The non-conference standings are not indicative of how the whole season will go, but it gives an innate sense of how well the team is prepared. Other factors include first glances at new coordinators, injuries during games and persisting, chemistry between new rosters, and a little bit of luck. While no Big Sky teams have defeated FBS teams this season several came close, including Weber’s 6-0 loss to San Diego State. Chaos, mediocrity, and sterling moments all made thier impact on the non-conference schedule.
Idaho 2-2 (1-0)
@ Penn. State – L 79-7
vs. Central Washington – W 41-31
@ Wyoming – L 21-16
vs. Eastern Washington – W 35-27
Mason Petrino and company took a 1.4 million dollar pay to get whooped Week 1, but have shown competitiveness ever since. Pesky D2 Central Washington continues to prove to the Big Sky that they matter even as a D2 team, yet no win for them this year. The Wyoming game prompted the start of what could be a very good year for the Vandals as they got in the heads of the Cowboys. Despite the game being a loss, Idaho was able to make significant strides in almost winning the game with them being one touchdown drive away from upsetting Laramie. This momentum and newfound identity of getting in the opposing team’s head continued and blossomed in the Eastern Washington game as the Vandals sustained a surprising lead. From what they have shown so far Idaho may be a potential dark horse candidate for playoff contention.
@ South Dakota – W 31-17
vs. North Alabama – W 61-17
@ Oregon – L 35-3
vs. Monmouth – W 47-27
Strong performances from Dalton Sneed, Marcus Knight, Robby Hauck, and Dante Olson have solidified Montana as a strong team in the Big Sky. Among their wins so far a mediocre Missouri Valley team, a domination of promising upcomer UNA, and a convincing win over a Big South title contender sets up a solid resume for the Griz. It is too soon to say the famous “The Griz are back!”, but each win is a little more evidence Bobby Hauck knows how to lead his team.
Montana State 3-1
@ Texas Tech – L 45-10
vs. SEMO – W 38-17
@ Western Illinois – W 23-14
vs. Norfolk State – W 56-21
Montana State continues to be a formidable force in the Big Sky with a hot start to the season. A win over a sturdy playoff team from last year by 38-17 margin was impressive. Since Troy Anderson was able to transfer back to his running back and linebacker roles Montana State has only improved. The Bobcats showed that with a good win over Missouri Valley foe Western Illinois by two scores. The Norfolk State game was interesting in the sense of Big Sky versus a MEAC team, but the Bobcats lapped the Spartans to 56-21 Bozeman win.
Northern Arizona 2-2
vs. Missouri State – W 37-23
@ Arizona – L 65-41
vs. Western New Mexico W 55-21
@ Illinois State – L 40-27
The Lumberjacks are breaking even after non-conference, but still look like a dangerous competitor. NAU is not in anyone’s favorite to win the conference yet. If the Lumberjacks could have beaten Illinois State then this would be a different story. Case Cookus is a very special athlete, although no one wins a game by yourself, unless you are Tom Brady. The offense is very sustainable and weaponized thanks to the Cookus air raid by scoring a minimum of 27 points each week. A consistent concern is will the defense hold up long enough for Cookus to win the game. An average of 37 points given up by the defense could be the downfall to the season.
Sacramento State 2-2
vs. Southern Oregon – W 77-19
@ Arizona State – L 19-7
vs. Northern Colorado – W 50-0
@ Fresno State – L 34-20
Sacramento State has been a pleasant surprise for Big Sky fans to see them becoming a team to look out for as a possible spoiler team. The Hornets dominated their opening D2 game with a 77-19 margin and then continued their momentum into Arizona State. While they still lost by two scores, Kevin Thompson and company did a respectable job in challenging ASU all game long. The dumpster fire of a game in Week 3 for Northern Colorado was icing on the cake as the Hornets capitalized on all sides of the ball. Another close FBS game in Fresno could indicate that this Hornet team is on the rise and will be closing the margin on other Big Sky teams.
