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 Schedule

Saturday, Sept. 22
*Northern Arizona (2-1) at No. 14 Montana (2-1), 1:35 p.m.  TV: ROOT SPORTS & DirecTV’s Audience Network. Talent: Tom Glasgow, Sherdric Bonner, Jason Stiles, Jen Mueller, Jenny Cavnar.
$*No. Colorado (1-2) at #2 Montana St. (3-0), 2:05 p.m. TV: Max Media
Idaho State (1-1) at Nebraska  (2-1), 2:35 p.m. TV: Big Ten Network
$*Southern Utah (1-2) at Portland State (1-2), 5:05 p.m. TV: Comcast Sports Net NW (Oregon)
$*UC Davis (1-2) at Cal Poly (2-0), 6:05 p.m. TV: KSBY-San Luis Obispo
$*North Dakota (2-1) at Sacramento State (2-1), 6:05 p.m.
$*#9 Eastern Washington (1-1) at Weber State (0-3), 6:05 p.m.
$Game available on the Internet at
Times Local to Site/Subject to Change
(NC) Non-conference game between Conference Teams


This Week’s Sky Highlights

The 50th season of conference football begins in the Big Sky on Saturday with six conference matchups…Montana plays host to Northern Arizona in the ROOT SPORTS Game of the Week. NAU is seeking its first win over UM since 1997. Both No. 14 Montana and Northern Arizona are 2-1… It’s the first of 12 games that will air this season on ROOT SPORTS…No. 2 Montana State welcomes Northern Colorado to Bozeman. The Bobcats are off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 1999….Southern Utah plays its first conference game on the road at Portland State…League newcomers UC Davis and Cal Poly renew their rivalry in San Luis Obispo. The Mustangs (2-0) are coming off a 24-22 upset of Wyoming…North Dakota plays its first conference game on the road at Sacramento State…Weber State plays its conference opener against No. 9 Eastern Washington in Ogden. Eastern Washington is coming off a bye week. Weber State is seeking its first win…Idaho State plays a non-conference game against Nebraska of the Big Ten Conference.

Around the Big Sky

CAL POLY MAKES IT FOUR: Cal Poly became the fourth Big Sky Conference team to notch a victory over and FBS team this season, upsetting Wyoming 24-22 on Saturday in Laramie. Cal Poly is no stranger to wins over FBS teams. The Mustangs defeated UTEP in 2003, and San Diego State in 2006 and 2008. This was Cal Poly’s first win over an FBS team under Tim Walsh, who won a pair over FBS teams when we coached Portland State in the Big Sky. Walsh led Portland State to victories over Hawai’i in 2000 and New Mexico in 2006. Cal Poly is 5-24 against FBS teams since 1980. On Saturday against the Cowboys, the Mustangs raced out to a 14-0 lead. Deonte Williams scored on a 65-yard run 1:09 into the game. Kristaan Ivory scored on a 9-yard run with 9:53 remaining in the first quarter. That score was set up by a 74-yard Williams run. Wyoming battled back to take a 15-14 halftime lead. Ivory scored on a 5-yard pass from Andre Broadous with 4:57 remaining in the third quarter to put the Mustangs ahead 21-15. Bobby Zalud added a key 51-yard field goal with 9:49 remaining. Nico Molino clinched the victory with an interception of Wyoming with 1:09 to play. Cal Poly rushed for 325 yards, including 187 from Williams. The Cal Poly defense held Wyoming to 14 first downs and 260 yards of total offense. There have been nine FCS teams beat FBS teams this season. The Big Sky leads with four, followed by the Missouri Valley with three. The Southland and Ohio Valley can also claim FBS upsets.

IS FOUR A RECORD?: The Big Sky Conference has won more than four games against FBS or I-A teams in a season before, but it’s been a long time, and the college football landscape looked a lot different. In 1982, Big Sky Conference teams won six games over I-A or FBS teams. Boise State beat Cal State Fullerton 20-9 and Pacific 22-15. Both Fullerton and Pacific belonged to the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, which later became the Big West Conference. Boise State also beat Utah State 30-15 that season. Idaho beat Pacific 36-17. Nevada beat Fresno State 40-26, and Nevada beat Cal State Fullerton 17-7. Cal State Fullerton and Pacific no longer sponsor football. In 1978 – the year of the I-A, I-AA split – the Big Sky won nine games over I-A teams. Prior to this season, the last time the Big Sky notched three FBS wins in the same season was in 2000. That season Idaho State beat Utah State, Montana beat Idaho, and Portland State beat Hawaii. From 2004-2011, the Big Sky had just three victories over FBS teams. This is the first year the Big Sky has won two games over Mountain West teams in the same season. The Big Sky is currently 4-12 against FBS teams this year. The final chance for another upset is on Saturday when Idaho State plays at Nebraska.

Big Sky’s Wins over the “Big Boys” in 2012

Aug. 30 — Eastern Washington 20, Idaho 3

Sept. 8 — Sacramento State 30, Colorado 28

Sept. 8 — Northern Arizona 17, UNLV 14

Sept. 15 — Cal Poly 24, Wyoming 22

CLOSE TO A FIFTH: North Dakota fell just short of upsetting San Diego State of the Mountain West Conference 49-41 on Saturday. The 41 points is the most scored by an FCS team against an FBS team this season. Senior quarterback Marcus Hendrickson, making his second straight start in place of an injured Braden Hansen, completed 27-of-50 passes for 434 yards with four touchdowns. Three of his touchdowns where caught by Greg Hardin, who has six TDs receptions in his last two games. North Dakota ranks third in the nation in scoring offense, fifth in passing offense, and eighth in total offense. Hendrickson leads the nation in passing efficiency. Hardin leads the nation in touchdown catches with seven. North Dakota has 14 touchdown passes, which is tied with Old Dominion for the national lead.

