College Sports Journal Big Sky Conference Previews: Week of 9/14/2019

The non-conference gauntlet continues in Week 3 with PAC 12 and Mountain West FBS matches, long distance FCS games, and one D-II game. Weber State has the best chance to make a “Fear the FCS” moment, but all of the FBS games this week have the potential to be ugly. Looking ahead at the FCS games is a different story, as Big Sky teams have the talent to win big. NAU versus Western New Mexico will be an obvious win barring a strong Lumberjack performance.

Conference Game of the Week:

Eastern Washington  (1-1) at Jacksonville State (1-1)
Where: Burgess Snow Field, Jacksonville, AL
When: Saturday, September 14th – 4pm. ET
TV/Streaming: ESPN+ (subscription req’d)

Eastern Washington

The EWU Eagles are a talented bunch who are led by one of the best FCS coaches around. I mean his name literally is Coach Aaron Best. The running back community might be a bit light as Dennis Merritt is out for the season with a broken leg and other backs are trying to get back to 100 percent. EWU’s talent is abundant and resilent which will help them in their tough road trip. A lopsided FBS loss and a sloppy D2 win are not indicative of the Eagles true potential. Eric Barriere, Antonie Custer Jr, and Andrew Boston shall be enough to reak havoc on the JSU defense. The game winning question will be if the EWU corners can corall the numerous JSU receivers and their physicality.

See the source image
Photo via EWU Athletics.

Key Player: Dehonta Hayes and the corners will need to be poised, composed, and ready for battle. The receivers for JSU are talented, transfer or not, and possess a lot of physicality to deal with. That combined with Zerrick Cooper’s arm strength, accuracy, and scramble abilities will provoke EWU’s defense for a playoff-style game. Expect playmakers or threats from all angles of the field and stay disciplined to the assignment on every play. Being a hero could win or very well lose this game at any given point.

Jacksonville State

Despite Netflix’s lack of urgency to grant JSU a show called “Transfer University” there is no denying there is talent on this roster. Like other top tier FCS schools, and a few outliers, JSU churns out consistent NFL possible talent. With the incredible amount of transfers and former FBS players on the roster this team shoud be steadfast on winning the OVC crown once again despite a sputtering start to the season. Both teams have underperformed on the year so far whether it be by points allowed or an unexpected loss. This is JSU’s chance to instill fear in the FCS that they are not a one trick pony of win the OVC and then promptly exit the playoffs disgraced. This playoff game environment will be electric on and off the field as two high caliber teams duke it out to prove their worth.

See the source image
Photo via JSU Athletics.

Key Player: Josh Pearson and his fellow receivers are tall, physical, and determined. It will be on them to give Zerrick Cooper options so that he can read the field and pick apart the Eagle defense. The running game will still be imperative to both sides even having the opportunity to pass for an enormous amount of attempts. Josh Pearson specifically with a 6’4″ 200 lbs. frame gives him a great deal of lattitude to gain yards. EWU’s receivers will have to earn their yards and scores too, but it may all depend on if the JSU receiving core can give Zerrick that needed edge to pull an upset at home despite hosting EWU.

Fearless Prediction

This game has been on the minds of Big Sky, OVC, and other Top 25 on-lookers since the beginning of the season. The analysis has been done by those involved and those not involved. Jacksonville, Alabama will be clammering with press, fans, and curiosity. But, enough of the hype, lets play the game already. As for my two cents is I see a nasty game set ahead, but EWU will prevail in the early fourth quarter. The EWU receivers have to earn it, but the EWU secondary is more fierce than the JSU secondary. That is why I see the JSU receivers being the deciding factor of fail or prevail. A wild card to the equation is if Cooper strays from the receivers and relies solely on tight end Trae Berry rather than keep him as an extra blocker. Unguardable tight ends is a true achillies heel for many FCS teams. While I see JSU needing to protect Cooper more than they need Berry catching it is a possibility, but heavy hitters like Chris Ojoh will not stray from the chance to lay out Cooper. EWU 41, JSU 31

Other Fearless Predictions:

Cal Poly vs. Oregon State – 1:15 p.m. PT Corvallis, OR, TV: Pac-12 Networks (subscription req’d)