Portland State 2-2
@ Arkansas – L 20-13
vs. Simon Fraser – W 70-7
@ Boise State – L 45-10
vs. Eastern Oregon – W 59-9
Portland State had an unbalanced non-conference schedule to say the least. An awful SEC team, a D2 team who had not won since 2014, a Mountian West competitor, and a local NAIA team made up their rollercoaster schedule. A surprise to everyone including Arkansas was the end result of a mere touchdonw win by the SEC team. Granted, Arkansas is the bottom of the barrel SEC team, but the resources, size, and speed are still present. For Portland State to nearly knock of a team from an FBS power conference is incredible. Coming home to Simon Fraser must have been a treat as the Vikings put up a nine touchdown margin on SFU and allowed one long touchdown all day. Boise State crushes even Mountain West opponents so this was no surprise, but still good for the Vikings to score on them twice. Eastern Oregon again was a slim challenge as the 50 point margin of victory surely made for a great day in Hillsboro. Are the famous highest recruiting class ever for Portland State ready to shine? It is hard to know since they have no FCS games this year to analyze, but an average year would not be out of reach for their potential.
UC Davis 2-2
@ California – L 27-13
vs. San Diego – W 38-35
vs. Lehigh – W 41-13
@ North Dakota State – L 27-16
UC Davis has shown FCS fans they are here to play and to play very well. A close game at Cal slipped away from the Aggies dashing a back-to-back FBS win in their opening games. San Diego came to town Week 2 and made many Big Sky fans question what happened that day since San Diego had been whooped by Cal Poly the week before. Was UC Davis having a slow day that almost cost them the game, or was San Diego playing far above their pay-grade narrowly missing a win? Thanks to a goal line fumble the Aggies did not have to answer as many tough questions post game. Lehigh came to Davis, CA next week and suddenly things were back to normal as the Aggies dismantled the War Hawks. A hard fought game against the mighty NDSU Bison actually showed a lot of mortality on their part since UC Davis found flaws in their game plans. Nonetheless, a win for NDSU still shined through as the Bison almost always get the job done.
Cal Poly 1-2
vs. San Diego – W 52-34
@ Weber State – L 41-24
@ Oregon State – L 45-7
Cal Poly showed a lot of poise and strength by beating Pioneer League favorite San Diego in convincing fashion. A non-conference trip to Ogden did not go as well for the Mustangs as the Weber defense stood strong and their offense came to life, for once. A big loss at Oregon State was expected since the PAC 12 fields very fast and atheltic players easily beating sub-par defenses. Two big questions loom over this Cal Poly team from non-conference play. One, can they finish out games without Joe Protheroe? Two, was San Diego slow to start the season as they almost beat UC Davis and then did beat Harvard, or did Cal Poly genuinely beat them at their best?
Weber State 1-2
@ San Diego State – 6-0
vs. Cal Poly – W 41-24
@ Nevada – L 19-13
Weber State could be a much more respected top five team if their offense could get more production. The Wildcat defense is fantastic and very talented, but the same cannot be said of the offense. A 6-0 loss to San Diego State is objectively a very close played game and good for them. Another way to look at it is if Weber scored one touchdown, no matter how lucky, then they get a big win over a decent Power 5 team. The offense was very so present at Cal Poly which was encouraging despite how many points the Mustang defense gives up per game. Another strong performance against Nevada was a similar situation to the San Diego State game as one more score could have sealed the deal. Weber does not have a reason to be out of the top five yet. Although, some FCS voters could understandably be waiting to drop them like a hot rock. That chance will come up this week as they finish out their non-conference this week against Northern Iowa.
