Several days before North Dakota State's season opener in Minneapolis, Will Mostaert could already imagine staring up into the crowd to see a section packed with fans from his hometown of Lakeville.
Mostaert is among nearly 40 Minnesota natives on the NDSU roster, returning to their home state Saturday to make history playing Eastern Washington in the first ever college football game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"It's going to be a really special moment," the senior defensive tackle said about the Bison playing at the home of the Vikings. "It's going to be a fun time."
It was only a matter of time before U.S. Bank Stadium played host to college football after attracting a Super Bowl and a Final Four, among other major sporting events. Saturday's attendance for this featured FCS matchup had sold fewer than 15,000 tickets earlier in the week, according to the Fargo Forum, for a stadium that seats 66,200 at capacity for the Vikings.
But the size of the crowd won't minimize the importance of NDSU's presence in Minnesota.
"It's a great opportunity," North Dakota State coach Matt Entz said. "We've got to go down there and play really well. We've got to go down there and enjoy the opportunity, but we got to make the most of it."
The Bison last played a football game in Minneapolis to open the 2019 season when current NFL quarterback Trey Lance made his college debut against Butler before an announced 34,544 fans at Target Field. The Bison also played the Gophers twice at the Metrodome, beating them before a crowd of 63,088 in 2007.
The Bison return seven starters on offense and six on defense from a 12-3 team that lost the FCS championship game to rival South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits, just ahead of NDSU at No. 1 in this year's FCS preseason poll, also look forward to their fans fans flooding Minneapolis on Sept. 16, when they play host to Drake at Target Field.
"To be able to bring our brand coming off a national championship to the Twin Cities is a big deal," SDSU athletic director Justin Sell said.
Entz, who led NDSU to national titles for the 2019 and 2021 seasons, agreed about the significance of having the Bison brand playing across the border. Minnesota is the most important recruiting base for the Bison, who have 38 players from the state, including 16 players on their projected two-deep depth chart. North Dakota (21) and Wisconsin (19) are second and third in producing the most players on this year's NDSU roster.
"It has a ton of value," Entz said. "It's also the area of our greatest alumni population. So, it's an opportunity for our alumni to be engaged with our football program and also to engage with one another. So, I see it as a win-win."
Opening the season with a win against Eastern Washington would give the Bison a chance to start their redemption tour off strong. Both programs met in the 2018 national championship game won by NDSU.
But NDSU missed out on consecutive FCS and Missouri Valley Conference championships at the hands of SDSU last season, including a 45-21 loss to the Jackrabbits in the title game in Frisco, Texas.
"That's something we're not ever trying to experience again," said Bison wide receiver RaJa Nelson, a former Lakeville North standout. "Our main goal is to win the Valley [conference title] and then go and win us a [national] championship. We're going into this year with a new team but the same mindset and a chip on our shoulder."
The Bison have five players from Lakeville on their roster, most notably the Mostaert twins. They led Lakeville North to an undefeated 13-0 record and Class 6A state title at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2018.
Eli Mostaert, a preseason FCS All-America defensive tackle, was sidelined by a broken leg for 12 games last season. Will Mostaert, who started 13 games last year, is glad to see his brother back healthy alongside him.
The Bison have a chance to make a statement Saturday, especially the Minnesotans.
"We have to be special this year," Mostaert said. "I know we have to be great. If we're not great, then we're not going to win a whole lot of games. I believe we can do that in all facets of the game."