The non-conference portion of the schedule is mostly over for the Big Sky with a few exceptions such as UNI vs, Weber this week, Idaho State travels to BYU in November, and a few North Dakota games. So far, the Big Sky is not off to as hot a start as many believed they would be. No FCS over FBS wins came up this year which was disappointing despite the high caliber cast. Other chaos has ensued as Eastern Washington starts the season as 1-3, Northern Colorado has been outscored 158-41, and Idaho of all teams is on top of the standings to start the conference season.
Marquee 1: NDSU def. UC Davis 27-16
UC Davis did not come out with a win in Fargo, but the Aggies did show us something important. While NDSU still sufficiently beat UC Davis, the Bison showed signs of mortality in playing such a closely contested game. Regardless of the score, the NDSU defense took a systematic Jake Maier and forced him into three interceptions. As a player of the year candidate he tried with all his might, but NDSU is talented and disciplined in all facets.
Marquee 2: Illinois State def. Northern Arizona 40-27
Banking too hard on the Lumberjacks only for them to fall by two scores hurts. A talented and well put together NAU was poised for a steal, but it simply did not materialize. This year, Illinois State may finally be worthy of their hype. Case Cookus is a top tier FCS quarterback, but his two interceptions may have been a leading factor of the NAU demise. Joining the cause of demise would be the atrocious running game for NAU. While James Robinson rattled off 92 yards and two touchdowns, Joe Logan could barely force 40 yards. Both passing offenses were hot for most of the day, but Andrew Edgar took the cake as he had 12 catches, for 228 yards, and two touchdowns.
Northern Iowa def. Idaho State 13-6
Many spectators expected this to be a runaway game by Northern Iowa, but the Bengal defense found themselves able to frustrate UNI. Defensive Coach Roger Cooper should be proud of his game plan as the Bengal defense rose above their usual potential. While placing all the blame on Gunnar Amos is not fair, it is undeniable that his three interceptions corrupted any chances of the Bengal offense claiming the upset victory. The quarterback situation is less than ideal as the former Vandals Amos is struggling with turnovers and the young set of quarterbacks are struggling with accuracy. Regardless, Idaho State should be encouraged by taking the Panthers down a peg in a close defeat.
Idaho def. Eastern Washington 35-27
Eastern Washington I have one question for you, “WTF?”. What I mean by that is Where’s The Football we are used to EWU? Idaho wholeheartedly deserved the win and is a real competitor at this point. The EWU Eagles are lost, confused, and who knows what else. Starting with undiscipline versus Lindenwood (D2), followed by an upset loss at Jacksonville State, and now an uncharacteristic loss of fight against a familar foe. To the Eagles’ credit they did not give up in the second half as they fought to erase the 28 point deficit they dug themselves into. Falling by a mere 8 points considering the situation is comendable, but even in horseshoes and hand grenades this would not be close enough. Besides the blunders of both teams giving up double digit points at a time both sides personel played decently. EWU’s rushing attack could use some improvement as Antonie Custer Jr. has a well known target on his back and the backup core is on and off healthy. Compliments to Mason Petrino and the Idaho pass defense as the unsung heroes that have Idaho placed atop of the standings heading into week five.
Montana State def. Norfolk State 56-21
The first half of this MEAC versus Big Sky game was interesting as it took the Bobcats a significant amount of time to heat up. Once rolling the Bobcats took off and left the Spartans behind in a swirl of their rushing attack. Three Bobcat players earned themselves a day of 100 rushing yards or more. This combined with a banner day from Bryce Sterk at D-Line racking up 10 tackles, 5 TFL, and 3.5 sacks for 28 yards made for a great showing by Montana State. While this may not have been the most competitive game the Bobcats could have scheduled it does provide a needed challenge of seeing an opponent from an uncommon conference to MSU. This experience may pay off during playoff time if Montana State makes it that far.
