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
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, Northern Arizona sits on top of the Big Sky Conference standings with a 6-0 league mark. The No. 11 Lumberjacks close with two at home, including Saturday’s game against Southern Utah. The Lumberjacks can clinch at least a share of the regular-season title with a win over SUU….NAU will be seeking its ninth straight victory. This is the final game for Southern Utah and its Walter Payton Award candidate quarterback Brad Sorensen…..No. 5 Eastern Washington, No. 2 Montana State and No. 19 Cal Poly are also in the mix for at least a share of the regular-season title if NAU falters. All three squads are 5-1 in conference play, and all are in the hunt for postseason bids…Eastern Washington is at “The Inferno” on Saturday against UC Davis…Montana State plays host to Portland State in the ROOT SPORTS Game of the Week…Cal Poly will try to end a two-game losing streak as it plays host to Idaho State…Northern Colorado, fresh off a 32-28 upset at Portland State, heads to Utah to face Weber State…North Dakota, Montana and Sacramento State all have byes this week…Four of this week’s five games can be viewed for free on Big Sky TV.

This Week’s Sky Schedule
$*UC Davis (3-6) at #5 Eastern Washington (7-2), 1:35 p.m. TV: SWX
$*Northern Colorado (3-6) at Weber State (1-8), 1:35 p.m.
*Portland State (3-6) at #2 Montana State (8-1), 1:40 p.m. TV: ROOT SPORTS/DirecTV’s Audience Network.  Talent: Tom Glasgow/Sherdric Bonner/Jason Stiles/Jenny Cavnar
$*Southern Utah (4-6) at #11 Northern Arizona (8-1), 2:05 p.m. TV: Fox Arizona/NAU-TV
$*Idaho State (1-8)  at #19 Cal Poly (7-2), 6:05 p.m. TV: KSBY
$Game available on the Internet at Times Local to Site/Subject to Change

Around the Big Sky
LUMBERJACKS CONTROL DESTINY: Northern Arizona moved to 6-0 in conference play with a 50-10 victory over Idaho State on Saturday. The Lumberjacks can win the outright league championship with home wins on Saturday over Southern Utah and on Nov. 17 against Cal Poly. Northern Arizona can clinch at least a share of the conference championship with a win on Saturday. Northern Arizona last shared the conference title in 2003 with Montana and Montana State. Northern Arizona’s only other conference championship occurred in 1978 when the Lumberjacks finished 6-0. NAU opened the season with a 63-6 loss at Arizona State, but has since won eight straight games, the program’s longest winning streak since 1958. The 1958 Lumberjacks opened 11-0 and played for the NAIA national championship. NAU’s current eight-game winning streak ranks as the second-longest in FCS football behind Lehigh’s nine straight. The eight in a row is the eighth-best in Division I behind Alabama (13), Oregon (12), Ohio State (10), Notre Dame (9), Kansas State (9), Louisville (9), and Northern Illinois (9). Northern Arizona has never been 7-0 in conference play, a feat the Lumberjacks can achieve on Saturday. Northern Arizona has won five straight road games this season, equaling the single-season school record set in 1999. The Lumberjacks won seven road games on the road twice over multiple seasons from 1928-30 and from 1956-58.

TITLE TALK: If Northern Arizona were to lose, as many as three conference teams are still in the hunt for at least a share of the regular-season title. Montana State, Eastern Washington and Cal Poly are all 5-1 in conference with two games remaining. Eastern Washington has a home game against UC Davis and a road game at Portland State remaining. Montana State plays host to Portland State before closing at arch-rival Montana. Cal Poly plays host to Idaho State, and closes at Northern Arizona. If all four teams tie at 7-1, all four teams would be recognized a co-conference championship. The league’s automatic bid to the playoffs would go to the team with the highest conference Sagarin Rating, as that would be the first criteria in the Big Sky’s tiebreaker that could be met. All four teams would have played and beat North Dakota, Portland State and UC Davis in conference games, meaning the Sagarin Ratings would break the tie. If EWU, MSU and NAU all tie at 7-1 with NAU losing to Southern Utah and beating Cal Poly, EWU would win the automatic bid to the playoffs.

ASH TIES HOLLAND: Montana State’s Rob Ash earned his 47th victory with the Bobcats on Saturday, tying Sonny Holland for the most wins in school history. Ash now has 223 career victories. Ash’s 47 career victories rank 14th in Big Sky history. He is one behind former NAU coach Steve Axman (48), and three behind former Weber State coach Sark Arslanian (50). Ash has guided Montana State to three straight eight-win seasons, something MSU has previously accomplished only once, 1965-58. Montana State has won 19 conference games since 2010, the most victories in the league during that span.

SOUERS ONE FROM READ: Northern Arizona coach Jerome Souers picked up his 84th career coaching victory in the Lumberjacks’ 50-10 win over Idaho State. Souers can move into a tie for second place on the Big Sky’s all-time victories list with a win on Saturday against Southern Utah. Souers would tie Montana’s Don Read with 85 wins. Read was Souers mentor. Souers began working for Read at Portland State in 1985, and followed Read to Montana, working for the legendary head coach from 1986 until Read’s retirement following the 1985 season. Chris Ault, who is still the coach at Nevada, is the Big Sky’s all-time leader with 111 wins.