Idaho State 1-2
vs. Western Colorado University – W 38-13
@ Utah – L 31-0
@ Northern Iowa – L 13-6
Idaho State will not finish their non conference schedule right away as they play BYU on November 16th. Until then we will be wondering what kind of team Idaho State is. A decent win over Western Colorado University gave them their one win so far. That was followed by a domination from Utah, one of the best teams in the FBS, at a margin of 31-0. Gunnar Amos, the former Idaho Vandal, has played decent not good through two appearances. The graduation of Tanner Gueller and James Madison has left the Bengals team feeling like only Mitch Gueller can help them on offense now. In a surprise effort by the fierce Bengal defense a 13-6 loss at Northern Iowa actually seemed like a good loss if there was such a thing. Performing that well against a ranked FCS team leaves optimism in the air, but can the Bengals retain it?
Eastern Washington 1-3 (0-1)
@ Washington – L 47-14
vs. Lindenwood – W 59-31
@ Jacksonville State – L 49-45
@ Idaho – L 35-27
Disappointment and medocrity. We have to be honest that EWU has not lived up to the hype so far and has many analysts are questioning is this it? Is this all the Eagles have to show us this year? The roster strength is high, the coach is talented, and the support is there, so where are the Eagles? The number two team in the nation last year is sporting a 1-3 record in poor fashion. Now the pieces are all there for a possible bounce back all the way to first place. It all depends on how EWU comes out of the gates and will we continue to see that. It seems to be on the downhill slide, but they can prove that different at home against North Dakota.
Southern Utah 1-3
@ UNLV – L 56-23
@ Northern Iowa – L 34-14
vs. Stephen F. Austin – W 45-38 OT
@ South Dakota State – L 43-7
The “Odd Year Curse” is starting to look like simply just a curse. On odd years since 2013 SUU has done better than usual on odd numbered years and worse so on even number years. It looks like the run is up as a 1-3 start with this year being the exception to the rule at this point. An overtime win over SFA is the one and only win for the Thunderbirds. SFA is winless on the year and even lost to D2 Tarelton State 37-26. While that game may have been a good one for the home crowd it is not a prestigeous win. Without any form of defense and a struggling offense it looks like the Thunderbirds may be fighting not to be last again this year.
Northern Colorado 0-4
@ San Jose State – L 35-18
@ Washington State – L 59-17
@ Sacramento State – L 50-0
vs. South Dakota – L 14-6
Nothern Colorado opened the season with promising first halves against San Jose State and Washington State, but quickly fell into a disgraceful slump. The game at Sacramento State was embarrassing, worriesome, and an undisciplined performance overall. While Knipp did go down hard and out for that game the backups did not seem able to hold theor own any better than some of the starters. The game at home versus South Dakota was a turning point in the season where the Bears could have earned their first win. Unfortunately, the season is in desperate trouble as the only experienced kicker on the roster has a serious leg injury, Knipp does not look the same as seasons past performances, and the corners are getting play calls that have them in the wrong place at all times. Northern Colorado is last right now and will have to do something special to not end the year last.
Week 5 Previews
Marquee: Montana vs. UC Davis – 1:00 p.m. PT Davis, Calif. (Conf.)
This may not be everyone else’s game of the week, but I feel this game will tell us much more about the conference rather than two unproven question marks who are ranked high. UC Davis did not pull out a win at NDSU, but their performance inspired other FCS teams to take note and improve. Jake Maier and company have a stacked roster of talent and are ready to take out their frustrations out on their conference opponents. Dalton Sneed and company may not have as many marquee names, but their stats and vigor makes up for their lack of headlines. The Griz have played second fiddle in the state of Montana for the past three years, but significant wins and a strong performance in the Brawl of the Wild at the end of the year may redeem them. This is a crucial win for the Griz to establish themselves and this is a crucial win for UC Davis to prove they can defend the home turf against conference opponents. I think Montana will give all they can, but Jake Maier and company will have time for a last scoring drive to sink the Griz.
Idaho vs. Northern Colorado – 1:00 p.m. MT Greeley. Colo. (Conf.)
