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
Four teams still have hopes of at least a share of the Big Sky regular-season title heading into the final Saturday of the season…No. 2 Montana State travels to Montana for the 112th “Brawl of the Wild.” The game will air live on ROOT SPORTS. MSU can clinch a share of the title with a win…No. 5 Eastern Washington travels to Portland State. The Eagles can clinch a share of the league title with a win…No. 17 Cal Poly and No. 15 Northern Arizona square off in Flagstaff. The winner will clinch at least a share of the league title, and would win the title outright if both EWU and MSU lose…Sacramento State, which is still holding on to slim playoff hopes, battles UC Davis in the “Causeway Classic.’’ It’s the final game for UC Davis coach Bob Biggs, who will retire after 20 years at the helm of the Aggies…Northern Colorado tries to close its season with three straight wins as it plays host to North Dakota, which needs a win to finish 6-5…Weber State seeks is 10th straight win over Idaho State when it plays the Bengals in Pocatello…The NCAA Division I Playoff field will be announced on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Mountain, 10:30 a.m. Pacific on ESPNU.
This Week’s Sky Schedule
Saturday, Nov. 17
$*North Dakota (5-5) at Northern Colorado (4-6), 12:05 p.m.
$*#5 Eastern Washington (8-2) at Portland State (3-7) 1:05 p.m. TV: Comcast Sports Net Northwest
*#2 Montana State (9-1) at Montana (5-5), 1:40 p.m. TV: ROOT SPORTS/DirecTV’s Audience Network. Talent: Tom Glasgow/Sherdric Bonner/Jason Stiles/Jenny Cavnar/Jen Mueller
$*Sacramento State (6-4) at UC Davis (3-7), 3:05 p.m. TV: Comcast California
$*#17 Cal Poly (8-2) at #15 Northern Arizona (8-2), 4:05 p.m. TV: Fox College Sports/NAU-TV
$*Weber State (1-9) at Idaho State (1-9), 4:05 p.m.
$Game available on the Internet at www.bigskytv.org. Times Local to Site/Subject to Change
Around the Big Sky
TITLE TALK: With one weekend remaining, four teams still have a chance to claim at least a share of the Big Sky regular-season title. Montana State, Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona and Cal Poly are all 6-1 in conference play entering the final week. As many as three of them could wind up sharing the championship. Northern Arizona plays host to Cal Poly, so the loser would be eliminated from the title hunt, while the winner will be no worse than co-champion. Unless both Montana State and Eastern Washington lose, a tiebreaker will be used to determined which teams gets the automatic bid to the Division I playoffs. If MSU and EWU both lose, the winner of the NAU-Cal Poly game will be the outright champion and earn the automatic bid to the playoffs.
Below is a breakout of the possible scenarios on Saturday, and who will get the automatic playoff bid:
— If MSU, EWU and Cal Poly tie at 7-1, the automatic bid would go to Eastern Washington. All three teams would have played Sacramento State in league games. Cal Poly would be eliminated because of a loss to the Hornets. MSU and EWU both beat Sac State, so the tiebreaker would revert to the head-to-head meeting between MSU and EWU, which the Eagles won.
— If MSU, EWU and NAU tie at 7-1, the automatic bid would go to Montana State. All three teams would have played Southern Utah, and Montana State is the only one of the three to have a win over the Thunderbirds.
— If EWU and Cal Poly tie at 7-1, EWU would get the automatic bid because of a head-to-head win over the Mustangs.
— If MSU and Cal Poly tie at 7-1, MSU would get automatic win because of its win over Sacramento State. Cal Poly lost to Sacramento State.
— If MSU and NAU tie at 7-1, MSU would get the automatic bid because of the Bobcats’ win over
Southern Utah. Northern Arizona lost to Southern Utah.
— If EWU and NAU tie at 7-1, the highest team in the Sagarin Rating would determine the automatic bid.
THE PLAYOFF FIELD: The Division I Playoff Field will be announced on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Mountain, 10:30 a.m. Pacific on ESPNU. Ten conference champions receive automatic bids to the playoffs. The other 10 at-large teams will be selected by the Division I Football Committee. Portland State athletics director Torre Chisholm is the Big Sky’s representative on the Committee. Eight teams will play in the first round on Saturday Nov. 24. Twelve teams won’t play until the second round on Dec. 1. The Committee will seed five teams, and those five teams will be guaranteed home games in the second round. The Big Sky has sent at least two teams to the playoffs each year since 1999. Montana State is seeking its third straight playoff bid. Eastern Washington is looking to advance to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, and the sixth time since 2004. Northern Arizona hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2003. Cal Poly advanced to the playoffs in 2005 and 2008 when it was a member of the Great West Conference. The playoff field expands to 24 teams next year.