SKY IN THE SAGARIN RATINGS: The Sagarin Ratings could prove to be very important in breaking a tie to determine who gets the Big Sky’s automatic bid to the playoffs. Four Big Sky teams are ranked among the top 12 FCS teams in the Sagarin. Eastern Washington is rated 86th overall and fifth among FCS teams. Montana State is 91st overall and seventh among Sagarin Teams. Northern Arizona is 8th, and Cal Poly is 12th. The Big Sky is once again ranked second among FCS conferences. The Missouri Valley is first. Montana (32), Southern Utah (36), North Dakota (38), Portland State (39) and Sacramento State (40) give the Big Sky nine teams in the top 40 FCS teams. North Dakota State is first among FCS teams, followed by Sam Houston State, Indiana State and Northern Iowa.

BIG SKY IN THE POLLS: Montana State has moved up to second in both major polls this week. The Bobcats earned 17 first-place votes in the Sports Network poll, and 3,887 total points. In the Coaches’ Poll, MSU earned one first-place vote and 614 total points. North Dakota State is No. 1 in both polls. Eastern Washington has climbed to fifth in both polls. EWU earned 3,374 total points in the Sports Network Poll, and 498 in the Coaches’ Poll.  Northern Arizona is 11th in both polls. The Lumberjacks earned two first-place votes in the Sports Network Poll. Cal Poly dropped to 19th in both polls. This marks the seventh straight week at least four Big Sky teams have been ranked in the Sports Network Poll.

YOST MAYBE WITH THE MOST: With two games remaining this season, Idaho State’s Kevin Yost is on pace to set Big Sky single-season records for pass completions and pass attempts. Yost has 287 completions, jsut 31 shy of tying the record of 318 set by EWU’s Bo Levi Mitchell last season. Yost is averaging 31.9 completions per game. Yost has attempted 455 passes, and needs just 50 more to tie Mitchell’s record of 515 set in 2010 when he played in 15 games. Yost is currently averaging 301.35 passing yards per game in his two-season career. If he maintains those numbers over the final two games, he will finish his career fourth in Big Sky history in passing yards per game.

GUNN REACHES 2,000: Northern Colorado’s Dominic Gunn had 11 kick return yards against Portland State, giving him 2,005 for his career. Gunn is the sixth player in league history to have 2,000 kick return yards. Former Weber State return man Bryant Eteuati holds the record with 2,644 yards. Gunn is just 36 yards away from tying Weber State’s Wiley King for fifth place in league history.  The others with more than 2,000 are Idaho State’s JD Ponciano (2,264), Portland State’s Aaron Woods (2,222), and Montana’s Rob Schulte (2,086).

BOBCATS/VIKINGS ON ROOT SPORTS: ROOTS SPORTS will televise Montana State’s home game on Saturday against Portland State. Coverage begins on ROOT SPORTS and DirecTV’s Audience Network 239-1 starting at 1:30 p.m. Mountain. Tom Glasgow, Sherdric Bonner, Jason Stiles and Jenny Cavnar will call the game. Portland State is making its ROOT SPORTS debut. Montana State is 3-1 on ROOT SPORTS this season.

Extra points: Montana State’s string of 33 straight games with a touchdown pass came to an end last week against Sacramento State…Montana needs a win over Montana State on Nov. 17 to keep its streak of winning seasons alive. UM hasn’t had a losing season since 1985…Road teams won four of the six conference games last week. Road teams now hold a 22-19 lead in conference games…Weber State freshman Cordero Dixon returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Montana. It was Dixon’s first career kick return…Cal Poly’s Deonte Williams rushed for 100 yards in a loss to EWU. It was Williams’ eighth 100-yard game this season and 13th of his career…WSU LB Anthony Morales recorded a career-high 23 tackles in a loss to Montana. Morales now leads the Big Sky with an average of 11.5 tackles per game…MSU RB Cody Kirk has rushed for 289 yards and five touchdowns in his last two games…Northern Colorado snapped a nine-game road losing streak with its win at Portland State. NC’s last previous road win came in 2010 at PSU…ISU has allowed 482 points through nine games. ISU allowed a Big Sky record 494 points during the 2008 season…ISU WR Rodrick Rumble has moved into 10th place on the Big Sky’s all-time receptions lists with 205…UC Davis leads the nation in net punting…UND WR Greg Hardin has 1,036 receiving yards. EWU’s Brandon Kaufmann has 1,000 receiving yards…There are only five other receivers in the FCS with 1,000 receiving yards….NC’s Dominic Gunn was named Special Teams Player of the Week by the Sports Network…Montana State LB Na’a Moeakiola was named National All-Star by the College Sporting News…MSU dropped from first to second in the nation in third-down conversion percentage this week. The Bobcats are converting 54.93 percent. Cal Poly is third at 54.17…UM dropped behind Harvard in total sacks. UM has 39. Harvard has 41…SUU QB Brad Sorensen needs 86 passing yards to reach 3,000 for the third straight season.