How to Follow: Radio: 1310 KFKA
One team has performed better than expected and the other has sunk below even last year’s expectations. Idaho is the positive of the two and come to Greeley after a big win over EWU. Northern Colorado has no identity, a struggling veteran quarterback, and no where to go but up, if they can. This will be the first ever meeting between the two and I do not see the Bears looking fondly on this day as a historic day for them. Jacob Knipp has the talent and football IQ to lead any team into fire and prevail. The problem is we have not seen that Knipp this season except for spurts while at Washington State. Mason Petrino and company will likely succeed in manipulating the Bears into submission.
Portalnd State vs. Idaho State – 3:00 p.m. MT Pocatello, Idaho (Conf.)
Portland State’s famous recruiting class is growing up and it shows as they have improved into an average team. Idaho State was an average team last year with a juggernaut offense and a subpar defense. The Bengals identity has taken a full switch this year, but with a poor offense how long can they hang onto that average description. I think Portland State has a shot to advance this year into the mid tier of the Big Sky, but they will have to earn it starting with this game.
Northern Iowa vs. Weber State – 6:00 p.m. MT Ogden
Northern Iowa is getting a big helping of Big Sky play for their non-conference stretch by seeing Southern Utah, Idaho State, and now Weber State. This should be an intruiging match on paper, but ultimately a slow game to watch. Much like a Mountain West game there will be a lot of hard-hitting defense and some desperate offense. Both teams excell at being defensive fortresses, but lack the explosive offense needed to impress and climb the rankings. Objectively, I think Weber State contains a few more weapons and will lead them to a victory based on offensive diversity.
Northern Arizona vs. Montana State – 1:00 p.m. BOZEMAN (Conf.)
Case Cookus and company bit off more than they could chew last week with an explosive Illinois State, although their two receivers going down may prove fatal to their season. Their record versus Montana State is surprisingly good for the Lumberjacks. Can they keep that streak alive? I do not see how they could. Montana State has one of, if not thee most diverse offense in the entire Big Sky and surrounding conferences. Not to mention they have a preseaosn all FCS watch list player in Bryce Sterk on defense who liberally wallops opposing offenses. The weapons available to Montana State on offense and presumably defense too shall overcome the raw talent and improvision of Case Cookus.
Cal Poly vs. Southern Utah – 6:05 p.m. Cedar City, Utah (Conf.)
Cal Poly is one of the few teams in the Big Sky we still need to see more performances from to provide an identity to. Moments of brillance and moments of regrets feel to be interchangably even at this point in the season for the Mustangs. The same does not need to be said of Southern Utah as they have yet to assemble a respectable win outside of lowly SFA. No disepect to either team, SFA or SUU, but one win between the twon in eight games and a loss to a tough D2 team does not stand to be win of the year for anyone except Tarleton State. Despite the Cedar City venue the Mustangs will come to town and bring the business.
Eastern Washington vs. North Dakota – 2:05 pm PT Cheyney, WA
How to Follow: TV: Televised Live Regionally by SWX; Pluto TV Ch. 534 Radio: 700-AM ESPN & 105.3-FM in Spokane/Cheney; KTEL 1490-AM & 99.7 FM in Walla Walla
The disappoint kids from Eastern Cheyney Community College seems to be the alter egos of EWU lately. This is one of the most talented rosters in the entire FCS landscape, yet they find a way to beat themselves to a pile of feathers. The UND Fightin’ Hawks do not care who, what, or where people are from they just want to hit hard and win games. EWU plays hot and cold quarters, but can they play a full game above lukewarm? If the Eagles are going to wake up and kick some tailfeathers this is the week to do it before their vulnerability is accepted by the whole league.
My name is Ben Schleiger and I’m your representative for the Big Sky Conference. I have done work for multiple newspapers and sports blogs including The Johnstown Breeze, The University of Northern Colorado Mirror, and Mile High Maniac. I am a proud alumnus of the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Political Science. In my free time, I like watching sports, playing video games, and trying new foods.