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 second week of conference play features six games, two of which will air live on ROOT SPORTS. Second-ranked Montana State puts its four-game winning streak on the line as it travels to Southern Utah, a 49-42 winner over Portland State in its first Big Sky game…In the second game of the ROOT SPORTS doubleheader, No. 7 Eastern Washington returns to the “Inferno” for the first time this season as it takes on No. 21 Montana. EWU won its conference opener, while UM fell at home to NAU. UM is trying to avoid its first 0-2 conference start since 1992….No. 22 Northern Arizona looks to move to 4-1 as it plays host to Portland State. PSU edged the Lumberjacks in Portland last season…No. 23 Cal Poly will look to push its record to 4-0 as it travels to North Dakota. Both teams are 1-0 in conference. The former Great West Conference rivals played in Grand Forks last season with the Mustangs pulling out a 23-19 win….Idaho State joins the conference fray with its league opener at home against Sacramento State…In Davis, Weber State will look for its first win of the season, while UC Davis hopes to snap a three-game losing streak.
This Week’s Sky Schedule
Saturday, Sept. 29
*No. 2 Montana State (4-0) at Southern Utah (2-2), 1:38 p.m., TV: ROOT SPORTS/DirecTV’s Audience Network. Talent: Tom Glasgow/Sherdric Bonner/Jen Mueller
$*Sacramento State (2-2) at Idaho State (1-2), 1:35 p.m.
$*Portland State (0-1) at #22 Northern Arizona (3-1) 2:05, p.m. TV: NAU-TV/Fox Arizona Plus
*#21 Montana (2-2) at #7 Eastern Washington (2-1). 4:15 p.m. TV: ROOT SPORT/DirecTV’s Audience Network/ Talent: Rich Burk/Jason Stiles/Jenny Cavnar
$*#23 Cal Poly (3-0) at North Dakota (3-1), 6:05 p.m. TV: MidCo Sports Network
$*Weber State (0-4) at UC Davis (1-3), 6:05 p.m.
$Game available on the Internet at bigskytv.org.
Times Local to Site/Subject to Change
Around the Big Sky
STREAK CHOPPED DOWN: Northern Arizona ended a 14-game losing streak to Montana, upsetting the No. 14 Grizzlies 41-31 in Missoula. NAU coach Jerome Souers, who spent 12 seasons roaming the Griz sideline as an assistant, had been 0-14 against his former employer. On Saturday, NAU forced five Grizzly turnovers and rallied from a 24-7 deficit. Northern Arizona scored 34 straight points. NAU junior RB Zach Bauman, a candidate for the Walter Payton Award rushed 29 times for a career-high 253 yards with three touchdowns. The 253-yard effort ranks ninth in NAU single-game history. Bauman scored on a 75-yard run on the opening offensive play of the game. He added two fourth-quarter TDs to ice the game. Northern Arizona last beat Montana 27-24 in Flagstaff in 1997. NAU had not beaten Montana in Missoula since a 34-28 victory in 1986. That game was played at Dornblaser Stadium in Missoula, as Washington-Grizzly Stadium had not yet opened.
A RARITY: Northern Arizona’s victory over Montana on Saturday marked just the fifth time since 1993 that the Grizzlies have lost a conference home game. NAU is the first Big Sky team other than Eastern Washington or Montana State to win in Washington-Grizzly Stadium since Nevada won a two-overtime game in 1991. Eastern Washington beat Montana in WGS 40-35 in 1997, and again 34-20 in 2005. Montana State beat Montana in WGS 10-7 in 2002, and again in 2010 by a score of 21-16. Since 1993, Montana is 67-5 at home in conference games. Idaho State, Northern Colorado, Sacramento State and Portland State have never won in Washington-Grizzly Stadium in a conference game. Weber State hasn’t won there since 1987. Portland State won at WGS in 1987 when the Vikings were a Division II school. Southern Utah won a non-conference game there in 1998, and Cal Poly won a playoff game in Missoula in 2005. Montana is now 173-22 all-time at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
ROOT SPORTS DOUBLEHEADER: ROOT SPORTS will televise two Big Sky Conference Football Games this Saturday. At 1:30 p.m. Mountain, coverage begins from Cedar City, Utah as Southern Utah welcomes No. 2 Montana State. Tom Glasgow, Sherdric Bonner and Jen Mueller will call the game. At 5:15 p.m. Mountain, 4:15 p.m. Pacific, No. 7 Eastern Washington plays its home opener against No. 21 Montana. Rick Burk, Jason Stiles and Jenny Cavnar will call the game. For DIRECTV customers, this weekend’s games will be available on ROOT SPORTS Channel 687 in the Northwest region and Channel 683 in the Rocky Mountain Region. The game will be available in the outer market on Audience Network Channel 239-1. For Dish Network Customers, the game will air on Channel 426 in the Northwest Region and Channel 414 in the Rocky Mountain Region. ROOT SPORTS is widely available on cable throughout Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Washington Wyoming, and New Mexico, as well as parts of Nevada, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.
