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
The 51st season of Big Sky Conference games opens this week with six league clashes. The action begins Thursday night in Portland, Ore., as Portland State plays host to co-defending conference champion Cal Poly. The game will be televised live on ROOT SPORTS. The second game of the ROOT SPORTS doubleheader is on Saturday night as No. 7 Montana travels to No. 24 Northern Arizona. Coverage on ROOT SPORTS begins at 6 p.m. Pacific….Montana State travels to North Dakota. No. 11 Montana State is seeking its fourth straight conference title in 2013. North Dakota is at home for the fourth time this season, facing a ranked opponent for the third straight game….Southern Utah opens league play at Northern Colorado…Weber State plays host to Sacramento State. The Hornets have never won in Ogden…Idaho State treks to UC Davis for just the second all-time meeting between the programs. UC Davis is at home for the third straight week…In a big non-conference game, No. 2 Eastern Washington travels to No. 4 Sam Houston State of the Southland Conference. Sam Houston State beat Eastern Washington 45-42 in last year’s national semifinals.
This Week’s Sky Schedule
Thursday, Sept. 26……………………….
*#18 Cal Poly (1-2) at Portland State (3-1)…………………….
TV: ROOT SPORTS. Dish Network’s Blockbuster Channel 102
Talent: Tom Glasgow, Jason Stiles, Jen Mueller
Saturday, Sept. 28……………………….
*Southern Utah (3-1) at Northern Colorado (1-3)……………… 1:35
#2 Eastern Washington (2-1) at #4 Sam Houston St. (3-1). 2:05
TV: Comcast Sports Net Houston/Comcast Sports Net Northwest
*#11 Montana State (2-2) at North Dakota (1-2)……………….. 2:35
TV: Mad Media Montana/MidCo Sports Net
*Sacramento State (1-3) at Weber State (1-3)…………………. 6:05
*#7 Montana (3-0) at #24 Northern Arizona (2-1)…………… 6:10
TV: ROOT SPORTS. DirecTV Audience Network 101
Dish Network’s Blockbuster 102
Talent: Tom Glasgow, Jason Stiles, Jen Mueller
*Idaho State (2-1) at UC Davis (0-4)…………………….
*Big Sky Conference Game
Times Local to Site/Subject to Change
Around the Big Sky
AST OF THE UNBEATENS: Montana enters the first week of conference play as the only undefeated team left in the league. Montana moved to 3-0 with a 47-14 win over Division II Oklahoma Panhandle State. Montana has also beaten Appalachian State and North Dakota, two teams which handed Montana losses in 2012. Montana opens conference play at Northern Arizona on Saturday night, another team that beat the Grizzlies in 2012. Idaho State entered last weekend 2-0, but suffered its first loss at Washington. Montana is 3-0 for the first time since 2009, the last time the Grizzlies advanced to the national championship game.
CONFERENCE PLAY STARTS: The 51st season of conference football opens this weekend. Over the next nine weeks, each team will play eight conference games. The regular-season champion will earns the Big Sky’s automatic bid to the Division I Playoffs. Montana State, Eastern Washington and Cal Poly all tied for the 2012 championship. Eastern Washington received the league’s automatic bid to the playoffs. MSU and Cal Poly received at-large bids. Montana State has won at least a share of the league title each of the past three seasons. The Bobcats are 21-3 in conference games over the previous three seasons. Because of sanctions handed down by the NCAA this offseason on the Montana program, the Grizzlies were forced to vacate a share of the 2011 Big Sky Championship, leaving Montana State as the outright winner.
BIG SKY FOOTBALL DEBUTS ON ROOT SPORTS: Big Sky Conference football on ROOT SPORTS begins it second season on Thursday night as Cal Poly opens conference play at Portland State. Cal Poly is a co-Big Sky defending champion. Portland State is off to a 3-1 start and ranks second in the nation in total offense. Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh makes his return to Portland. Walsh coached the Vikings from 1993-2006. The game can be viewed on ROOT SPORTS on Thursday starting at 7 p.m. Pacific. The game will also be available to all Dish Network subscribers on the Blockbuster Channel 102. On Saturday, Northern Arizona plays host to undefeated Montana. Coverage from the Walkup Skydome begins at 6 p.m. Pacific. Tom Glasgow, Jason Stiles and Jen Mueller will call both games. ROOT SPORTS will televise 10 conference games in HD this season. Saturday’s game will be televised on DirecTV’s Audience Network 101 and Dish Network’s Blockbuster Channel 102. Subscribers of DirecTV will be able to view Saturday’s game on their smart phones and tablets by downloading DirecTV’s “Watch Everywhere” App.
CLOSING IN ON 4,000: Northern Arizona senior Zach Bauman rushed for 151 yards in Northern Arizona’s 22-16 win over South Dakota. Bauman, who ranks 10th on the Big Sky’s all-time rushing list, now has 3,954 yards and needs just 46 to reach 4,000 in his career. Bauman enters Saturday’s home game against Montana needing 64 yards to surpass for Montana great Lex Hilliard on the Big Sky’s all-time rushing list. Bauman rushed for 253 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-31 win over Montana last season. In 2011, Bauman had 148 yards and a touchdown in a 28-24 loss to Montana in Flagstaff. As a freshman in 2010, Bauman rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown in a three-point loss to Montana. Bauman has averaged 176 rushing yards per game in his three previous games against Montana. Bauman ranks second among active FBS and FCS running backs in rushing yards. Only Sam Houston State’s Tim Flanders with 4,720 yards has more yards.
