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
A matchup of top-10 teams highlights this week’s six-game Big Sky Conference schedule. No. 2 Montana State (6-0) plays host to No. 6 Eastern Washington (4-1) in Bozeman. The game will air live on ROOT SPORTS and DirecTV’s Audience Network Channel 239-1. Montana State has won two straight over the Eagles….No. 15 Cal Poly looks to move to 6-0 as it plays host to Northern Colorado. The Mustangs are coming off a 45-23 win over Weber State…No. 16 Northern Arizona, which is coming off a bye week, guns for its fifth straight win as it travels to Grand Forks for the first time to face North Dakota…Sacramento State (4-2) returns home to face a Weber State squad still seeking its first victory….Montana returns home after a two-game road trip to battle Southern Utah… UC Davis heads to Idaho State.
This Week’s Sky Schedule
Saturday, October 13
$*Southern Utah (2-4) at Montana (3-3), 1:35 p.m. TV: Max Media (Montana)
*#6 E. Washington (4-1) at #2 Montana State (6-0) 1:40 p.m. TV: ROOT SPORTS/DirecTV’s Audience Network 239-1 Talent: Tom Glasgow/Jason Stiles/ Jen Mueller
$*#16 Northern Arizona (4-1) at North Dakota (3-3) 3:05 p.m. TV: MidCo Sports Network
$*UC Davis (2-4) at Idaho State (1-4) p.m. 4:05 p.m.
$*Weber State (0-6) at Sacramento State (4-2)….. 6:05 p.m.
$*Northern Colorado (1-4) at #15 Cal Poly (5-0)…… 6:05 p.m. TV: KSBY – San Luis Obispo
$Game available on the Internet at bigskytv.org.
Local to Site/Subject to Change
Around the Big Sky
BOBCAT BLITZ: Montana State hiked its record to 6-0 with an exciting 48-41 victory over UC Davis on Saturday. The Bobcats led 31-14 at the half, but fell behind 38-31 before rallying for the win. Montana State’s 6-0 start is its best since opening the 1978 season 7-0. Montana State is ranked second in this week’s Sports Network Poll. The Bobcats have been ranked for 35 consecutive weeks dating back to the start of the 2010 season. Montana State has been ranked in the top 10 for 21 consecutive weeks. Since the start of the 2010 season, Montana State is 25-6 overall and 17-2 in Big Sky play. Montana State coach Rob Ash earned his 45th career victory with the Bobcats. The sixth-year coach is just two victories away from tying Sonny Holland’s school record of 47 wins. Ash also earned his 221st career coaching win, moving him into the top 40 of Division I college football coaches on the All-Time list. MSU leads the Big Sky and ranks 10th in the nation in scoring offense (37.2 points per game). The Bobcats also lead in the Big Sky in rush defense and total defense. The Bobcat defense failed to force a turnover in its first two games, but have nine in the last four. MSU QB DeNarius McGhee has thrown at least one touchdown pass in each of his 31 games. His 59 career TD passes puts him one shy of Kelly Bradley’s school record of 60.
VIKINGS’ OFFENSE BREAKS OUT: Sporting special camouflage uniforms, Portland State offense played as if it couldn’t be seen by the Idaho State defense in a 77-10 win over the Bengals on Sa turday. The 77 points marked the most by the Vikings since 105-0 win over Delaware State on Nov. 8, 1980. Mouse Davis was the coach of that 1980 team and Neil Lomax was the QB. Both were in attendance on Saturday night. Portland State rushed for a school-record 437 yards, breaking the previous record of 436 set last year against Idaho State. Portland State amassed 758 yards of total offense, the second most in school history. The school record is 788 set in 1976 against Eastern Montana. Portland State averaged 9.1 yards per play. Quarterback Kieran McDonagh accounted for six touchdowns – rushing for four, throwing for one, and catching one. Portland State had 34 first downs. The Viking scored 28 points in the second quarter and 28 more in the third quarter. The 77 points were the most scored in a conference game since Montana beat Weber State 81-22 in 1999.
SHOWDOWN ON ROOT SPORTS: No. 2 Montana State will play host to No. 6 Eastern Washington on Saturday in a key league showdown. The game will air live on ROOT SPORTS and DirecTV’s Audience Network Channel 239-1. Tom Glasgow, Jason Stiles and Jen Mueller will call the action. Montana State brings a 6-0 record into the game. Eastern Washington is 4-1. Both teams are 3-0 in conference. Montana State has won two straight over the Eagles, but the Eagles won the seven previous meetings. The teams shared the 2010 Big Sky Championship, a season that saw the Eagles win the national championship. Montana State is 17-2 in Big Sky play and 25-6 overall since the start of the 2010 season. Eastern Washington is 15-4 in conference and 23-8 since the 2010 opener.