Jalen Hamler and JJ Koski will do their best to take down the Beavers. It will be a feat of great proportion even though Oregon State is a lower end PAC 12 team. A 2-10 PAC 12 season is nothing worth touting about, but unfortunately does not give enough reason to suspect a Big Sky upset. Last season Southern Utah played the Beavers and lost 48-25. Cal Poly may have more success, but there will likely be a two to three score difference between the teams still. OSU 45, CP 24

Idaho State vs. Utah – 2:15 p.m. MT Salt Lake City, UT – Radio: 102.5 KMGI, TV: Pac-12 Networks (subscription req’d)

A common theme this week is the FBS opponents may not be flashy, but they sure will be favored. Utah is entering into another positive year where the Utes are considered a powerful team within the PAC 12. They did fall to Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl despite a strong 9-4 record before that. Another Big Sky vs. PAC 12 comparison from last year includes Weber’s attempt at the Utes which ended miserably 41-10. Although Jake Constantine had possibly the worst game of his life in that game it does not leave a lot of hope for a middle of the pack Bengals team. Expect Mitch Gueller to get some nice receptions and the Bengals overall to get a nasty whooping. Utah 53, ISU 13

Idaho vs. Wyoming – 3:00 p.m. MT Laramie, Wyo.: TV: ESPN3 (subscription req’d)

Idaho travels to nearby FBS opponent Wyoming to duke it out in Laramie. Although, the Vandals are likely to get tromped despite playing a middle level Mountain West team. The Cowboys have seen some turmoil since NFL talent Josh Allen left town for Buffalo, but a resurgence under Craig Bohl seems to be brewing. A change in player roles may leave Idaho unprepared for the complexity of a traditionally simple team. Josh Allen was known to run for big gains on occasion, but now Sean Chambers seems able and willing to run when needed. The Wyoming defense is also known for causing costly turnovers at opportune times. WY 42, ID 17

Northern Colorado vs. Sacramento State – 7:00 p.m. MT Sacramento, Calif., TV: CW 31, Pluto.TV (free)

FOOTBALL RETURNS HOME TO FACE NORTHERN COLORADO ON SATURDAY
Photo via Sac. St. Athletics.

Jacob Knipp and company enter a third straight road game and a third week with no wins yet. Sacramento’s win was admitedly from a sub-FCS team, but a win nonethelees. The Bears need their secondary to cause some fear for Kevin Thompson as the coverage continues to be subpar. That combined with few total sacks makes for too much time afforded to the opposing offense. The receivers group could also use a kick in the rear to give Knipp better options so that he does not continue to force passes. The Hornets also have struggled with reaching the backfield as 5 sacks in two games is not ideal. A substantial question is after these teams have had two very different schedules is how they will fair against familiar FCS competition. Although the Bears are 0-2 I see them as being more prepared for this matchup from a tough FBS introduction to their schedule. This will be the 50/50 game of the week as the roster strengths are similar and it all depends on how they are used. UNC 27, Sac. St. 24

Portland State vs. Boise State – 8:15 p.m. MT Boise, ID TV: ESPN2Watch ESPN App (subscription req’d)

Portland State looks much improved and will have a better overall season. This statement intentionally side steps this game due to the fact that Boise State does not just win games, but they tend to destroy opponents. The last time Boise State played an FCS opponent was in 2015 where they shut out Idaho State 52-0. It may not end up in a shut out, but Boise State will do everything in their power to do so. In the past seasons since the last FCS game for Boise State they have only gotten better by raising their 70 percent season wins each season and entering the top 25. Portland State should hold onto the railing since it will be a bumpy ride Saturday night. BSU 63, PSU 10

Montana State vs. Western Illinois – 2:00 p.m. Macomb, IL Radio: Bobcat Radio Network, TV: ESPN+ (subscription req’d)

GAME #3: Bobcats Visit Western Illinois for 'Defining Game'
Photo via MSU Athletics.

