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
Cal Poly, Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona all enter Saturday’s games perfect in conference play…No. 14 Cal Poly puts its 6-0 record on the line as it plays host to Portland State, which is coming off a bye week. The Mustangs are 4-0 in league…No. 16 Northern Arizona (3-0, 5-1) guns for its sixth straight victory as it plays host to UC Davis, which is coming off a win over Idaho State…Top-ranked Eastern Washington, which moved to 5-1 with a big road win over Montana State last week, faces a red-hot Sacramento State, a squad which has a history of winning in Cheney. The Hornets, 3-1 in league, are 5-2 for the first time since 1992 and are riding a three-game winning streak. The Hornets will try to end EWU’s four-game wining streak. EWU is 4-0 in league for the first time…Southern Utah, fresh off a win over Montana in Missoula, returns home to face Beehive State rival Weber State…In the ROOT SPORTS Game of the Week, North Dakota plays host to Montana. Both teams are 1-3 in league and 3-4 overall. North Dakota will look to snap a three-game losing streak….Idaho State hits the road to face Northern Colorado. Both teams are looking for their first conference win and hoping to snap four-game losing streaks.
This Week’s Sky Schedule
Saturday, Oct. 20
$*Weber State (0-7) at Southern Utah (3-4), 1:05 p.m.
$*Idaho State (1-5) at Northern Colorado (1-5), 1:35 p.m.
*Montana (3-4) at North Dakota (3-4), 2:40 p.m. TV: ROOT SPORTS/DirecTV’s Audience Network 239-1. Talent: Tom Glasgow/Jason Stiles/Jen Mueller
$*UC Davis (3-4) at #16 Northern Arizona (5-1), 4:05 p.m. TV: NAU-TV/Fox Arizona Plus
$*Sacramento State (5-2) at #1 E. Washington (5-1), 4:05 p.m. TV: SWX
$*Portland State (2-4) at #14 Cal Poly (6-0), 6:05 p.m. TV: KSBY
$Game available on the Internet at bigskytv.org. Times local to Site/Subject to Change
Around the Big Sky
EAGLES NEW NUMBER ONE: Eastern Washington’s victory over previously second-ranked Montana, coupled with four of the top five teams losing on Saturday has propelled Beau Baldwin’s club to the No. 1 ranking in both major FCS polls. In the Sports Network Poll, Eastern Washington earned 92 first-place votes and 3,982 total points. In the Coaches’ Poll, Eastern Washington received 11 first-place votes and 615 total points. EWU has now been ranked No. 1 at least for a week in three straight seasons. Montana State was the last Big Sky team to be ranked No. 1. The Bobcats were No. 1 late in the 2011 regular season. Montana State dropped to fifth in both polls. James Madison is second in both polls followed by Georgia Southern and previous No. 1 North Dakota State. NDSU, Montana State, Old Dominion were ranked 1-2-3 last week. All three lost. No. 5 Wofford also lost. Cal Poly, which is 6-0, is now ranked 14th in the Sports Network Poll and 12th in the Coaches’ Poll. The Mustangs received three first-place votes in the Sports Network Poll. Northern Arizona (5-1) is 15th in the Coaches’ Poll and 16th in the Sports Network Poll. Sacramento State (5-2) received votes in both polls. UC Davis received a vote in the Sports Network Poll.
LAST OF THE UNBEATENS: Cal Poly beat Northern Colorado 56-28 on Saturday at home to move to 6-0. The Mustangs are one of four undefeated teams left at the FCS level. Lehigh of the Patriot League overcame seven turnovers to beat Georgetown 17-14 to improve to 7-0. Ivy League squad Harvard moved to 5-0 with a win over Bucknell on Saturday. Tennessee State of the Ohio Valley Conference moved to 7-0 with a win over Southeast Missouri on Saturday. Cal Poly is the only one of the four remaining undefeated teams to have a win over and FBS team. The Mustangs beat Wyoming 24-22 on Sept. 15. Cal Poly is the only one of the four to have victories over at least one team from the five top FCS Conferences in the Sagarin Ratings – the Missouri Valley, CAA, Southern, Big Sky or Southland. Cal Poly is 6-0 for the first time since 2004. The Mustangs are at home on Saturday against Portland State. Previously undefeated North Dakota State, Montana State, Wofford and Old Dominion all lost last Saturday.
FIRST TIME AT 4-0: Eastern Washington has fielded some excellent football teams since joining the Big Sky in 1987, but for the first time the Eagles find themselves 4-0 in Big Sky play. EWU improved to 4-0 in conference with a 27-24 win at previously unbeaten and second-ranked Montana State on Saturday in Bozeman. Eastern Washington has picked up conference wins over Weber State, Montana, Montana State and North Dakota. This marked the first time since 2005 that EWU has beaten Montana and Montana State in the same season. Eastern Washington has now accomplished that feat four times, also doing it in 1985, 1991 and 1992. The Eagles managed just 211 yards of total offense and scored just one offensive touchdown, but here helped by timely and unexpected plays in the win over Montana State. Dylan Zylstra blocked punt early in the fourth quarter that Evan Day fell on in the end zone for a touchdown. Less than a minute later, safety Jordan Tonani stepped in front of a DeNarius McGhee pass to put the Eagles up 27-17. Eastern Washington will try to move to 6-1 overall for the first time since 1997 when it plays host to Sacramento State on Saturday. In 1997, EWU advanced to the national semifinals. Since 2010, Eastern Washington is 19-1 in games after October 1. EWU won 11 games after Oct. 1 in 2010 en route to the national championship. EWU was 6-1 in the final seven weeks last season, and is 2-0 so far this year.
