South Dakota State answered any and every challenge this season while capturing a second consecutive FCS national championship.

The only question that appears unanswered is how high do the Jackrabbits rank among the best teams in the 46-year history of the Division I subdivision?

They’re in the discussion.

The Jacks went wire-to-wire at No. 1, completing a 15-0 season with a 23-3 victory over No. 2 Montana in Sunday’s title game in Frisco, Texas. They joined four other FCS teams to finish with that same perfect record, trailing only North Dakota State’s 16-0 mark in 2019.

“I’m not overly concerned about where we stand. I think this is one of the best teams,” said first-year coach Jimmy Rogers, the 2023 Eddie Robinson Award recipient. “I know this, this is the best team that South Dakota State football has ever had. And that’s what we concern ourselves about. Where it stands in history, I’m not sure, you guys (the media) make that decision. Blessed to be around the guys.”

In marking the eighth time an FCS team has won two or more consecutive national titles, SDSU pushed its winning streak to 29 games – the third-longest run in FCS history. The dominance came with exclamation in the postseason as the Jackrabbits’ 131-point margin in four playoff wins (146-15) tied for the second-largest since 1996. Overall, they outscored opponents 560-139 behind an offense full of NFL prospects and a defense whose 9.27 points allowed per game marked the lowest average in an FCS season since the 2003 Monmouth squad (8.5).

It’s reasonable to say SDSU has joined a solid history of FCS dynasties. That distinction is probably skewed by North Dakota State’s unbelievable run that has made all others appear mortal – nine FCS championships in 11 seasons from 2011-21 – but the Jackrabbits have defeated the Bison an unfathomable five straight times since the spring 2021 season and played in three of the last four national championship games.

SDSU football dates to 1889, but this was the Jackrabbits’ first-ever unbeaten season that didn’t include a tie.

“It’s pretty awesome,” linebacker Adam Bock said, “looking out there, a sea of blue (fans on the Toyota Stadium turf afterward), everybody on the field. That first (national title is) going to be really special, just being the first one. But, man, the emotions are great for both (titles), knowing you worked so hard and you accomplished what you set out to do.”

Following is a review of South Dakota State’s win over Montana:

Montana quarterback Clifton McDowell (17) is tackled in the first half by South Dakota State safety Tucker Large (1). The Jackrabbits ranked No. 1 in the FCS this season in fewest yards (257.2) and points (9.27) allowed per game. (AP Photo)

No. 1 seed South Dakota State (15-0) 23, No. 2 seed Montana (13-2) 3

Quick Synopsis – SDSU led by only 7-3 at halftime, but scored on three straight possessions in the third quarter to extend its advantage to basically an insurmountable 23-3. Quarterback Mark Gronowski, fresh off receiving the 2023 Walter Payton Award, was named the title game’s Most Outstanding Player for the second consecutive year, and the defense didn’t allow a touchdown for the third time in four playoff wins.

Game Balls – Offense: Gronowski accounted for 237 yards of total offense and two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing); Defense: Bock stopped Montana running back Eli Gillman inside the SDSU 1 to end a drive on the first play of the second quarter and finished with a team-high 11 tackles (seven solos); Special Teams: All five of Hunter Dustman’s punts were inside the Griz 20 and forced an average starting spot inside the 11 after them. He also kicked a 32-yard field goal despite a subpar snap.

3 Key Stats – 1. Montana ran 21 more offensive plays than SDSU – 76 to 55 – but the Jackrabbits were more productive, averaging 6.8 yards per play to the Grizzlies’ average of 3.6; 2. The Missouri Valley Football Conference champion’s defense picked the right game to post a season-high five sacks, often forcing Grizzlies quarterback Clifton McDowell out of the pocket. Defensive ends Cade Terveer and Quinton Hicks had 1.5 sacks each; 3. The Jackrabbits kept Montana scoreless in the first and third quarters, which reflects on the season’s terrific game plans and coaching adjustments. They allowed only 26 points in the first quarter and 14 in the third quarter in 15 games.

Takeaway – The Jackrabbits were unflappable in Rogers’ first season at the helm, with repeating as the national champion basically their only option for it to be considered a successful season. They met the challenge by being the FCS’ best team by far.

Up Next – South Dakota State will claim its second consecutive No. 1 final ranking in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 Poll on Monday. The 2024 season opener for each team is on Aug. 31: SDSU will play at Oklahoma State and Montana will host Missouri State.