By Lance Berndt
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — We have completed three weeks of play, with surprising and not so surprising wins and loses. So it is time to look at where each of the Big Sky Conference teams stand through the first quarter of play.
1. Montana State 3-0 – The Bobcats have looked a little shaky so far this season, but after being nearly a unanimous preseason favorite, I'm going to keep them here until they lose. MSU's pass defense needs to drastically improve after allowing a combined 725 yards over the past two games.
Last Week: Won at home vs. Stephen F. Austin 43-35.
Next Week: Vs. Northern Colorado
2. Eastern Washington 1-1 – The Eagles have one FBS win (20-3 over Idaho) and one FBS loss (24-20 against Washington State). Allowing just 27 total points to two FBS schools is impressive. The Eagles' offensive efficiency could use a little work though. Padron has only completed 44.8% of his passes.
Last Week: Bye
Next Week: @ Weber State
3. Montana 2-1 – The Grizzlies bounced back from their loss to Appalachian State with a solid home win over a Liberty squad that had narrow losses to Wake Forest and Norfolk State. Much like Montana State, Montana’s pass defense has proven to be a little shaky. Opposing teams have completed 72.4% of their passes with only two combined interceptions.
Last Week: Won at home vs. Liberty 34-14
This Week: Vs. Northern Arizona
4. Cal Poly 2-0 – Fresh off their FBS win, Cal Poly looks set to burst into its first season in the Big Sky. The Mustangs have utilized their vaunted option attack to the tune of 648 yards in just two games. Cal Poly needs to work on its mid-game consistency, though. The Mustangs have started games with a combined 24-0 advantage after the first quarter, but they have been outscored 22-3 in the second.
Last Week: Won @ FBS Wyoming 24-22
This Week: Vs. UC-Davis
5. Northern Arizona 2-1 – Minnesota, Washington State, and Northern Arizona all had road games against UNLV and all won close games. The win over ex-Montana coach Bobby Hauck and the Rebels isn’t as weak as some may assume. The Lumberjacks have a chance to be great this season, especially with a favorable schedule. Quarterback Cary Grossart has been out since getting injured early in the opener against Arizona State. Chase Cartwright has been an effective replacement, but it would be very convenient if NAU can get him back for this week’s battle in Missoula.
Last Week: Won at home vs. D-II Fort Lewis 69-0
This Week: @ Montana
6. North Dakota 2-1 – Can a team with a high-powered offense but porous defense contend in the Big Sky? After posting 41 points against an FBS team in a tough loss at San Diego State, I don’t think anyone’s going to argue about the legitimacy of UND’s offense. The UND defense could use a little work though as they begin their first ever Big Sky conference slate.
Last Week: Lost @ FBS San Diego St. 49-41
Next Week: @ Sacramento State
7. Sacramento State 2-1 – The Hornets are not yet at the level of the Jeff Fleming/Bryan Hilliard tandem, but the Garrett Safron/Ezekial Graham duo at quarterback/running back are certainly helping Hornet fans accept the change. They didn’t play a D-II game, but the Hornets are still above .500 heading in to conference play.
Last Week: Won at home vs. Northern Colorado 28-17
This Week: Vs. North Dakota
8. Southern Utah 1-2 – I thought Brad Sorensen was going to have a big year (he still can), but I didn’t consider the possibility that his very inexperienced receiving corps would have a substantial effect on his success. After throwing two “pick-sixes” against D-II New Mexico Highlands, there may be cause for concern. Tough scheduling has pushed them into needing to win at least seven of their eight remaining games to have a chance at the playoffs.
Last Week: Won at home vs. D-II New Mexico Highlands
This Week: @ Portland State
9. UC-Davis 1-2 – The Aggies are still my dark horse potentially for multiple upsets in conference play. UCD was so close to eeking out a win on the road against a strong South Dakota State team. The Aggie defense is here to stay, but they will likely need to develop a reliable running offense to move into the top half of the conference.
Last Week: Lost @ South Dakota State 12-8
This Week: @ Cal Poly
10. Weber State 0-3 – Yes, the Wildcats are winless, but they have had a brutal schedule and the three teams below them only defeated lower level competition. The Wildcats finished 2011 with two consecutive epic rushing performances from C.J. Tuckett, however, they have not yet been able to recapture that magic this season. WSU will need it to contend in the power-balanced Big Sky.
Last Week: Lost at home vs. McNeese State 35-21
This Week: Vs. Eastern Washington
11. Idaho State 1-1 – Two Bengal wide receivers have already combined for 50 receptions in just two games. Even more impressive is that All-American Rodrick Rumble hasn’t played yet. Derek Graves has an FCS-leading 30 receptions in Rumble's place. Once Rumble returns, they may be able to put up some North Dakota-esque numbers on offense and possibly come across a few wins in Big Sky conference play.
Last Week: Bye
This Week: @ FBS Nebraska
12. Portland State 1-2 – It’s no mystery that the Vikings need a little polishing to their defense. Yes, there were a couple defensive touchdowns in there, but North Dakota put up 45 points in 45 minutes and Washington put up 45 in 30 minutes. Regardless of the competition level, that’s really bad.
Last Week: Lost @ FBS Washington 52-13
This Week: Vs. Southern Utah
13 Northern Colorado 1-2 – Will this finally be the season Northern Colorado wins more than two conference games? The conference slate for the Bears starts with games against the Montana schools followed by a game with Cal Poly, so they definitely have their work cut out for them. Quarterback Seth Lobato has thrown for nearly 600 yards in the past two games, but he only has one TD pass.
Last Week: Lost @ Sacramento State 28-17
This Week: @Montana State
Projected Final Big Sky Conference Standings
Eastern Washington 7-1
Montana State 7-1
Northern Arizona 6-2
Cal Poly 6-2
North Dakota 4-4
UC Davis 4-4
Idaho State 3-5
Weber State 2-6
Sacramento State 2-6
Southern Utah 2-6
Portland State 2-6
Northern Colorado 0-8