SACRAMENTO BUZZING: Sacramento State hiked its record to 5-2 with a 19-14 homecoming victory over Weber State on Saturday. A crowd of 12,106 witnessed the Hornets three straight victory. The Hornets are 5-2 for the first time since 1992, the program’s last as a Division II school. The Hornets scored every possible point combination against Weber State with an extra point, safety, field goal and touchdown. The Hornets are 3-1 in conference heading into Saturday’s game at Eastern Washington, where they’ll try to win four in row for the first time since 1991. Sacramento State will be challenged in the final four games of the season. The Hornets’ future schedule rates as the toughest in the FCS. The next four opponents – No. 1 Eastern Washington, No. 5 Montana State, No. 14 Cal Poly and arch rival UC Davis have a combined record of 20-6. Sac State plays Cal Poly and Montana State at home.
SKY IN THE SAGARIN: The Big Sky remained fourth amongst FCS conferences in this week’s Sagarin Ratings. The Big Sky is behind the Missouri Valley, the Colonial and the Southern. Ten of the 13 Big Sky teams are rated in the top 40 of FCS teams. Eastern Washington is second in the FCS and 80th overall. Cal Poly is fifth in the FCS and 88th overall. Montana State is 14th, followed by Northern Arizona at 15 and Montana at 18.
MONTANA-NORTH DAKOTA ON ROOT SPORTS: Montana will take on North Dakota in this week’s ROOT SPORTS Big Sky game of the Week. Coverage from the Alerus Center begins at 2:30 p.m. Central, 1:30 p.m. Mountain. 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 is 1-2 on ROOT SPORTS this season. This is North Dakota’s first game on ROOT SPORTS.
SOUERS IN THIRD: Northern Arizona coach Jerome Souers moved into sole possession of third place on the Big Sky’s all-time wins list with his team’s 45-38 road win at North Dakota. Souers now has 81 career victories, moving him in front of former UM coach Bobby Hauck and current Idaho State coach Mike Kramer. Nevada’s Chris Ault is first with 11 wins. Former Montana coach Don Read, who Souers assisted for many years, is second with 85. Northern Arizona has won five straight games for the first time since 2008. Northern Arizona will try to make it six in a row when it plays host to UC Davis on Saturday.
AGGIES BUST LOOSE: UC Davis rolled up 640 yards of offense and 52 points in a win over Idaho State last Saturday. The 640 yards of total offense marked the first time UC Davis went over 600 in a game since piling up 641 against Iona in 2008. UC Davis rushed for 331 yards as Colton Silveria (120) and Marquis Nicolis (105) each finished with more than 100. It was the first time since 2002 that UC Davis had a pair of 100-yard rushers in the same game.
ROAD WARRIORS: It’s not supposed to be like this on the road. Traveling teams won four of the six conference games last weekend, with only Cal Poly and Sacramento State enjoying home victories. Through the first 24 conference games, road teams have won 15 for a winning percentage of .625. Last season, road teams went 17-19 in conference games. Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona and Cal Poly are the only three teams who have yet to lost a home conference game. Montana has lost two conference games at home for the first time since 1990 when Eastern Washington and Idaho won at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Montana State lost a conference home game last weekend for the first time since 2010. Saturday marked the first time since 1985 that both Montana and Montana State lost conference home games on the same day.
Extra points: Montana State QB DeNarius McGhee threw two TD passes on Saturday to become the school’s all-time leader. McGhee, who has thrown a TD pass in 33 straight games, has 61 in his career…Idaho State QB Kevin Yost threw for 374 yards and a career-high five touchdowns in the loss to UC Davis…ISU safety Phil Pleasant recorded a career-high 22 tackles in the loss…Northern Colorado scored 28 points in a loss to Cal Poly. The 28 points tied the most the Bears have scored in a Big Sky game under Earnest Collins Jr…Idaho State has allowed at least 52 points in four consecutive games…Southern Utah freshman LB Zak Browning, a candidate for the Jerry Rice Award, had 18 tackles against Montana. Browning leads the league with 71 total tackles…North Dakota’s Greg Hardin has nine touchdown catches this season, which is tied for second in the nation behind Elon’s Aaron Mellette, who has 10…Northern Colorado’s Dominic Gunn had 179 all-purpose yards against Cal Poly, the fourth tiem this season he’s eclipsed 100 all-purpose yards in a game…Southern Utah has forced 21 turnovers, one behind national leader Bethune-Cookman…UM had seven sacks in a loss to Southern Utah. The Griz lead the nation with 26 sacks…Montana and Holy Cross are the only two teams in the nation who have yet to stop an opponent inside their own red zone. Opponents have scored all 20 times they’ve entered UM’s red zone.