One attempt at filling out a power ranking for the Big Sky will make a person realize that the race for the title will be a battle. Three teams have emerged as early favorites in Weber State, Eastern Washington, and Northern Arizona. Then one could argue three teams have an already poor outlook for the rest of the season unless things change dramatically. Those teams are Portland State, Cal Poly, and North Dakota. That leaves 7 squads all hiding in the shadows waiting to pounce on the top 3 contenders.
1-3: Weber State, Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona
4-10: Montana State, Northern Colorado, Idaho State, UC-Davis, Montana, Sacramento State, Southern Utah
11-13: North Dakota, Cal Poly, Portland State
Long opening stanza aside, lets get into the discussion for week 6. The slate of games features a rare October non-conference game between Northern Arizona and Illinois State. In terms of excitement across the board, there will definitely be more exciting weekends in the Big Sky. Sandbagging aside, we’ll still learn a lot about teams after this weekend.
(All times listed are local times to the location of the given game.)
Game 1: Portland State @ Montana State – Bozeman, MT – 11 a.m. MST
The Vikings started the season well with two competitive games against FBS opponents, but since then they have struggled, especially on defense. In their two losses to UC-Davis and Montana, they gave up 41 points per game. The defense will need to step it up as the offensive opposition doesn’t get any easier going forward in the Big Sky.
Portland State’s schedule has been tough, but Montana State’s has been brutal. Their losses have come against #9 South Dakota State, #13 Weber State, and FBS #11 Washington State. One key category they have shown struggles is defensive third and fourth down conversions. Opponents have converted 53% and are 100% (5/5) on fourth down. Chris Murray is a rising star for the Bobcats, but the defense needs to get off the field quicker to give him more chances to take charge.
Leaders for PSU:
QB/WR Josh Kraght – Took every snap at QB against Montana, but has also played WR with true freshman Jalani Eason taking the reins. Kraght’s stat line against Montana: 18-42 for 249 yards with 3 INTs and 1 TD – 12 rushes for 132 yards and 1 TD.
WR Darnell Adams – 17 receptions, 214 yards, 3 TDs
S Beau Duronslet – 32 total tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FR
DE Davond Dade – 18 total tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF
Leaders for MSU:
QB Chris Murray – Dangerous dual threat QB, especially on third downs. 51-95 for 637 yards with 3 INTs and 8 TDs – 63 rushes, 417 yards, 1 TD
WR Mitchell Herbert – 19 receptions, 202 yards, 2 TDs
LB Mac Bignell – 32 total tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF
The Bobcats have done relatively well against the run this season, so Portland State will need to find success through the air to have a chance in this tough road matchup. That should mean Josh Kraght will be running the show from the QB position again as he’s a better passer than Eason. The Vikings already have 8 turnovers on the year, but MSU has only forced 3. Portland State will need to have their best defensive performance of the year to pull of the win. I don’t think that is going to happen.
Prediction: Montana State 36 Portland State 17
Game 2: Northern Colorado @ North Dakota – Grand Forks, ND – 2:30 CST
The Bears have relied pretty heavily on the pass, but RB Trae Riek has held his own for the most part. It’s hard to know what you’re going to get from UNC. They competed well against a sold Colorado team, had a meaningless game against a poor NAIA school, an impressive home win over Idaho State, and an ugly road loss to NAU. Their biggest problem this season has been penalty yardage, averaging nearly 80 yards in penalties per game, worst in the conference.
To say UND has hit the injury bug this season would be a major understatement. It’s getting to the point where Bubba will soon be scouting intramural games looking for able-bodies to fill roster positions. Their one win is impressive as no other opponent has beaten Missouri State by as much as the Fighting Hawks and no team has shut them out either. However, their losses are terrible. For a team that used to be known for their ability to stop the run, UND has given up 283.5 rushing yards per game in their 4 losses.
Leaders for UNC:
QB Jacob Knipp 82-131 for 1154 yards, 3 INTs, 8 TDs.
