- Associated Press - Thursday, October 13, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - The Jackrabbits are sick of hearing about North Dakota State.

Who can blame them?

The Bison have won the last five FCS national championships, and they’re ranked No. 1 in the nation again this year. Their quarterback from last year, Carson Wentz, is quickly blossoming into an NFL star (he’s one of five former Bison that started for NFL teams last week), and NDSU added another signature win to their long list when they beat the Iowa Hawkeyes a few weeks ago.

And it’s been awhile since South Dakota State beat their rivals to the north, whom they visit this Saturday at the Fargodome. NDSU has won each of the last six regular season battles - the Dakota Marker game - and the Bison have won eight straight in the series overall when playoffs are included.

What the Jackrabbits have done in the last few years is impressive - a program that made one playoff appearance in a century of Division II football has gone to the FCS playoffs four years in a row - but as long as the Bison continue dominating the series and garnering national exposure, the Jacks will operate in their shadow.

“You do get sick of it,” senior safety Nick Mears told the Argus Leader newspaper (http://argusne.ws/2dMX34p ). “You’re envious of them, because you want to be in that position. Five in a row? You have to respect that. That’s where everyone else wants to be. That pushes us, so maybe in some ways its good for us. We want to beat them pretty bad.”

The Jacks’ last win in the series came in 2009, a 28-13 win that was, at the time, SDSU’s third straight over the Bison.

As the losses have mounted, the pressure to end the streak has done the same. Meanwhile the Bison are so used to winning at this point that they never take the field with anything but supreme confidence. That confidence has been as responsible for NDSU’s success as their coaching and personnel.

“We say ‘winners win because that’s what winners do’,” said former Bison receiver Trevor Gebhart, who would know, as he was a part of four national championship teams at NDSU after playing in three state championship games at Sioux Falls Washington. “It’s an expectation, and you demand it. When that becomes the norm it’s all you know and it’s all you expect. When they went to Iowa there’s not a doubt in my mind that every single player on that team walked into Kinnick Stadium fully expecting they were going to win the game.”

It’s a mindset the Jacks have had at times themselves - think last year’s rivalry game against South Dakota, when the Jacks were badly outplayed for three quarters then rallied seemingly effortlessly in the final quarter to win comfortably. But it’s been hard to conjure the same confidence against the Bison. Last year SDSU was ranked No. 5 in the country when they hosted a 2nd-ranked NDSU team in the conference opener. The Jacks had rolled through non-conference play and looked poised to break the streak. They were beaten soundly, 28-7.

What the Jacks (3-2 this year) can’t do is let that one carry over into this one.

“We may have put ourselves at a disadvantage at times by putting them too much on a pedestal,” said senior defensive tackle Shayne Gottlob. “They’re great and they’ve accomplished some amazing things, but we have to believe we can beat them, or we won’t.”

Like any good rivalry, familiarity is what breeds contempt. The teams are close in proximity and recruit many of the same players. Their history goes back to the North Central Conference and the simultaneous move to Division I both programs made in the early 2000s. While SDSU’s recent facilities boom figures to help them close the gap, winning will always be the ultimate tool in recruiting players and attracting fans.

Just because the Bison have dominated the series in recent years doesn’t mean they don’t value the rivalry.

“Oh you bet,” Bison coach Chris Klieman said when asked if the Bison make a big deal of the Marker trophy. “Every year there’s a big emphasis on that, to keep the Marker here in Fargo. It’s hard to do. Wins are difficult and when you have it for a while like we have it makes it even tougher. They want it in Brookings and we want to keep it here. It’ll be in our locker room this week as a constant reminder.”

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