Big Sky Football: State of the Conference After Non-Conference Play

The majority of the Big Sky’s non-conference slate has been played and we can now form some pretty potent opinions about what the teams may offer in conference play. Despite several close halftime scores, the Big Sky was only able to steal one win over FBS schools with Weber State’s 35-7 absolute domination of Utah State. Three teams escaped the first three weeks of the year undefeated (Montana, Weber State, Sacramento State) and two teams have yet to celebrate a win for the 2022-23 season (Portland State and Idaho State).

SchoolConfConf %OverallOverall %PF-PAHomeAwayNeutralStreak
Montana0-0.0003-01.000120-212-01-00-0W3
Weber State0-0.0003-01.000120-262-01-00-0W3
Sacramento State0-0.0002-01.00093-541-01-00-0W2
Montana State0-0.0002-1.667131-982-00-10-0L1
Eastern Washington0-0.0001-1.50050-991-00-10-0L1
Cal Poly0-0.0001-2.33356-1001-00-20-0L1
Idaho0-0.0001-2.33381-731-00-20-0W1
Northern Arizona0-0.0001-2.33337-700-11-10-0L1
Northern Colorado0-0.0001-2.33365-930-11-10-0W1
UC Davis0-0.0001-2.33378-711-00-20-0W1
Portland State0-0.0000-2.00023-730-00-20-0L2
Idaho State0-0.0000-3.00044-1210-10-20-0L3
Table via Big Sky Conference.

Montana

Wins: 3 (Northwestern State, South Dakota, Indiana State)
Losses: 0
Biggest Takeaways:

  • This team looks like a juggernaut against lower competition with 40ppg offensively (11th in FCS) and only 7ppg allowed on defense (2nd FCS)
  • Lucas Johnson (quarterback) is the opposing teams’ worst nightmare right now as he is the leading passer and rusher after three games and responsible for 11 TD total
  • Marcus Knight is still averaging 4.6 yards per carry, but may be more suited as a rotational back rather than an every down workhorse
  • Robby Hauck leads the BSC in tackles (31) and Patrick O’Connell leads the BSC in TFL (7) and sacks (5)

Weber State

Photo via WSU Athletics.

Wins: 3 (Western Oregon-D2, Utah State-FBS, Utah Tech)
Losses: 0
Biggest Takeaways:

  • HUGE FBS win for the Wildcats as they systematically picked apart the Aggies 35-7
  • Similar ppg ratios as Montana at 40ppg offensively (11th FCS) and 8.67 defensively (3rd FCS)
  • Ty MacPherson has been shredding defenses with 10 catches for 243 yards and 5 touchdowns
  • Damon Bankston is the 2nd best rusher in the BSC and Bronson Barron is the 2nd best passer in the BSC statistically through three games

Sacramento State

Wins: 2 (Utah Tech and Northern Iowa)
Losses: 0
Biggest Takeaways:

  • Stealing a win from a struggling UNI team helps the BSC vs. MVFC Challenge and the Hornets hopes to propel themselves to a title share
  • Cameron Skattebo is an absolute highlight machine as he rushes through defenses and special teams alike
  • Marshel Martin and Asher O’Hara are athletically inclined enough to be dangerous dual threats as Martin blocks/ catches and O’Hara passes/ rushes
  • The Hornets will have a true test and shot against FBS Colorado State this weekend as the Rams have been awful and Sacramento State has the momentum of two wins

Montana State

Wins: 2 (McNeese State, Morehead State)
Losses: 1 (Oregon State-FBS)
Biggest Takeaways:

  • Dominating wins over lower FCS schools with a average winning margin of 36.5 points over FCS schools
  • Tied for 8th best scoring offense in the FCS
  • Great use of ex-Wyoming Quarterback Sean Chambers as a triple type gadget player
  • In three games the Bobcat defense has forced six turnovers

Eastern Washington

Photo via EWU Athletics.