IN THE POLLS: Northern Arizona and Cal Poly both entered the Sports Network Top 25 for the first time this season. Cal Poly moved to 3-0 with a 28-20 win over UC Davis. The Mustangs are ranked 23rd, one spot behind Northern Arizona, which upset then-No. 14 Montana. The Grizzlies (2-2) fell to 21st. Montana State remained No. 2 behind North Dakota State. NDSU earned 154 first-place votes and 4,201 points. Montana State received five first-place votes and 3,955 total points. Eastern Washington moved up two spots to No. 9. In the Coaches’ Poll, Cal Poly is ranked 23rd, Montana is 20th, Eastern Washington is seventh, and Montana State is second. MSU received one first-place vote and 618 total points. NAU was just outside the poll with 63 points. North Dakota was 28th with 48 points. In the Sports Network Poll, North Dakota earned 175 points, good enough for 30th. Sacramento State and Southern Utah also earned votes in the Sports Network Poll.
SAGARIN RATING: The Big Sky moved up one spot in the FCS conference rankings in the Jeff Sagarin Ratings. The Big Sky is now third amongst FCS conferences, behind the Missouri Valley and Colonial. Eastern Washington is rated seventh among FCS teams and 98th overall. Cal Poly is eighth, followed by NAU at 13, UM at 14, North Dakota at 17, and Montana State at 25th. Southern Utah is 26th, and UC Davis is 31st. North Dakota State is No. 1 amongst the FCS teams and 57th overall.
CATS KEEP ROLLING: Second-ranked Montana State improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1978 with a 41-16 win over Northern Colorado on Saturday. MSU QB DeNarius McGhee, a candidate for the Walter Payton Award, completed 34-of-44 passes for 387 yards with two touchdowns. He also ran for a touchdown. The Bobcats amassed 564 yards of total offense. The unit held the ball for 40 minutes and 41 seconds. On defense, MSU held Northern Colorado to 52 rushing yards.
NEW LOOK AT QB: Eastern Washington made a surprise change at QB in its 32-26 win over Weber State. Redshirt freshman Vernon Adams started for the first time. Adams threw for 75 yards and ran for 62. The Eagles led 20-3 at the half. Kyle Padron, who started the first two games, came on in the second half. Padron threw for 149 yards and a touchdown.
WELCOME TO THE LEAGUE: Southern Utah, North Dakota and Cal Poly won their first ever conference games last Saturday. UC Davis was the only newcomer to lose, and the Aggies lost to Cal Poly. Southern Utah rallied from a 21-3 first-quarter deficit to beat Portland State 49-42. QB Brad Sorensen, a candidate for the Walter Payton Award, threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns. Cal Poly notched a 28-20 win over UC Davis. Senior running back Deonte Williams rushed for 188 yards and three touchdowns. North Dakota beat Sacramento State 35-13. Mitch Sutton rushed for 162 yards and three touchdowns. As a team, North Dakota ran for 294 yards. North Dakota’s 22-point victory in its first conference game was the largest margin of victory ever by a Big Sky team in its first conference game. Seventeen schools have now played Big Sky Conference games. Eight have won their first conference game, and nine have lost. Prior to Saturday, the last new team to win in their first try was Nevada in 1979. (Thanks to UND’s Ryan Powell for compiling the below list).
Team First Year Result of First Conference Game
Idaho (1963) Beat Idaho State, 14-0
Idaho State (1963) Beat Montana, 14-13
Montana (1963) Lost to Idaho State, 14-14
Montana State (1963) Beat Weber State, 26-8
Weber State (1963) Lost to Montana State, 26-8
Boise State (1970) Beat Montana State 17-10
Northern Arizona (1970) Lost to Montana, 20-0
Nevada (1979) Beat Idaho State, 24-6
Eastern Washington (1987) Lost to Nevada 40-26
Portland State (1996) Lost to Northern Arizona, 38-24
Sacramento State (1996) Lost to Montana, 35-17
Cal State Northridge (1996) Lost to Northern Arizona 32-14
Northern Colorado (2006) Lost to Portland State, 45-3
UC Davis (2012) Lost to Cal Poly, 28-20
Cal Poly (2012) Beat UC Davis, 28-20
North Dakota (2012) Beat Sacramento State, 35-13
Southern Utah (2012) Beat Portland Sate, 49-42
Extra points: Southern Utah free safety Miles Killebrew was named the Co-Freshman of the Week by The Sports Network. Killebrew recorded 15 tackles – 11 solo- and broke up a pass in the Thunderbirds’ 49-42 win…EWU WR Brandon Kaufman had his third straight 100-yard receiving game with 126 yards and a touchdown against Weber State…Northern Colorado LB Clarence Bumpas has had at least 10 tackles against his last 10 Big Sky opponents. Bumpas tallied 11 against Montana State…Sacramento State WR DeAndre Carter is one of three players in the FCS to have one receiving touchdown in the first four games of the season…Sac State RB Ezekiel Graham rushed for a career-high 140 yards in a loss to UND…NAU safety Lucky Dozier was named an All-Star by the College Sporting News…UND punter Brett Cameron was named the National Punter of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards…SUU’s Josh Smith was named the National Kick Returner of the week by the CFPA, and NAU RB Zach Bauman was named the National RB of the Week…SUU’s Mitch Jessop caught nine passes for a career-high 159 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Portland State…Weber State’s Xavian Johnson caught six passes for 133 yards in the loss to EWU…UC Davis has outscored opponents 27-7 in the first quarter of games this season…UC Davis LB Byron Gruendl had 12 solo tackles and 15 total stops against Cal Poly.