North Dakota State Bison vs Oregon Ducks
Originally planned for Week One this season, the FCS Champion North Dakota State was supposed to play against the Oregon Ducks, last seasons Pac-12 Champions. While not traditional rivals, this inter-conference game had a lot of hype around it heading into the 2020 season and could have played a potentially large role in how the 2021 NFL Draft shakes out.
On the Bison side, quarterback Trey Lance was supposed to play far-and-away the most difficult competition of his young career in this game. The exceptionally talented passer has turned quite a few heads in the draft community since last season, piqued by an incredible 28 touchdowns thrown in 2019 with zero interceptions in his freshman season.
Combine that with a perfect record AND winning the FCS Championship in 2019, Lance is considered one of the best quarterbacks to potentially declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. While North Dakota State may only be an FCS program, they have consistently punched above their weight against FBS opponents. They’ve won eight FCS Championships since 2011 and were looking to have an even better roster in 2020 than they had last season.
The only thing skeptics can take away from Lance is the fact his opponents have been considered lower quality in the FCS than he would face in the FBS. The Oregon Ducks defense was supposed to be his first FBS opponent and the game would have likely played a large part in NFL decision-makers considering him in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Bison have a 6-0 record against FBS teams since 2010, meaning there was a very good chance this game would have been competitive.
On the Oregon side, the Ducks are entering a new era in football after their starting quarterback since 2016 left for the NFL this spring. Their roster is littered with some of the most talented players in the Pac-12, many of whom are likely to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Oregon safety Jevon Holland is expected to declare for the draft after 2020 and is considered one of the best safeties in the 2021 NFL Draft. Holland has over 100 tackles and nine interceptions since 2018 and looks to be one of the strongest elements of Oregon’s secondary this season.
While he should have plenty of opportunities to show off in 2020 without facing North Dakota State, the game would have been a prime opportunity for him to shine in the season opener. The Bison may have the most talented roster in the FCS, but their offense has never had to play against a defense like Oregon’s before. The game against the Ducks could have been a big boon for Holland from a statistical production standpoint.
After several FCS conferences moved to cancel the upcoming season this past week, there is a very strong possibility that North Dakota State’s conference will cancel their season as well. Speculation has run rampant about whether Lance would choose to jump into the 2021 NFL Draft with only one season under his belt. Or whether he would be better off transferring to a Power 5 conference.
At the same time, Holland has been named by media sources as being part of the Pac-12 United group. The #WeAreUnited movement has risen up in the past few weeks, starting in the Pac-12 and inspiring players in other conferences to get organized. Focusing on player safety, racial injustice and securing scholarships for players who opt out this season, the group has started a national conversation about the ethics of the college sports system and the so-called “amateur” designation that blocks them from being compensated for their incredibly dangerous labor by the NCAA.
These players have put their professional careers on the line, in order to secure some semblance of protection during this pandemic for themselves and their fellow student-athletes, while also addressing systemic racism and how it affects their time in college. By threatening to opt-out and not play if these problems are not addressed, Holland is risking his scholarship and potential future-earnings in the NFL. It will be interesting to see how this plays out and what effects this movement will have in the 2021 NFL Draft and future years to come.