Week 4 is upon us and the last of the intriguing non-conference play will be wrapping up for the majority this week. The Big Sky – Missouri Valley games will see several games this week of varying degrees of competitiveness to be observed. Missouri Valley fans will likely be harassing Big Sky fans after this week as the matchups are lopsided even when seemingly close. Despite the spreads, this week will feature two marquee matchups, even if the Big Sky is favored in neither.
Marquee 1: UC Davis vs. NDSU – 1:30 p.m. Fargo, N.D.
How to Follow: Radio: Sports 1140 KHTK, TV: ESPN+
If this was not on the game of the week list pitchforks and torches would be lining the curtilage of my residence. UC Davis is a playoff-caliber team according to their roster strength and their performances so far. Are they going to win the Big Sky? That’s a loaded question even for Big Sky analysts and long-time fans. They may give you a team name but will follow it up with, “Any given Saturday, anything can happen…”. Jake Maier, Ulonzo Gilliam, Jared Harrell, and Wes Preece boast potent offensive explosiveness. To their disadvantage, North Dakota State sees their fair share of tough opponents with weaponized offenses and turnover hungry defenses. On paper, UC Davis fits the bill of what is needed to compete with NDSU. Actually competing on the field with the Bison is a different story.
NDSU Players to Watch: Trey Lance – QB, Jabril Cox – LB, Michael Tutsie – DB
UC Davis Players to Watch: Jake Maier – QB, Ulonzo Gilliam – RB, Devon King – DB
UC Davis will put up a sterling fight for the first half, but all good things will come to an end as the Aggies will start trailing early in the third. NDSU sometimes may start slow in production, but once that train is galloping down the tracks it will be hard to derail. Trey Lance is a freshman with answers to situations some Seniors would miss completely. The kid is talented and crafty which will impose a deep burden upon the Aggie defense. If this were an offense only arcade game I think UC Davis could hold their own and even upset the Bison. In reality, the UC Davis defense has been great at getting turnovers, but the field position given up has been more than concerning. For example, the San Diego game should not have depended on a diving almost touchdown. UC Davis should have wrapped it up short and sweet just like they will fail to do this week. North Dakota State 41, UC Davis 27
Marquee 2: Northern Arizona vs. Illinois State – 5:30 p.m. Normal, Ill
If it were not for Illinois State’s pesky conference-mate NDSU being on the docket this would be the outright game of the week. Other than the spread is closer, I think this game will be more of a contest rather than a test of endurance and brutality. Both teams come into the contest with the pros and cons of equal amounts and talented offenses. The Case Cookus offense looks to bring the air raid attack, while the Redbirds James Robinson hopes to run over the Lumberjacks to add to his six rushing touchdowns. The Redbirds may be ranked high in the FCS Top 25, but often in the middle of the season, they slip up for a few weeks before returning. The NAU offense is more potent than the ISU offense based on points scored. On the other hand ISU’s defense has done a better job of managing the points scored against. This contest could be a close one that involves the critical question of is Case Cookus or the Redbird defense better?
Illinois State Players to Watch: Romero McKnight – DE, Luther Kirk – DB, James Robinson – RB
Northern Arizona Players to Watch: Case Cookus – QB, Joe Logan – RB, Brandon Porter – WR
Case Cookus, James Robinson, Redbird Defense. One of these will be the MVP and deciding factor of the game. While the Redbirds are formidable opponents their reputation of a high ranked start and inevitable fall from the top of the hype. ISU very well could prove their reputation to be wrong this year, but Case Cookus is a top tier FCS quarterback looking to finish his career strong. James Robinson may very well compete for player of the year award, although I do not see his abilities as enough to bail out the Redbirds defense from the air raid.
Idaho State vs. Northern Iowa – Cedar Falls, IA
Idaho State is not the same as the offensive juggernaut they were the year before. A decent win over D2 Western Colorado University and a shutout loss to Utah are hardly enough to say they are an inspiring team. That combined with uncertainty at the quarterback position could lead this year to be a step back overall. UNI is a perennially tough team as even if their record does not indicate it they have competently reloaded with a sophisticated and hard hitting team. University of Northern Iowa 38, Idaho State 13
Eastern Washington vs. Idaho – 12:09 p.m. PT Moscow, Idaho
A revival of an old rivalry that has gone dark for too long will be rekindled Saturday. The proximity between the two schools alone is reason enough for this game to be annual or semi-annual with only an hour and a half separation. This may be trivial to East Coast-ers, but for West Coast teams that are incredibly close to not have a rivalry for any other reason than just distance. Idaho fans know EWU’s fall from grace feeling from their recent loss as Idaho’s FCS comeback tour has been flat at best. It cannot be assumed that FBS talent transfers to the FCS landscape, but it can be said it was a lackluster transition. Idaho needs something to add to their blank resume of their FCS part two residency and EWU needs a rebound game so that they can regain confidence. Can Coach Petrino get in the heads of Coach Best’s team as he did to Wyoming? Or will Coach Best and the EWU Eagles rally themselves back to their winning ways? This game will be closer than usual with a banged-up EWU, but the roster strength of EWU should still be able to overpower the Petrinos’ Jedi mind tricks. Eastern Washington 31, Idaho 27
Norfolk State vs. Montana State – 1:00 p.m. MT Bozeman, Mont.
