FARGO — With just one game this fall for North Dakota State, it’s never too early to look ahead to the spring Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule. Especially with Dillon Radunz moving on after the Central Arkansas game.

The one-game swan song for the left tackle is 2:30 p.m. Saturday against the Bears at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The senior announced last month he was going to forgo the spring season and concentrate on preparing for the NFL Draft.

After the UCA game, the Bison will also be preparing for the opening at left tackle and one possibility has emerged in the last few weeks: junior Cody Mauch.

“Cody is probably playing the best football of his career the last seven-to-10 days,” Bison offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl said last week. “He’s really turned the page and is all-in as an offensive lineman. He’s athletic. Coming from Hankinson (N.D.) and playing receiver there and then playing defensive end and tight end his first year and a half, just the small things like fundamentals and techniques he’s figuring out.”

Mauch was a quarterback, tight end and defensive end at Hankinson (N.D.) High School who had more than 1,000 career receiving yards. He redshirted at NDSU in 2017 and was a scout team guy who rarely played in 2018.

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He emerged last season as a dual offensive tackle-tight end and had two notable blocks: springing Adam Cofield free on a 71-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter that won the game at South Dakota State and giving James Hendricks room to run on a fake field goal touchdown in the Division I FCS national title game against James Madison.

He even caught a two-point conversion pass against Montana State in the FCS semifinals. He’s also grown to 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds.

“You can tell, he’s playing with confidence and playing faster and I really appreciate his maturation process,” Roehl said.

If the Bison don’t move Mauch to left tackle, there are at least two other viable options: moving right tackle Cordell Volson to left tackle or moving inserting sophomore Jalen Sundell at that spot.

Volson is a senior veteran who could handle the switch. At 6-5, 292, Sundell was the Missouri Class A Offensive Player of the Year at Maryville High School. So far this fall, Roehl said he’s played all five positions on the offensive line.

“Give Jalen a lot of credit, there’s been a lot thrown on his plate,” Roehl said. “He’s doing a good job with all of our schemes. He’s got that mindset, that mentality to be physical and tough.”

COVID-19 issues never go away

NDSU is going on seven months of dealing with COVID-19 issues since the pandemic hit in early March. It canceled spring football and was a hindrance with summer workouts. An unspecified number of players tested positive.

Bison head coach Matt Entz said the coaching staff has worked through contingency plans in case a few individuals or an entire position group tests positive.

“I’ll be honest, it hasn’t been the easiest thing in the world,” Entz said. “I’m sure many head coaches out there who are trying to navigate this landscape right now I anticipate will give you the same feedback. Every day you’re sitting on pins and needles hoping you have as many of your players available.”

Entz said earlier this week NDSU still has some players in quarantine.

“And that’s a tough deal,” he said. “To have to call a young man and tell him he’s in quarantine for 14 days and in actuality he didn’t do anything wrong. That’s the one thing that’s been the most frustrating through this whole process.”

Three games vs. zero games

It’s been a debatable question for about a month: Which team has the advantage, Central Arkansas for having played three games or NDSU for having the ability to see three UCA games and UCA having no tape on NDSU?

“Great question,” said Bison defensive coordinator David Braun. “We practice here in a unique manner that certainly gives us a sense of preparation and ready to go play a football game, but anytime you are stepping into the first live interaction of the season and going against an opponent who has had three games brings concerns of consistency with tackling. Anytime you enter the first game of the season, there will be first-game jitters but I’m confident our guys will be able to handle that well.”

Starting middle linebacker Jackson Hankey agrees, saying the jitters go away pretty quick once kickoff starts.

“It’s really hard to say where the advantage might be,” he said. “But I guess in playing some games already maybe they would be more confident. But we’ve been practicing, we’ve had a lot of game experience and I’m personally not too worried about it.”

Etc. etc. etc.

  • Bison linebacker Aaron Mercadel, who said in August he was not going to play this spring, is also not going to play against Central Arkansas. The starting outside linebackers will be juniors James Kaczor and Jasir Cox.
  • Digital programs will be available to fans free of charge through gobison.com or the NDSU mobile app. A free roster card will be available on the dome concourse.
  • It’s the first meeting between NDSU and Central Arkansas. The Bison are 13-1 against the Southland Conference. UCA is 4-5 vs. the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
  • The NDSU athletic department will be holding a one-day online auction Saturday from 2:30-8 p.m. at gobison.com/auctions.

(Editor's note: This story is part of The Forum's Bison Game Day print section available to combo subscribers and on sale Saturday morning wherever single-copy Forums are sold)