IN THE SAGARIN: Three Big Sky teams are ranked in the top 10 among FCS teams in this week’s Jeff Sagarin Ratings. Eastern Washington is rated fifth and 86th overall. Cal Poly is seventh and 98th overall. Montana is ninth and 104th overall. North Dakota (23), Montana St. (26), Northern Arizona (27) and Southern Utah (29) give the Big Sky seven teams in the top 30 of FCS teams. The Big Sky is rated fourth among FCS conferences, behind the Missouri Valley, Colonial and Southern. North Dakota State is the top FCS team in the Sagarin Rating. The Bison are 60th overall. Georgia Southern is second, followed by Northern Iowa and Youngstown State.

ROOT SPORTS DEBUT: ROOT SPORTS will air the first of 12 Big Sky Conference football games on Saturday. Coverage of Northern Arizona vs. Montana starts at 1:30 p.m. Mountain on ROOT SPORTS Northwest, ROOT SPORTS Rocky Mountain, and DirecTV’s Audience Network. All 12 games will air in high definition. Tom Glasgow, Sherdric Bonner, Jason Stiles, Jen Mueller and Jenny Cavnar will be in the booth and on the sidelines. ROOT SPORTS is widely available on cable networks throughout the Big Sky Conference’s footprint. It is also available nationally on DirecTV and Dish Network. ROOT SPORTS Northwest is on channel 687 on DirecTV and channel 426 on DirecTV. ROOT SPORTS Rocky Mountain is available on DirecTV 683 and Dish Network 414. The Audience Network is available to all DirecTV subscribers. The Audience Network is on DirecTV channels 101, 239, 334 and 500.

IN THE POLLS: Montana State jumped up to No. 2 in both major FCS polls. The Bobcats, 43-35 winners over Stephen F. Austin, received nine first-place votes in The Sports Network Poll and 3,767 total points. The Bobcats earned one first-place vote and 607 total points in the Coaches’ Poll. North Dakota State is No. 1 in both polls. Eastern Washington, which was idle last week, moved up one spot to 9th in the Sports Network Poll. The Eagles moved up two spots to 9th in the Coaches’ Poll. Montana, a 34-14 winner over Liberty last week, remained 14th in the Sports Network Poll. The Grizzlies moved up one spot to 11th in the Coaches’ Poll. Cal Poly (2-0), Sacramento State (2-1), and Northern Arizona (2-1) all have victories over FBS teams, but can’t seem to crack the top 25. Cal Poly received 288 points in the Sports Network Poll, putting them 26th. Sacramento State (154) and Northern Arizona (149), are 29th and 40th, respectively. North Dakota (76) is 35th. In the Coaches’ Poll, Cal Poly earned 25 points, good enough for 27th. North Dakota (14), Sacramento State (13), and Northern Arizona (10) also received votes. Southern Utah received three votes in the Sports Network Poll.

SHANKS DOES IT AGAIN: For the second straight week, Northern Arizona’s Austin Shanks returned a punt for a touchdown. With 42 seconds left, Shanks returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown in NAU’s 69-0 win over Division II Fort Lewis. Shanks had a 75-yard punt return in a 17-14 win over UNLV on Sept. 8. Shanks is the first Lumberjack to record two punt returns of 70 yards or more in his career. Shanks leads the nation with an average of 49.5 yards per punt return. The FCS record for consecutive games with a punt return is three by Troy Jones of McNeese State in 1989.

THROUGH THE SMOKE: Neither Stephen F. Austin or Liberty got to truly enjoy the beauty of Montana this weekend because of forest fires. Smoke caused havoc in Bozeman in Missoula, but the Grizzlies and Bobcats each picked up important non-conference wins. No. 14 Montana beat Liberty of the Big South 34-14. Dan Moore rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown for the Griz. Montana hasn’t lost a regular-season non-conference home game since 2003. Montana State beat No. 23 Stephen F. Austin 43-35 in a wild game. The teams combined for 722 passing yards. Cody Kirk rushed for 105 yards and three touchdowns for Montana State. The Bobcats trailed four times and didn’t take the lead for good until Kirk scored on a 5-yard run with 2:26 to play. Rory Perez added a 45-yard field goal with 31 seconds to play. Montana State is 3-0 for the first time since 1999.

Extra points: Montana’s Peter Nguyen returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown against Liberty. It was the third-longest punt return in school history….WSU’s Tony Epperson has taken over the national lead in punting with his 48 yard average. Epperson averaged a school-record 55 yards per punt with a long of 71 in a loss to McNeese State…Southern Utah’s Brian Wilson rushed for a career-high 140 yards in a win over New Mexico Highlands. SUU WR Fatu Moala had three TD catches in the win…Jonathan Perkins returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown in UC Davis’ 12-8 loss at South Dakota State…Dominic Gunn had a 74-yard punt return for Northern Colorado in its loss to Sacramento State. It was the first punt return for a touchdown by a Northern Colorado player since current NFL star Vincent Jackson had a 79-yard return in 2001…Cal Poly’s Bobby Zalud was named the Co-Special Teams Player of the Week by The Sports Network…The 69-0 shutout posted by NAU was the largest shutout since a 75-0 win over Western New Mexico in 1996…Portland State outscored Washington 13-7 in the second half of a 52-13 loss…SUU DT Cody Larsen ahd six tackles – 4.5 for loss – with 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, a recovered fumble, and a QB hurry in the win over New Mexico Highlands…MSU QB DeNarius McGhee has thrown a TD pass in all 28 games he’s played.