Montana State is on a roll and will continue to roll over Norfolk State. Despite it being an interesting matchup of two teams who rarely face each other the Bobcats should take care of business in Bozeman. Troy Anderson and Isaiah Ifanse have the rushing game under control. With those two leading the charge Casey Bauman should have an opportunity to open up the passing game and attack the Spartans defense from multiple angles.
Monmouth vs. Montana – 1:00 p.m. MT Missoula, Mont.
Monmouth may be a competitor in the Big South conference, but they will receive a rude awakening when visiting Montana. First time teams new to the atmosphere and attitude of WA-Griz Stadium often find themselves struggling to call plays much less simply win. While it can be done it is very rare to get the best of Montana at home. In ranking the conferences the Big Sky is in the top three conferences mentioned and the Big South is more so in the 5-9 region. This does not mean it is not a quality conference, but the caliber of the teams is raised with each distribution. The near top of the Big South may be fierce to conferences 6-13, but the top five are rather unphased by such distinction. Dalton Sneed is finding his own and will be able to have a unique look from the Big South who he will ultimately crush.
South Dakota vs. Northern Colorado – 2:00 p.m. MT Greeley, Colo.
How to Follow: 1310 KFKA
Nothing is guaranteed in football and nothing goes according to plan for the UNC Bears. With Jacob Knipp recovering from a vicious, but legal hit in the Sacramento State disaster it is unclear if his shoulder or concussion protocol will be cleared for Saturday. Without Jacob Knipp directing traffic at quarterback, it is hard to see a UNC win even against a struggling Coyote team. USD is on the same track as the Bears of 0-3 record and looking to prove anything to themselves and supporters. A decent whooping from Montana was followed by an obliteration at Oklahoma and a one-point loss to a Houston Baptist team few had faith in. Surely the Bears can overcome such a team in turmoil, but they must first overcome their own struggles. The Bears should not have lost in such an embarrassing fashion to Sac. State and have weapons on both sides of the ball if they can consciously access them. While I see South Dakota having an edge in scheme vs. scheme I will give the Bears the benefit of the doubt, if Knipp starts, and with this being their first home game and last chance to set the tone for the season.
Eastern Oregon (NAIA) vs. Portland State – 2:00 p.m. PT Hillsboro, OR
Not much to add to Portland State’s “bye week” as they get NAIA Eastern Oregon. After a rough week at Boise State, this “tune-up” game will be a welcome calling to prepare for conference play with some confidence. Idaho State travels to UNI and will play Portland State next week. A rough week for ISU combined with a confidence boost for the Vikings could be a perfect recipe to get a winning streak started. Enjoy a three or four score win sponsored by Portland State this week. Portland State 63, Eastern Oregon University 10
Sacramento State vs. Fresno State – 7:00 p.m. PT Fresno, CA
Sacramento State will be full of confidence from this past week of a 50-0 result, but Fresno State will not care about that. Yes, the Bulldogs are 0-2. Yes, the Hornets are 2-1 with a close loss to Arizona State. The Bulldogs will still be able to prevail as their losses were against Big Ten and PAC 12 opponents and their defense have forced seven turnovers in two games. Kevin Thompson and Elijah Dotson should be able to put on a competitive show through the first half, but ultimately the Mountain West size and strength difference will wear down the Hornets spunky offense and eager defense to bumblebees. Fresno State 27, Sacramento State 13
Southern Utah vs. South Dakota State – 5:00 p.m. CT Brookings, S.D.
Southern Utah debatably has one of the toughest FCS schedules around. A road game at South Dakota State will be a disaster after an encouraging overtime win over SFA. The Thunderbird offense simply is not weaponized enough to maneuver the nuances of the Jackrabbit defense. I do not believe it will be a shut-out, but Thunderbird fans should celebrate if they score more than 13. As for the heavy front seven of the defense and quick secondary of SUU they should be an intriguing matchup for SDSU. The Jackrabbits will easily dismantle SUU and move on to Southern Illinois.
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.