Wins: 1 (Tennessee State)
Losses: 1 (Oregon-FBS)
Biggest Takeaways:

  • Gunner Talkington is a competent replacement quarterback with a lot of athletic talent
  • Freddie Roberson and Efton Chism III will continue on the outlandish catches from EWU receivers with their freak athletic abilities
  • Ely Doyle looks to shut down receivers well with a good amount of physicality at 6’1″ 190
  • Between playing Oregon-FBS and Florida-FBS the EWU athletic department will receive $1,362,500

Cal Poly

Wins: 1 (San Diego)
Losses: 2 (Fresno State-FBS, South Dakota)
Biggest Takeaways:

  • Whether Spencer Brasch or Jaden Jones, the quarterbacks are leading the team to a better developed offense
  • The combined quarterback ratio of 8 TD to 1 INT is a great start
  • Chris Coleman is a receiver to be taken seriously with 19 catches for 290 yards and 2 TD
  • David Meyer (LB) and Dustin Grien (DL) have been the defensive leaders with a combined 32 tackles, 6 TFL, and 4 sacks

Idaho

Photo via Idaho Athletics.

Wins: 1 (Drake)
Losses: 2 (Washington State-FBS, Indiana-FBS)
Biggest Takeaways:

  • Two heart-breaking close losses to FBS opponents give hope to conference play
  • Gevani McCoy has stepped up at quarterback to give the Vandals life on offense
  • Fa’Avae Fa’Avae is tied with Montana’s Robby Hauck for most tackles in the BSC
  • Ricardo Chavez has been automatic at 6/6 for field goals with a long of 44

Northern Arizona

Wins: 1 (Sam Houston)
Losses: 2 (Arizona State, North Dakota)
Biggest Takeaways:

  • Surprise win over FBS-Transitioning Sam Houston State
  • Second to last in scoring in the BSC at 12.3 ppg
  • Coleman Owen is the largest producer on offense with 20 catches for 225 yards and 2 TD
  • Cosmas Kwete (DL) doing a little bit of everything on defense to keep the Lumberjacks competitive with 14 tackles, 2.5 TFL, .5 sack, 1 INT, 1 QBH

Northern Colorado

Wins: 1 (Lamar)
Losses: 2 (Houston Baptist, Wyoming-FBS)
Biggest Takeaways:

  • David Hoage, 2nd team preseason All-American, is out an undetermined amount of time leaving the UNC defense to rely more on their pass coverage
  • The Bears are 0-2 when Dylan McCaffrey starts and 1-0 with Sirmon starting at QB
    – Additionally McCaffrey’s offense has scored 22 points compared to Sirmon’s 55 points when he has led the team down the field
  • Linebacker Elijah Anderson-Taylor and Nick Norris (McCaffrey recruits) have stepped up big in their Sophomore seasons to be notable defensive leaders
  • Despite a two-faced loss versus HBU, the Bears were within one or two scores of the Wyoming Cowboys (FBS) all the way till the last seven minutes of the game.

UC Davis

Photo via UCD Athletics.

Wins: 1 (San Diego)
Losses: 2 (Cal-FBS, South Dakota State)
Biggest Takeaways:

  • Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. set the new all-time rushing yards record for UC Davis and is tied for first in touchdowns with 40
  • Two running backs and a tight end are the lead receivers for the team with only two true receivers in the top eight receivers
  • Redshirt-Freshman Cornerback Rex Conners leads the defense with 28 tackles and 2 INT
  • Isaiah Gomez has only made 25 percent of his field goal attempts

Portland State

Wins: 0
Losses: 2 (San Jose State-FBS, Washington-FBS)
Biggest Takeaways:

  • Last in the BSC in offensive scoring at 11.5 ppg
  • Dante Chachere offers a spark to the offense even greater than Davis Alexander, but his TD:INT needs to improve
  • Beau Kelly is the best offensive producer with 11 catches for 150 yards and 1 TD
  • Tyreese Shakir is playing at and above Anthony Adams right now as he has 12 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT

Idaho State

Wins: 0
Losses: 3 (UNLV-FBS, San Diego State-FBS, Central Arkansas)
Biggest Takeaways:

  • Third lowest offensive scoring at 14.7 ppg
  • Tyler Vander-Wal provided the Bengals explosive plays, but his ability to stay healthy has been a challenge
  • Xavier Guillory has been the biggest offensive producer with 7 catches for 167 yards and 2 TD
  • Spencer Tatafu is terrorizing defenses with 7 tackles, 5 TFL, and 2 sacks

The Contenders

Photo via Montana Athletics.

