we got and we're all we need.'"
At NDSU, the weather is all it has and sometimes it's not pretty. For some odd reason, a midweek snowstorm may have played into NDSU's hands, another reason for the team to forget about emotional wins over South Dakota State and Northern Iowa.
"We play to a standard, every day in practice," said quarterback Easton Stick. "Whether it's in a dome or in practice when it's snowing sideways, it doesn't matter. Guys understand they have to take a step each day."
Stick made reference to strength and conditioning coach Jim Kramer, who may have enjoyed the mini-blizzard more than anybody and in some way used a supernatural power to order it. He likes a mental challenge of a hot, humid day in August or snow in October.
"Coach Kramer calls us 'dome babies,'" Stick said.
It's part of the formula in avoiding the down-day bug in FCS football. NDSU has figured it out, dang near mastered it. The Bison have been a marvel of consistency since their first FCS crown in 2011.
They are 103-8 since the quarterfinal loss at Eastern Washington in 2010. Then there is this staggering record: They are 35-3 on the road.
In the last month, James Madison lost to Elon, which lost to Delaware on Saturday. That's the same Blue Hens team that was overmatched at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome last month.
Eastern Washington appeared headed to a top-two national status. The Eagles lost at Weber State Saturday, giving Weber the upper hand in the Big Sky Conference. No. 4 Wofford lost convincingly to Furman 34-14.
Up and down the rankings, everybody has had their oh-no Saturday.
Except the Bison.
"That's what good football teams do," said Western head coach Jared Elliott. "Good football teams have the ability at home or on the road to start fast and finish strong. I have the most respect for them. Everybody tries to simulate and replicate how they do it. They will not beat themselves."
Stick threw one touchdown pass and has 10 on the season against one interception. It wasn't the greatest of offensive days for the Bison but it didn't have to be. Western had more yards of total offense and the best receiver on the field was WIU's Isaiah LeSure with 12 receptions for 170 yards.
NDSU, however, made the winning plays. They have a stout defense every year.
That's how a team avoids an upset.
"That's NDSU football," Saunders said. "I've been playing them for four years and I respect them. I respect the coaches and all that. They're very diverse and it's hard to stop that."