SOUERS SECOND: Northern Arizona coach Jerome Souers won his 86th career game last Saturday as his Lumberjacks beat South Dakota 22-16. Souers moved into sole possession of second place on the Big Sky’s all-time win list. Hall of Fame coach Chris Ault, who coached Nevada in the Big Sky, is the all-time leader with 111 wins. Souers surpassed former Montana coach Don Read, who won 85 games in 10 seasons at Montana. Souers was an assistant under Read from 1986-1995 at Montana, and came to Flagstaff following the 1997 season. Idaho State coach MIke Kramer is fourth on the list with 82 career wins. Souers ranks second all-time in conference wins with 55. Ault is first with 68.
TEXAS-SIZED REMATCH: The much-anticipated rematch between Sam Houston State and Eastern Washington takes place this Saturday in Huntsville, Texas. Sam Houston beat Eastern Washington 45-42 last December in Cheney in the FCS Semifinal. Sam Houston State went on to lose to North Dakota State for the second straight season in the championship game. Eastern Washington fell behind 35-0 to the Bearkats last December, but nearly pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in NCAA history. Sophomore QB Vernon Adams threw six second-half touchdowns, but Sam Houston State was able to fend off the Eagles. Sam Houston State rushed for 418 yards against the Eagles. Walter Payton Award Candidate Tim Flanders, who is back leading the Bearkats, rushed for 231 yards. QB Brian Bell scored two rushing touchdowns and passed for a third. Adams threw for 364 yards and six touchdowns in the loss. The game will be televised live on Comcast Sports Net Houston and Comcast Sports Net Northwest. Kickoff is at 2:05 p.m. Central.
SKY IN THE SAGARIN: The Big Sky once again ranks third among FCS conferences in the Jeff Sagarin power rankings. The Big Sky is behind only the Missouri Valley and the Colonial. Seven Big Sky teams are rated in the top 30 among FCS teams. Montana is ranked third among FCS teams and third overall. Eastern Washington is fifth and 84th overall. Montana State (13), Cal Poly (18), Portland State (26), Northern Arizona (29) and Southern Utah (30) are also ranked in the top 30. North Dakota State is the No. 1 FCS team in the Sagarin.
BLESKIN TOPS AT MSU: Montana State’s Tanner Bleskin caught nine passes for 131 yards in a loss to Stephen F. Austin last week. Bleksin became the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards with 2,268. He needs 300 more to move into the top 10 in Big Sky history. Bleskin has 160 career receptions, the third-highest total in school history. He needs just nine to tie Joe Bignell for first place in school history. Bleskin needs 41 catches to crack the Big Sky’s top-10 list.
IN THE TOP 25: Five Big Sky teams are once again ranked in both major FCS Top 25s. Eastern Washington is second in the Sports Network poll, and third in the Coaches’ poll. EWU earned one first-place vote in the Sports Network poll. Montana is ranked seventh by the Sports Network and tied for seventh with New Hampshire in the Coaches’ poll. Montana State is 11th the Sports Network poll and 10th in the Coaches poll. Cal Poly is 18th in the TSN poll and 19th in the Coaches’ poll. Northern Arizona is 22nd in the Coaches poll, and 24th in the Sports Network poll. North Dakota State is No. 1 in both. Montana State ended its run of consecutive weeks in the Top 10 in the TSN poll. Montana State was ranked in the top 10 for 32 consecutive weeks dating back to the final poll of the 2010 season when the Bobcats were ranked 11th.
Extra points: Sacramento State has played back-to-back overtime games for the first time in school history…Southern Utah freshman RB Raysean Martin rushed for a career-high 131 yards and three touchdowns in the Thunderbirds’ OT win over Sacramento State…MSU QB Jake Bleskin threw for 308 yards in a loss to Montana State. He became the second Bobcat in history to throw for at least 300 yards in his first two career starters. Jack Rolovich had back-to-back 300-yard games in 2006 for Montana State in his first two starts. No Bobcat has thrown for at least 300 yards in his first three starts…Montana true freshman John Nguyen rushed for 144 yards on 22 carries in the Grizzlies’ 47-14 win over Oklahoma Panhandle State…Sacramento State’s Garrett Safron and wide receiver Andre Carter have combined for six touchdowns the last two games…Montana currently leads the FCS in average attendance at 26,054. Montana State is third at 19,427…Portland State has amassed at least 600 yards of offense in three of its four games…Southern Utah’s Colton Cook is tied for the school career record with 38 made field goals. Cook had made two game-winning FGs this season…Southern Utah’s win at Sacramento State was its first there since 1993…Weber State has scored 29 first-quarter points this season. The Wildcats had 29 first-quarter points the entire 2012 season…Northern Arizona has three interception returns for touchdowns in three games. The league record is six set by Northern Arizona in 1985.