Part of The Analyst’s FCS series called “By the Numbers,” which analyzes data to help tell the story of FCS college football.
South Dakota State has been a machine in recent years and finds itself sporting a 17-game winning streak going into Saturday’s home matchup with a strong North Dakota team.
The Jackrabbits’ last loss was at Iowa on Sept. 3, 2022, when two second-half safeties – yes, safeties of the two-point variety, not the free-floating position in the secondary – handed them a 7-3 defeat.
The boys from Brookings haven’t tasted defeat since then, however, and may be on target to continue their streak well into the 2023 season – though there will be obvious challenges within the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the FCS playoffs.
If the No. 1-ranked Jackrabbits, whose 17-game winning streak is tied for the 16th-longest in FCS history, can maneuver through the next five weeks of UND, at Illinois State, Northern Iowa, at Southern Illinois and at South Dakota, they’ll face rival and fellow national power North Dakota State in Brookings on Nov. 4 going for their 23rd consecutive victory.
Another win over NDSU (the Jacks had two last year, including 45-21 in the national championship game) would put SDSU on the verge of the top-five longest win steaks in FCS/Division I-AA history, dating back to its creation in 1978. With 24+ consecutive wins, SDSU could firmly be in the top five going into postseason play.
First things first: Meander through the MVFC minefield after going 3-0 in the non-conference slate.
Here’s a look at the greatest winning streaks through the first 45 years of FCS/I-AA football:
1. North Dakota State (2017-2020) – 39 Wins
The Party Crasher: Southern Illinois, 38-14
The Bad Memory: In the abbreviated spring 2021 season during the pandemic, NDSU’s streak came to an end just a short time after quarterback Trey Lance had declared for the NFL Draft. Southern Illinois jumped out to a 17-0 lead and took it out on the Bison on behalf of the entire MVFC (and the FCS, for that matter). SIU outgained the Bison 443 yards to 159 and had an eye-popping 41 minutes of possession, which NDSU usually rules.
2. North Dakota State (2012-2014) – 33 Wins
The Party Crasher: Northern Iowa, 23-3
The Bad Memory: NDSU traveled to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to take on Northern Iowa in the UNI-Dome (say that five times quickly), and honestly it was a good game going into the fourth quarter. But the Panthers scored 13 unanswered points in the final period to put an end to the 33-game winning streak. The Bison got the last laugh when they won the national title game almost exactly two months later.
3. James Madison (2016-2017) – 26 Wins
The Party Crasher: North Dakota State, 17-13
The Bad Memory: In another of the epic battles between two FCS heavyweights – from Fargo, North Dakota, and Harrisonburg, Virginia – the Dukes had their hopes of two consecutive national titles ruined by the NDSU juggernaut. The Bison were just too good. On a gorgeous January day in Frisco, Texas, in front of over 19,000 fans, the audience was entertained by a defensive battle for the ages. JMU was driving to try to go ahead with less than four minutes remaining, but stalled in NDSU territory about a minute later. That was it.
T4. Penn (1992-95) – 24 Wins
The Party Crasher: Columbia, 24-14
The Bad Memory: According to the Philadelphia Inquirer story the next morning on Oct. 8, 1995, Penn didn’t overcome its own mistakes while failing to escape New York. The newspaper described it as a gray, dreary day, one in which Penn coach Al Bagnoli, who just announced his coaching retirement from Columbia in 2023, but once coached the Quakers, walked off the field “disconsolately.” Penn held a lead in the third quarter before squandering it.
T4. Montana (2001-02) – 24 Wins
The Party Crasher: Eastern Washington, 30-14
The Bad Memory: The game was tied early in the third quarter, then everything unraveled for defending national champion Montana. Eastern Washington’s Joe Pierce caught two touchdown passes in a span of about five minutes in the third quarter, and the Grizzlies didn’t make up for it in the fourth.
The Next Tier
T6. Harvard (2013-15) – 22 wins – ended by Penn
T6. Sam Houston (2019-2021) – 22 wins – ended by Montana State
T8. Montana (1995-96) – 21 wins – ended by Marshall
T8. Colgate (2002-03) – 21 wins – ended by Delaware
T10. Holy Cross (1990-92) – 20 – ended by Army
T10. Dayton (1996-97) – 20 – ended by Cal Poly