Big Sky football notebook

Following is a look at the Big Sky Conference by Assistant Big Sky Commissioner Jon Kasper.

This Week’s Sky Highlights

The new-look Big Sky Conference opens the 2012 season on Thursday with eight games, and five more on Saturday. This will be the first time in league history the schedule has featured 13 games. On July 1, Southern Utah and North  Dakota joined the Big Sky as full members. UC Davis and Cal Poly joined for football…Seven of this week’s 13 games feature matchups against FBS squads. Nine of the 13 games will be televised…Northern Colorado opens its second season under Earnest Collins Jr. is at Utah of the Pac-12, Sacramento State travels to New Mexico State of the WAC, while Southern Utah is at Utah State of the WAC. Eastern Washington travels to Moscow to face Idaho of the WAC, while Northern Arizona meets Pac-12 Arizona State. On Saturday, Idaho State travels to Air Force, and Weber State is at Fresno State…Montana State, which has shared the Big Sky championship each of the past two seasons, opens at home under the lights at Bobcat Stadium against Division II Chadron State…North Dakota is also at home on Thursday, facing South Dakota Mines, a Division II school…North Dakota closed 2011 with four consecutive wins…Portland State opens the third year of the Nigel Burton era at home against NAIA powerhouse Carroll College of Helena, Mont…Cal Poly welcomes San Diego to San Luis Obispo on Saturday…Montana begins at home against South Dakota and its new coach Joe Glenn. Glenn guided Montana from 2000-02, leading the Grizzlies to the 2001 FCS National Championship…The six games in Big Sky venues will be available for free on the Internet through America One on Big Sky TV.

 This Week’s Sky Schedule

Thursday, Aug. 30
Northern Colorado at Utah, 5:15 p.m. TV: Pac-12 Network.
Sacramento State at New Mexico State, 6:05 p.m. TV: Altitude
Southern Utah at Utah State, 6:05 p.m..TV: KMYU (Utah)
Azusa Pacific at UC Davis, 6:05 p.m.
Eastern Washington at Idaho, 6:05 p.m. TV: ESPN3
Chadron State at Montana State, 7:05 p.m. TV: Max Media Montana
South Dakota Mines at North Dakota, 7:05 p.m. TV: MidCon Sports Network
Northern Arizona at Arizona State, 7:35 p.m. TV: Pac-12 Network
Saturday, Sept. 1
Idaho State at Air Force, 12:05 p.m.
South Dakota at Montana, 1:35 p.m. TV: Max Media Montana
San Diego at Cal Poly, 4:05 p.m.
Carroll College at Portland State, 5:05 p.m. TV: Comcast Sports Net Northwest
Weber State at Fresno State, 7:05 p.m.
Game available on the Internet at Times Local to Site/Subject to Change

Around the Big Sky

NEW-LOOK LEAGUE: The 50th season of Big Sky Conference football opens on Thursday with a very different look. The league now consists of 13 football-playing members, up from nine in 2011. Southern Utah and North Dakota joined on July 1 as full members. Cal Poly and UC Davis joined as football-affiliate members. All four programs played the 2011 season in the Great West Conference. Cal Poly and North Dakota shared the 2011 Great West Championship. North Dakota finished 8-3, closing the season with four consecutive victories. Montana and Weber State both start the season with new coaches. Mick Delaney enters his first season at Montana. He was named the interim coach in the spring after Robin Pflugrad was dismissed after two seasons. Weber State’s Jody Sears is an interim coach. He replaced John L. Smith, who never coached a game for the Wildcats. Smith is now the head coach at Arkansas. The Big Sky also welcomes Tim Walsh back to the league. The Cal Poly head coach guided Portland State from 1993-2006, the final 11 as a member of the Big Sky. Only the SEC with 14 members has more football schools at the Division I level than the Big Sky. The MAC also has 13 football members.

PLAYING UP: Big Sky Conference teams will play Football Championship Subdivision teams 17 times this season, with eight of the matchups on the opening weekend. Montana and Montana State are the lone Sky teams not playing FBS teams this year. Eastern Washington, Idaho State, Northern Arizona, Sacramento State, Southern Utah, and Weber State will each play up twice. The Sky will have six matchups against Pac-12 teams, five against the Mountain West, four against the WAC, and one each against the Big Ten and an independent (BYU). Last season, the Big Sky amassed a 1-10 record against FBS teams. Sacramento State stunned Oregon State 29-28 on the opening weekend of the season. Southern Utah, which joined the Big Sky on July 1, also earned an FBS team, drubbing UNLV 41-16 in Las Vegas. Idaho State plays at Nebraska on Sept. 22. The Cornhuskers are currently the only ranked team a Sky team will face. Nebraska is ranked 17th in the AP poll, and 16th in the USA Today Poll. Washington, Utah and BYU – all Big Sky opponents – are receiving votes in both polls.

THREE RANKED: Three Big Sky Conference teams begin the 2012 season ranked in the Sports Network top 25. Montana State, which has shared the regular-season championship each of the past two seasons, begins the season ranked fourth. The Bobcats closed the 2011 campaign ranked seventh. Montana, which shared the 2011 regular-season title with Montana State and advanced to the semifinals, is ranked 11th. UM closed the 2011 season ranked third. Eastern Washington, the 2010 national champion, opens this season ranked 12th. In the Coaches’ Poll, MSU is fourth, UM is 10th, and EWU is 15th.

Extra points: Portland State senior kicker Zach Brown enters the season with 60 made field goals, tops among active FCS kickers. He needs 16 to become the Big Sky’s all-time leader…Northern Colorado and Cal Poly are the only two teams that will play home games on natural grass this season. Southern Utah installed new turf during the offseason, as did North Dakota, which plays in a dome…SUU QB Brad Sorensen, MSU QB DeNarius McGhee, NAU RB Zach Bauman and ISU WR Rodrick Rumble are all on the initial Walter Payton Award Watch List…NC LB Clarence Bumpas and MSU DT Zach Minter are both on the Buck Buchanan Award Watch list…ISU head coach Mike Kramer ranks fourth in Big Sky history with 79 wins. He needs one more to tie former UM coach Bobby Hauck for third. NAU’s Jerome Souers is fifth with 76 wins. Cal Poly’s Tim Walsh is sixth with 65. Kramer, Souers and Walsh also rank in the top six in conference wins. Kramer has 54 conference wins, which is tied for second with UM’s Don Read. Souers is fourth with 48 wins. Walsh, who won 42 conference games at Portland State, is sixth…Montana State and Montana each added lights to their stadiums. Northern Colorado is the lone team in the Big Sky without lights….Kramer, Souers and Walsh have combined to coach 41 years in the league. The other 10 coaches have a combined 17 years experience as head coaches in the Big Sky… .Montana is first amongst FCS teams in the preseason Sagarin Ratings. The Grizzlies are 77th overall. The Big Sky has six teams ranked in the top 25, and 11 in the top 41. The Sky is rated fourth amongst FCS conferences.