Big Sky football notebook

Following is a look around Big Sky Conference football by Jon Kasper, the conference’s assistant commissioner. Kasper used to write for the Missoulian, where he covered the University of Montana football team for several years.

This Week’s Sky Highlights
A non-conference game between highly-ranked conference teams highlights this week’s schedule. No. 16 Cal Poly travels to No. 7 Eastern Washington in a game that won’t count in the conference standings, but could play a factor in the tiebreaker at the end of the season. Both teams are 5-1 in league play. Both are also coming off of losses…ROOT SPORTS will televise a Big Sky doubleheader. In the first game at 1:30 p.m., Montana hits the road to take on Weber State. The Wildcats have won two straight over Montana in Ogden…In the second game on ROOT SPORTS. No. 3 Montana State treks to Sacramento State. Sacramento State is 4-2 in league and still in the hunt for a playoff bid with a 6-3 record. The Hornets are just outside the top 25. Montana State (4-1, 7-1) is coming off a 55-10 win over North Dakota….No. 12 Northern Arizona (7-1) has won seven straight for the first time since 1958. The Lumberjacks will try to make it eight against Idaho State. Northern Arizona is in sole possession of first place in the league standings at 5-0….Southern Utah, fresh off a win over then-No. 1 Eastern Washington, travels to Grand Forks to face North Dakota in a battle of 4-5 teams…Portland State returns home to face Northern Colorado.

This Week’s Sky Schedule
Saturday, Nov. 3
$*Northern Colorado (2-6) at Portland State (3-5), 1:05 p.m.
$*Southern Utah (4-5) at North Dakota (4-5), 1:05 p.m. TV: MidCo Sports Network
$#16 Cal Poly (7-1) at #7 E. Washington (6-2) (NC). 1:35 p.m. TV: SWX
*Montana (4-5) at Weber State (1-7),1:38 p.m. TV: ROOT SPORTS/DirecTV’s Audience Network 239-1. Talent: Tom Glasgow/Sherdric Bonner/Jenny Cavnar.
*#3 Montana State (7-1) at Sacramento State (6-3), 4:15 p.m. TV: ROOT SPORTS/DirecTV’s Audience Network 239-1.Talent: Rich Burk/Jason Stiles/Jen Mueller.
$*#12 Northern Arizona (7-1) at Idaho State (1-7), 4:05 p.m.
$Game available on the Internet at Times Local to Site/Subject to Change.

Around the Big Sky
NAU ALONE ON TOP: Three teams entered Saturday with perfect conference records. Only Northern Arizona survived, winning on a late field goal. No. 1 Eastern Washington suffered a 30-27 upset at Southern Utah. No. 11 Cal Poly lost its first game of the season, falling at Sacramento State 35-29. Northern Arizona edged Northern Colorado 12-10. The Lumberjacks’ only touchdown came on a Mike Dosen 59-yard interception return. Andy Wilder kicked the game-winning field goal from 18 yards out with 15 seconds to play. Northern Arizona is 5-0 in conference for the first time since 1996. The Lumberjacks have won seven in a row for the first time since 1958. This is the fifth time in school history NAU has been 7-1 after eight games. NAU also accomplished the feat in 1923, 1956, 1957 and 1996. Northern Arizona was selected seventh by the coaches and ninth by the media in the preseason polls. Northern Arizona’s remaining conference games are on the road against Idaho State, and at home against Southern Utah and Cal Poly. NAU’s seven-game winning streak is the second-longest active streak in the FCS behind Lehigh’s eight.

LEAGUE CLARIFIES TIEBREAKER: When the Big Sky Conference expanded to 13 football members, a need for a new tiebreaker arose and was developed by the league’s athletic administrators. As the season winds down, questions have arisen for different scenarios, calling for a clarification of the new procedure. First and foremost, the tiebreaker is in place solely to determine which team will receive the Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Championship. If teams tie for the Conference title, they will be co-champions.  The first tiebreaker is head-to-head. This includes matchups of conference teams playing each other in non-conference games.  So far, there have been two matchups of conference teams playing in non-conference games. A third will take place on Nov. 3, when Cal Poly travels to Eastern Washington. The complete tiebreaker can be found on Page 13.

BOBCATS ROLL AFTER BYE: Montana State, which had a bye last week, returned to the field with an impressive 55-10 home win over North Dakota. Running back Cody Kirk returned after missing two games with an injury to rush for 160 yards and three touchdowns. Montana State set school records with 695 yards of total offense and 49 first downs. MSU rushed for 436 yards, the third-most in single-game school history. Quarterback DeNarius McGhee threw three TD passes, raising his school-record career total to 64. McGhee has thrown a TD pass in 33 straight games. MSU’s defense held North Dakota to nine first downs and 180 yards of total offense, nine first downs, and tallied eight sacks. It was the 46th victory for Rob Ash at MSU. He can tie Sonny Holland’s school record of 47 with a win Saturday

HORNETS IN THE HUNT: Sacramento State played with heavy hearts on Saturday, days after the death of teammate John Bloomfield. The Hornets rode the wave of emotions to a 35-29 upset of Cal Poly. Sacramento State. Holy Cross of the Patriot League honored Bloomfield and Sacramento State on Saturday, wearing John Bloomfield’s No. 43 on their helmets. In 1969, 43 years ago, Sacramento State dedicated its season to Holy Cross, after its season was cut short due to a hepatitis A outbreak. That season the Hornets finished 8-2 and were 5-1 in the Far Western Conference. For the final game of the year, Sacramento State donned Holy Cross jerseys and invited co-captains Tom Lamb and Bill Mocevicz to attend the contest against Puget Sound. Following a Hornet victory, Moncevicz had a game ball signed by each member of the team with an inscription that read: Holy Cross 49, Puget Sound 24. Saturday’s victory pushed the Hornets to 4-2 in conference and 6-3 overall. Sac  State has positioned itself for a run at its first ever FCS playoff bid. Sacramento State plays host to No. 3 Montana State on Saturday. The Hornets are 5-1 in their last six games at home against ranked opponents. The only blemish was a 64-61 overtime loss to Montana State in 2010. In Saturday’s win over Cal Poly, the Hornets fell behind 10-0, but came back strong to take a 28-17 lead at the half. Quarterback Garrett Safron completed 31-of-38 passes for 303 yards and four touchdowns. Safron completed 31 passes, which tied for the second-most in school history. Sacramento State has secured its second winning season in three years. From 2001-2009, Sacramento State did not finish with a winning record.

