Sam Houston State's two-time Southland Conference titlists and NCAA Division I Championship finalists return to the practice field Thursday to begin their week-long preparations for a date with North Dakota State in Frisco Saturday, Jan. 5.

The Bearkats are returning to the national championship game for the second consecutive year to face No. 1 ranked and defending national champion North Dakota State at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas. Kickoff of the national championship game is at 1 p.m. EST on ESPN2.

The Bison defeated the Bearkats 17-6 in last season's championship game. This year the team looks to change that outcome.

The 2011 Bearkats' 14-0 run to the NCAA Division I Football National Championship game was incredible. But few can argue that the 2012 team's road back to Frisco for a rematch with defending national champion and No. 1 North Dakota State is even more amazing.

After a heart-breaking loss at Central Arkansas where the Bears  scored 14 points in the final five minutes to upset the defending Southland Conference champion 24-20, Sam Houston State stood 1-2 and on the brink of having the team's repeat playoff hopes dashed all together.

The team responded. Since the UCA loss in Conway, Sam Houston has gone 10-1 with the only loss to Football Bowl Subdivision No. 8 and Cotton Bowl bound Texas A&M. Seven of those 10 victories came on the road.

Traveling and winning big is nothing new to the Bearkats. During the past two seasons, the Kats have won an impressive 13 games out of 17 trips away from Bowers Stadium.

During that span, the only losses were to North Dakota State in last January's FCS national championship game, a 24-20 loss to Central Arkansas on the Bears' purple-and-gray colored turf as well as bowl-bound Baylor and Texas A&M

To reach the finals, Sam Houston had to defeat each of the three teams that ended the regular season as tri-champions in what many believe to be the toughest FCS conference in the nation, the Big Sky.

The Bearkats defeated No. 12 Cal Poly in the second round, No. 2 Montana State in Bozeman in the quarterfinals and No. 4 Eastern Washington.

Now Sam Houston faces the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, North Dakota State. Eastern Washington was the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Division I Football Championships. Montana State was the No. 3 seed. Sam Houston, No. 5 in the both the final regular season Sports Network and NCAA Coaches polls, was unseeded in the championships.

Sam Houston is 5-0 against the Big Sky the past two years with wins over Montana

State and Montana in last year's quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.

The Bearkats bring a 7-7-1 all-time record against the Missouri Valley Football Conference. That includes a 1-2 mark against North Dakota State, a 1-1 record versus Missouri State and a 5-4-1 won-loss slate against Western Illinois.

The SHSU football team will depart for Frisco on Wednesday, Jan. 2, and work out the final two days before the Jan. 5 game on practice fields at FC Dallas Stadium.