JACKS GO DOWN: Northern Arizona’s eight-game winning streak ended Saturday, as the Lumberjacks fell 35-29 in three overtimes to Southern Utah. Northern Arizona rallied from a 12-0 halftime deficit to take a 15-12 lead. SUU kicker Colton Cook tied the game with a 19-yard field goal on the last play of regulation. Both teams scored touchdowns on their possessions in the first two overtimes. In the third overtime, Southern Utah QB Brad Sorensen threw a 22-yard TD pass to Easton Pedersen. SUU’s defense stopped NAU on the ensuing possession. Defensive tackle Cody Larsen sacked Cary Grossart to end the game. It was the first triple overtime game in SUU history. It was also the first overtime game played by a Big Sky team this season. Sorensen finished the season with 439 pass attempts, a school-record, 273 completions, 15 shy of his own record set last year, 3,139 yards, third-best in school history (he also has the No. 1 and 2 seasons, in 2010 and 2011), and 23 passing and two rushing touchdowns, also third-best in school history and his personal-best. Northern Arizona’s eight-game winning streak was its longest since 1958. Northern Arizona can still cinch at least a share of the Big Sky regular-season title with a win on Saturday at home over Cal Poly.
SKY IN THE SAGARIN: The Big Sky is once again ranked as the second-toughest FCS conference in the Jeff Sagarin Ratings. The Missouri Valley is first, and has moved ahead of the Sun Belt and Conference USA, both FBS conferences. Montana State is the top Big Sky team with an overall ranking of 85 and an FCS ranking of 4. Eastern Washington is second at 88 and 6. Cal Poly is third at 93 and 9. Northern Arizona is fourth at 103-13. Ten of the Big Sky teams are among the top 44 in the FCS. The Sagarin could be used to determine the Big Sky’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs only if EWU and NAU are the lone teams tied at 7-1. The Sagarin will be released late Saturday night.
IN THE POLLS: For the eighth straight week, at least four Big Sky teams are ranked. Montana State remained second in both major polls, behind North Dakota State. The Bobcats earned 20 first-place votes in the Sports Network Poll. Eastern Washington is fifth in both polls. The Eagles improved one spot in the Coaches’ Poll. Northern Arizona dropped from 11th to 15th in both polls. Cal Poly improved to 18th in the Coaches’ Poll and 17th in the Sports Network Poll.
“BRAWL OF THE WILD” ON ROOT SPORTS: The 112th meeting between Montana and Montana State will air live on ROOT SPORTS on Saturday starting at 1:30 p.m. Mountain. The game will air live on ROOT SPORTS and DirecTV’s Audience Network 239-1. Montana State can clinch at least a share of the regular-season title with a win, while Montana needs a victory to avoid its first losing season since 1985. Tom Glasgow, Sherdric Bonner, Jason Stiles, Jenny Cavnar and Jen Mueller will call the game for ROOT SPORTS. Montana State has just two wins in Missoula since 1985. The Bobcats won in Washington-Grizzly Stadium in 2002 and 2010. Montana won last year’s meeting in Bozeman 36-10.
YOST WITH THE MOST: Idaho State senior quarterback Kevin Yost completed 37 of 58 passes in a 70-14 loss to Cal Poly. Yost has now set single-season Big Sky records for pass completions and pass attempts in a season. Through 10 games, Yost has completed 324 of 513 passes this season. The previous record for completions was 318 set by EWU’s Bo Levi Mitchell in 2011. Mitchell held the previous record for pass attempts with 505 in 15 games in 2010. ISU Idaho State enters the game with 345 completions on 545 attempts. The completions are a single-season Big Sky record, surpassing the 344 by Cal State Northridge in 1997. The Bengals are 31 attempts away from a league single-season record. Idaho State holds the mark with 575 in 2004.
FIRSTS FOR BEARS: Northern Colorado beat Weber State 42-34 in Ogden on Saturday, marking the first time the Bears have beaten Weber State. Northern Colorado also claimed back-to-back victories for the first time since 2003, and won back-to-back conference road games for the first time since joining the league in 2006. Northern Colorado has won three of its last four, with a last-second 12-10 loss to Northern Arizona as the only blemish. Northern Colorado’s three conference wins are its most ever in the Big Sky. It’s four overall victories are the most since 2005.
Extra points: Cal Poly needs 135 yards to set a single-season league record for rush yards in a season. Montana rushed for 3,477 in 1971. Cal Poly has 3,343… Idaho State has set a league record for most points allowed in a season with 552. The previous record was 494 by Idaho State in 2008…Portland State QB Kieran McDonagh has been added to the Jerry Rice Award watch list…Montana State coach Rob Ash won his 48th game with the Bobcats last week, becoming the school’s all-time leader in wins…NAU’s Jerome Souers needs one win to tie Don Read for second place on the Big Sky’s all-time win list with 85…Home teams won three of the five conference games last week. Heading into the final week of the season, road teams hold a 24-22 edge in conference games…Cal Poly’s Deonte Williams has rushed for at least 100 yards in nine games this season, a school record…UC Davis continues to lead the nation in net punting at 40.44 yards per punt…SUU finished its season with three lost fumbles. That is tied with Penn and Eastern Kentucky for the national low. Southern Utah is tied with Stephen F. Austin with most fumbles recovered with 16…Idaho State’s Rodrick Rumble became the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards. Rumble has 215 receptions for 2,692 yards. His 215 receptions ranks eighth all-time in Big Sky history…EWU is 10-0 in games after Nov. 1 since 2010…Since 2010, MSU is 20-3 in conference games. EWU is 18-5…Cal Poly now leads the nation in 3rd-down conversion percentage at 54.66 percent. Montana State is third at 53.21.