Montana, Weber State, Sacramento State, and Montana State all look ready to ride into battle and have great shots at the conference title or among the playoff teams. All these teams have shown explosive offenses and defenses that are ready to win the turnover battle every week. Montana and Weber State have a similar ppg ratio and approach of dissecting other teams. Sacramento State has been bullying teams on the ground. Montana State has been a gadget position school since Troy Andersen’s younger days and continue the tradition well with hybrid players dominating. These teams are also nationally significant in many major statistical categories as leaders around the FCS.

The Undecided

Photo via NAU Athletics.

Eastern Washington, UC Davis, Idaho, and Northern Arizona have all shown promising shimmers, but have large obstacles in their way to break into the next tier. EWU has reloaded fantastically with Gunner Talkington, but they play Montana State, Florida (FBS), Weber State, and Sacramento State in the next four weeks. That is a demanding schedule physically and on playoff probabilities with at least one loss looming. The Eagles would need to win two of those games and run the table the rest of the season minus a trip to Missoula.

UC Davis had a chance to tie and possibly upset the #2 South Dakota State Jackrabbits, but missed the two-point conversion. The Aggies have a similarly difficult schedule as they play Weber State, Montana State, and Northern Arizona in the next three weeks and finish the season at Sacramento State. UC Davis has it easier than EWU and close to as talented a roster so if any of the contenders falter or a fifth playoff spot is awarded to the BSC they could sneak in that last spot.

Idaho flirted with two #FearTheFCS wins over FBS opponents, but fell a few plays short of making it happen. While the Vandals could not cash in a signature win they did spank the Drake Bulldogs 42-14. The Vandal’s schedule is even easier than the above mentioned, but can they sustain the success into wins or many almosts. As great as it is to say there was almost a win that does not make the overall record shine the way you want it to. As Darius Butler loves to say, “If if’s were fifths than we’d all be drunk.”

Northern Arizona has a big opportunity to be that fifth playoff caliber team from the BSC, but they have to find an ounce of consistency and soon. Arizona State walloped them, they shocked FBS transitioning Sam Houston State 10-3, and they missed an opportunity to help the BSC in the Big Sky vs. Missouri Valley Challenge as North Dakota downed them 27-24. They have the easiest schedule of The Undecided and the most to prove. The Lumberjacks have a chance, but they have to show they can make the axe-cut.

The Pretenders

Photo via UNC Athletics.

Cal Poly, Northern Colorado, Portland State, and Idaho State have not shown enough to be in the title conversation as their two losses will surely find more company before the season is over-with. Cal Poly looks to have made many positive strides forward as the Mustangs are starting to mesh as a true herd. While they still have many growing pains to go through it is better football overall, just not playoff caliber. If Jaden Jones or Spencer Brasch can keep the passing game hot there could be a few wins, but playing 3/4 of The Contenders and 3/4 of the Undecided will be a tough slate.

Northern Colorado could be a 2-1 team, but the indecisiveness from Ed, short pass preferred game-plan from Max, and lack of explosive execution from Dylan have shown a bad brand of McCaffrey ball in Greeley. The roster is more talented than several Big Sky schools, but if they are continued to be used in below optimal ways they will continue to miss the attention they deserve in the game and in the media. There are some notable performers on the team who should be proud of their efforts so far, but will need to help elevate their teammates to their level to be competitive in conference play. The McCaffrey’s better have a good culture behind the scenes if they want to keep players around long-term.

Portland State wins in the off-season headlines with draft class success and pre-season All-American votes for Anthony Adams, but ultimately settles for mediocrity or below each season. Bruce Barnum is a good college coach, but it is hard for people to see that if the team does not win and does not even have their own stadium. It is hard for outsiders to not infer that the school does not care about athletics as much as it should for the high level of competition that the Big Sky prides itself on. The Vikings need to play spoiler this season for moral as they hope to have more than just a win versus D2 Lincoln (CA) University.

Idaho State is in a period of transition with a new coach, different schemes, overcoming preseason drama of the assistant coach being arrested and more. It is perfectly fine to have a rebuilding season, but players need something to fight for each week, even if it is just personal goals in the stats game. Their next game of traveling to the identity crisis Bears’ Homecoming will be their best bet for a win for a fortnight afterwards.

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