PICK-SIX PARTY: Last week’s six games featured five interceptions returned for touchdowns. During the first five weeks of the season, Big Sky teams accounted for just two pick-sixes. Cal Poly defensive tackle Barrett Wangara started the barrage with a 58-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 45-23 win over Weber State on Friday night. Montana running back Caleb Walden had one on special teams in a 40-17 win over Northern Colorado. After a bad snap, Bear punter Mason Puckett attempted to throw a pass. Walden hauled it in and scored. Portland State’s Ian Sluss had a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Vikings win. The Montana-UC Davis game featured two. MSU’s Darius Jones had a 45-yard interception return in the first half. Jordan Glass of UC Davis had a 7-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
SKY IN THE SAGARIN: The Big Sky is ranked fourth in amongst FCS conference in this week’s Sagarin Ratings. The Missouri Valley is first, followed by the Colonial and the Southern. Five Big Sky teams are ranked in the top 16 FCS teams in the Sagarin. Eastern Washington is second and 79th overall. Cal Poly is fifth and 86th overall. Montana is 11th, Montana State is 13th and Northern Arizona is 16th. North Dakota State is the No. 1 FCS team.
PERFECT POLY: Cal Poly moved to 3-0 in Big Sky play and 5-0 overall with a 45-23 win over Weber State on Friday. The Mustangs are 5-0 for the first time since 2004. Cal Poly has won six straight dating back to a win over South Alabama in the 2011 season finale. The Mustangs have also won four straight road games. Cal Poly ranks third in the nation in rushing yards per game. Cal Poly had a season-high three touchdown passes against Weber State. The squad entered the game with four passing touchdowns in its first four games. The Mustangs will try to push their record to 6-0 when they play host to Northern Colorado on Saturday. Cal Poly has won six of its last seven home games.
FOUR ON RICE WATCH LIST: Four Big Sky Conference players were named to the initial Jerry Rice Award Watch List. The Rice Award, now in its second season, honors the top freshman at the FCS level. EWU QB Vernon Adams, UM QB Trent McKinney, Southern Utah linebacker Zak Browning and Thunderbird safety Miles Killebrew were among the 16 on the list. Adams, who is now 3-0 as a starter, completed 12-of-15 passes for 151 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s 55-17 win over North Dakota. He had an efficiency rating of 252.6 . He has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 579 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. He ranks fifth in the nation in passing efficiency. McKinney has 350 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. He’s completing 66.3 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. Browning is tied for 10th in the Big Sky with 53 total tackles. Killebrew has 46 total tackles. Montana linebacker Jordan Tripp was added to the Buck Buchanan Award watch list. The Buchanan goes to the top defensive player in the FCS. Tripp has 57 total tackles.
SMOKING GUNN: Northern Colorado senior Dominic Gunn tallied 280 all-purpose yards in a 40-17 loss to Montana. Gunn had 158 kick return yards, 98 receiving yards and 24 punt return yards. He returned the opening kickoff of the second half 98 yards for a touchdown, the second straight year he’s done so against Montana. Last season, he opened the second half with a 94-yard return. The 280 yards ranked sixth in NC single-game history. Gunn has 3,430 all-purpose yards, which ranks fifth in school history.
SKY IN THE POLLS: For the second consecutive weeks, four Big Sky teams are ranked in both of the major FCS polls. Montana State is second in both polls behind North Dakota State. MSU received three first-place votes and 3,965 total points in the Sports Network Poll. Eastern Washington is ranked sixth in both polls. Cal Poly is 15th in the Sports Network Poll and 14th in the Coaches’ Poll. Northern Arizona is 16th in the Sports Network Poll and 18th in the Coaches’ Poll.
Extra points: Sacramento State has won three straight road games for the first time since 1999…The Hornets are 4-2 for the first time since 1999…Road teams won four of the six conference games last week. Road teams have won 11 of the first 18 conference games…Weber State amassed a season-high 528 yards of offense in last week’s loss to Cal Poly. The Wildcats are 0-6 for the first time since 2004…PSU QB Kieran McDonagh was named the National Freshman of the Week by The Sports Network…EWU’s 38-point winning margin against North Dakota was its best since a 52-13 win over Montana-Western on Aug. 31, 2007, and the largest versus a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision opponent since a 51-7 win over Weber State on Oct. 23, 2004. The 55 points the Eagles scored were their most since a 56-30 win at Sacramento State in 2009….NAU coach Jerome Souers and ISU coach Mike Kramer each enter the week with 80 career victories. They are tied with former UM coach Bobby Hauck for third on the Big Sky’s all-time win list…Southern Utah’s Brad Sorensen threw for 327 yards in a loss to Sacramento State, his 10th career 300-yard passing game…Montana ranks second in the FCS in average attendance. Montana State is sixth…ISU QB Kevin Yost is averaging a national-high 47.1 pass attempts per game…Eastern Washington is 18-for-18 on red zone chances, one of three teams in the nation to score on all red zone opportunities.