Hot off a win over SEMO and moving up in the FCS top 25, the Bobcats look to continue their good fourtune in Macomb, IL. Western Illinois had a rough first two weeks with Colorado State and North Alabama losses. The Leathernecks should not panic, but rather try to correct their mistakes for the home opener against the Bobcats. The Leatherneck defesne is trying and doing a decent job, but a lackluster offense will sink any team. The front seven of the WIU defense can handle their own which will make Troy Anderson and Isaiah Ifanse’s day harder. The real problem is an offense who does not run exceptional nor give much motivating hope in the passing game either. As strange as it seems WIU will need to not play like themselves to have a chance in this game, otherwise the Bobcats will take a 2-1 record after week three concludes. MSU 41, WIU 16

Weber State vs. Nevada – 5:00 p.m.Reno, NV Radio: KLO 1430, TV: ESPN3 (subscription req’d)

Nevada was obliterated by Oregon so now Weber State should be on upset alert right? Wrong. Weber State is talented and so is Nevada. One bad week in college football does not define a season and does not guarentee a loss the next week. Just ask Portland State how they felt last year when Nevada put a 72-19 loss on their shoulders. The quarterback situation may be a little dire in Nevada with their preseason drama and injuries, but Jake Constantine has yet to be a gold star quarterback. Regardless, I feel Weber can hold a decent game with Nevada for three quarters and have a slim chance to upset the Wolfpack. Nevada 27, Weber 17

Western New Mexico at Northern Arizona – 5:00 p.m.Flagstaff, Ariz. Radio: 93.5 FM/930 AM (FLAGSTAFF), KDUS-AM 1060 (PHOENIX), 97.9 FM (PRESCOTT), KFFN-1490 AM/104.9 FM (TUCSON)TV: Your Phoenix CW / NAU-TV / Pluto TV (539)

The most interesting game of the week is… not this one. Miracles and football go together like a perfect amount of peanut butter and perfect amount of jelly to make a great PBJ. This PBJ is being made in the dark and WNMU will prbably slip on it in pregame (hint, no miracles). This game features an NAU team looking to send off Case Cookus well and make some respectable noise in the Big Sky. Putting up a large amount of points in a game that does not make a difference unless you lose is the way to approach a week three like this. If NAU treats this mentally as a bye week they will not lose, but run the risk of having an undisciplined season. NAU 66, WNMU 9

Stephen F. Austin vs. Southern Utah – 6:05 p.m.Cedar City, Utah Radio: KSUB 590 AM/ESPN 97.7 FM, TV: PlutoTV – Ch. 536

One of these teams will finally have a win this season at the final whistle. UNLV and UNI found no challenge in ripping apart the Thunder Birds. Likewise, Baylor and Tarleton State (D2) found their ways to make SFA suffer. The defense and passing game are of average grades, but SFA may be able to count on Da’Leon Ward to rush them in the right direction. Statistically the entire SUU offense is unimpressive, but the defense warrants merit for three forced fumbles and a blocked kick. When it comes down to it home field advantage and a better defense is what sets these two teams apart. SUU 26, SFA 16

Lehigh vs. UC Davis – 8:00 p.m. Aggie Stadium Radio: Sports 1140 KHTK, TV: PlutoTV

Ulonzo Gilliam 9-7 at San Diego
Photo via UC Davis Athletics.

Lehigh is simply not prepared for what they will be walking into this Saturday. UC Davis had a scare of a game against a San Diego team who snuck up on them, but Lehigh will be doing no such thing in Davis, CA. Lehigh has no rushing attack, already more interceptions than touchdowns, and is lacking in turnover production. These three items are key to being able to withstand a battle with the Aggies. Mountain Hawk fans should have an arsenal of snacks because it may be late into the game before a Lehigh score is produced. UCD 52, Lehigh 10

Montana vs. Oregon – 8:46 p.m.Eugene, Ore. Radio: Grizzly Sports Radio Network, TV: Pac-12 Networks (subscription req’d)

Montana faithful are scared of no opponent no matter how loud their stadium may or may not be. This is an admirable note, but utterly useless in application to this Saturday’s game. Justin Herbert is looking to be a first round draft pick and one can bet an FCS opponent is the perfect time to show off a little and really rack up some stats. Are the Griz a good Big Sky team? Of course they are, but a powerhouse like Oregon would shred even the likes of North Dakota State. A stout Montana team will show some glimpses of success early on and when the second string comes in, but Oregon is jut too tough for them. Oregon 56, Montana 17

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