Weber State North Dakota 2015 13 Wilkes

In this Oct. 17, 2015, photo, Weber State running back Eric Wilkes, center, is wrapped up by several North Dakota defenders during a game at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

Miller: I would say there's cautious excitement. I think UND fans look forward to seeing a consistent schedule of more regionally recognizable opponents, but there's also an element of concern. The Missouri Valley has a strong reputation. I think Fighting Hawks' fans know UND needs to continue to grow the program — the Hawks weren't Division I until 2008, after all — because you're not going to enjoy your time in a conference as the fourth-best Dakota school.

UND's football fan base hit a peak around 2001 when the then-Fighting Sioux won a Division II national title and the Alerus Center opened in Grand Forks. Since the move to Division I, fan interest has fluctuated as the Hawks have struggled to maintain success while playing in the shadows of the FCS' most consistent program 75 miles away in Fargo.

UND's ability to close the competitive gap with North Dakota State and South Dakota State will go a long way to reach a fan base that also has the tug of one of college hockey's powerhouse programs which plays about the same time of year nearby in $100 million Ralph Engelstad Arena.

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