SKY IN THE SAGARIN: The Big Sky jumped from fourth to second amongst FCS conference in this week’s Sagarin Ratings. The Big Sky is behind the Missouri Valley. Four Big Sky teams are in the top 12 of FCS teams. Montana State is fifth amongst FCS teams and 86th overall. Cal Poly is 88th overall and sixth amongst FCS teams. Eastern Washington is seventh, and Northern Arizona is 12th.

SKY IN THE POLLS: For the sixth straight week, the Big Sky has at least four teams ranked in the top 25. A fifth- Sacramento State – is just on the outside. Montana State moved up one spot to No. 3 in both major polls. The Bobcats received nine first-place votes in the Sports Network Poll. North Dakota State is first in the Sports Network Poll, followed by Georgia Southern. In the Coaches’ Poll, Georgia Southern is first, followed by North Dakota State. Eastern Washington dropped from first to seventh in the Sports Network Poll, and from first to eighth in the Coaches’ Poll. Northern Arizona jumped from 13th to 12th in the Sports Network Poll, receiving two first-place votes. NAU is also 12th in the Coaches’ Poll. Cal Poly dropped from 11th to 16th in both polls. Sacramento State is 26th in both polls. The Hornets earned 367 points in the Sports Network Poll, and 44 in the Coaches’ Poll.

CAL POLY’S WILLIAMS ADDED TO PAYTON LIST: Cal Poly senior slotback Deonte Williams has been added to the Walter Payton Award Watch List, joining fellow Big Sky players DeNarius McGhee (Montana State), Brad Sorensen Southern Utah) and Zach Bauman (Northern Arizona). Williams rushed for 168 yards in the Mustangs’ loss to Sacramento State. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in seven of eight games this season. Williams leads the Big Sky and ranks 6th in the nation in rushing yards per game at 136.8. Williams is the 15th Mustang to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season. He has 1,094 yards with three games to play. The Watch Lists can be found on Page 13.

ROOT SPORTS DOUBLEHEADER: ROOT SPORTS will televise a Big Sky Conference doubleheader on Saturday. At 1:30 p.m. Mountain, coverage starts of Montana’s game against Weber State from Ogden, Utah. Montana is 2-3 on ROOT SPORTS this season. This is Weber State’s first appearance on ROOT SPORTS. Weber State has won the last two meetings against Montana in Ogden. Tom Glasgow, Sherdric Bonner and Jenny Cavnar will call the game. At 4:15 p.m. Pacific, Montana State takes on Sacramento State from Hornet Stadium. Rich Burk, Jason Stiles and Jen Mueller will call the game. Montana State is 2-1 on ROOT SPORTS. Sacramento State is making its ROOT SPORTS debut.

EXTRA POINTS: Home teams won four of the six conference games last week. Home teams are now 18-18 in conference games…Portland State LB Ian Sluss has scored a defensive touchdown in three straight games. Sluss was named the Defensive Player of the Week by the Sports Network, the National Performer of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards, and a National All-Star by the College Sports News Sluss is tied for the national lead with four fumble recoveries…Montana needs to win its final two games to avoid its first losing season since 1985…Montana freshman DL Tyrone Holmes had four sacks in the Grizzlies’ 70-24 win over Idaho State…Idaho State has now given up at least 52 points in six straight games, and at least 70 in three games…EWU WR Brandon Kaufman had a career-high 192-receiving yards in the loss to Southern Utah. Kaufman has six 100-yard receiving games this season and 14 in his career…Cal Poly’s loss left Lehigh as the last undefeated team left in the FCS…NAU coach Jerome Souers needs two more wins to tie his mentor Don Read for second on the Big Sky’s all-time win list with 85…Northern Colorado’s Dominic Gunn needs six return yards to become the seventh player in Big Sky history with 2,000 kick return yards…Montana State freshman offensive tackle John Weidenaar was named the National Freshman of the Week by the The Sports Network…ISU QB Kevin Yost needs 57 completions to tie the single-season Big Sky record of 318. He needs 102 more pass attempts to tie the single-season Big Sky record of 505…Montana ranks second in the FCS in average attendance at 25,041 fans per game. Appalachian State is first at 27,760. Montana State is sixth with an average of 18,833…Southern Utah is tied for second in the nation in turnovers gained with 25. Bethune-Cookman is first with 28. Georgetown also has gained 25…Montana State leads in the nation in 3-down conversion percentage at 57.48 percent. Cal Poly is third at 53.97 percent…Cal Poly has thrown the fewest interceptions in the nation with just one through eight games…Portland State snapped a four-game road losing streak with a 49-21 win over UC Davis on Saturday…ISU coach Mike Kramer will return to the sideline on Saturday against Northern Arizona. Kramer was suspended by the school for last week’s game against Montana…North Dakota’s schedule is rated as the second-toughest in FCS behind Missouri State.