Montana def. Monmouth 47-27
Both sides of Montana were rocking and rolling as the divided state’s teams both had big wins against unusual non-conference opponents. While the two schools hate to have things in common with each other it was curious to see two unusual opponents come to the Big Sky state. Monmouth being a Big South competitor did fairly well against the Griz in the first half as their deficit was only a touchdown. Following the first half, Dalton Sneed proceeded to unleash on Monmouth with three passing touchdowns and leading Marcus Knight into a position to get his own touchdown. The offense was hot as Sneed completed 75 percent of passes, threw 334 yards, and four touchdowns, while Marcus Kinght racked up 148 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The defense did allow 27 points which will be less than desirable in conference play, but Dante Olson earned 13 tackles, 2.5 TFL, and one sack on the day.
South Dakota def. Northern Colorado 14-6
Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. That is all the Bear fan base saw and that’s exactly what Earnest Collins Jr. wants to clean up this week in practice. Was it better than the 50-0 result the week before? Sure, but losing the home opener to a team slightly less dysfunctional than the Bears still hurts. Knipp was back at quarterback, but many of his throws seemed forced and unnatural. Milo Hall did what he could for the team by churning out 75 yards and a touchdown, but field goals and extra points were out of the question. Colin Root is out with a leg injury which seems serious as he was seen on the sidelines in a cast. A bright spot amongst all the negativity was Luke Nelson’s 15 tackles to move him a little farther into the record books at UNC.
Portland State def. Eastern Oregon (NAIA) 59-9
Portland State had fun toying with their NAIA prey this week with a 50 point margin of victory. The most notable part of this game are the stats and how vast the gaps are in value. Total yards gained was Portland State’s 657 to EOU’s 133. Portalnd State gained 34 first downs while EOU could only manage 10. Portland State also was penalized more yards with 100 to EOU’s disciplined 35. If the Vikings can work on one thing that would be an aggressive team effort to eliminate penalties.
Freno State def. Sacramento State 34-20
Sacramento State is quickly becoming recognized as a team that is very close to being a breakout team in the Big Sky. Keeping pace with Fresno State until mid fourth quarter is something the Hornets should be proud of, but they were close enough to pull off the upset. There are some key features of how Sacramento State can improve themselves going into conference: establish a sustainable running game, less penalties, and takeover the time of possession. 12 rushing yards is unacceptable, especially for the talent that Elijah Dotson possesses. With only a two score loss the 12 penalties and 147 yards lost nullifies many chances that the Hornets could have used to beat Fresno State. In line with that the Hornets allowed the Bulldogs to have the ball for 15 more minutes than them. That is the time period of a full quarter! Other than those complaints, Kevin Thompson is throwing the ball well, the defense is tallying up tackles, and the defense also creates turnovers. If the Hornets can play a full game any Big Sky team should be worried about getting stung.
South Dakota State def. Southern Utah 43-7
If you look at total yards, first downs, and time of possession this game would seem close on paper. On the field it looked like a deserving FCS top ten team and a mediocre Big Sky team. J’Bore Gibbs and Pierre Strong seemed to have everything under control in this game as they both found the endzone twice. Combine that with a team safety and an interception return for a touchdown and this was a strong performance for the Jackrabbits as a whole team. It is concerning that J’Bore Gibbs gave up two interceptions to the Thunderbirds as they give up passing yards in bundles at a time. Southern Utah needs to rehab and regroup quickly as Cal Poly comes to Cedar City next weekend.
Week 4 – How’d I Do?
Chaos with EWU, disaster from UNC, and a real Redbird team? Week four came with bad news to the Big Sky including losing the Missouri Valley Challenge. Is the Big Sky overrated? No, we can quash any worries of that since the Big Sky actually looks well improved by most teams. EWU, Idaho State, and Northern Colorado are among the few teams holding back the conference currently. EWU’s disasters are headliners so everyone knows they are struggling, but what are the other excuses? Idaho State lost a lot of talent this past year and an instability at quarterback currently adds to the woes of finishing games. While their record is not ideal their defense has taken unexpected steps forwards. As to why Northern Colorado struggles is becoming a different mystery each year with new excuses each year. Despite success in the 2015 and 2016 seasons of 6-5, Northern Colorado has struggled through its entire existence in the Big Sky which needs to change for them and the conference’s sake.
Week 4: 7-3
Overall: 40-6 (86.9%)
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.