RB Trae Riek 77 rushes, 325 yards, 4 TDs
WR Alex Wesley 23 receptions, 386 yards, 3 TDs
DE Keifer Morris 22 total tackles, 6 TFL, 6 sacks
Leaders for UND:
RB John Santiago 54 rushes, 347 yards, 2 TDs
RB Brady Oliviera 46 rushes, 334 yards, 1 TD
ILB Jake Disterhaupt (out for UNC game) 51 total tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT
With all the problems on the defensive side for UND, their offense will need to step it up to be able to compete with the high scoring Bears attack. I think they’ll need a heavy dose of Santiago/Oliviera to get their second home win. UNC may look to Riek a little more than usual in this game, but Knipp should be a top performer as well.
Prediction: Northern Colorado 35 North Dakota 27
Game 3: Montana @ Idaho State – Pocatello, ID – 2:30 MST
Montana has started the season 3-2, but their wins have come against teams with a combined 1-11 record against Division 1 competition. Gresch Jensen has filled in pretty well at the QB position after Reese Phillips went down for the season a couple games ago. The Griz have struggled on defense giving up over 315 passing yards and over 158 rushing yards per game. Their only saving grace has been forcing 11 turnovers, but the offense has also given up 11 turnovers on the season. They need to take care of the ball to have a chance against such a dynamic offense in Idaho State.
The Bengals are a last second field goal by Northern Colorado away from being 4-1 coming into this game. They’ve definitely been one of the early surprises to this season considering they struggled so greatly the last two seasons winning only 2 games against Division 1 competition. Idaho State has developed a triple threat attack from RB James Madison, QB Tanner Gueller, and WR Michael Dean. However, like Montana, the Bengals have greatly struggled on defense giving up 208 rushing yards and 270 passing yards per game.
Leaders for UM:
QB Gresch Jensen 64-108 for 847 yards, 4 INTs, 6 TDs
RB Jeremy Calhoun 85 rushes, 350 yards, 5 TDs
LB James Banks 52 total tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks
S Justin Strong 23 total tackles, 1.5 TFL, 3 INTs
Leaders for ISU:
QB Tanner Gueller 85-149 for 1345 yards, 5 INTs, 12 TDs
RB James Madison 74 rushes, 422 yards, 3 TDs
WR Michael Dean 21 receptions, 396 yards, 5 TDs
LB Mario Jenkins 59 total tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF
Two high-powered offenses facing two pretty weak defenses is a tough game to predict outside of assuming the score will likely be high. With the game being indoors, there will be no weather complications, so this game will come down to turnovers. I think Montana has the slight advantage with all their capable turnover inducing DBs. The Bengals are at home, though, so this is basically a toss-up.
Prediction: Montana 43 Idaho State 42
Game 4: #8 Illinois State @ Northern Arizona – Flagstaff, AZ – 5:00 MST
The Redbirds come in as the one of the top 10 teams in the country according to the AGS poll. They are undefeated, but they haven’t exactly faced a murderer’s row of a schedule. Things only get tougher for them as their final 7 opponents have a combined 21-7 record. Their strength so far has been Jake Kolbe running the show at QB posting a 152.65 efficiency rating. Finding a weakness is tough, but they are just 33% on third down conversions.
Northern Arizona has had a schedule similar to Montana State where most other teams would have lost the same amount of games with the same schedule. They have a loss to FBS Arizona and another to #9 South Dakota State. Their wins have come against Cal Poly and Northern Colorado. One impressive factor with their last two wins has been they have shut down their opponents to their lowest scoring output of the season. The Jacks have struggled against the run giving up 240 yards per game.
Leaders for ISU:
QB Jake Kolbe 73-117 for 1069 yards, 2 INTs, 6 TDs
WR Christian Gibbs 18 receptions, 344 yards, 4 TDs
LB Tyree Horton 29 total tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF
Leaders for NAU:
QB Case Cookus 97-157 for 1204 yards, 3 INTs, 9 TDs
WR Elijah Marks 31 receptions, 468 yards, 3 TDs
S Kam’Ron Johnson 25 total tackles, 2 TFL, 3 INTs
With two varying styles it’s tough to predict how this game is going to go. Illinois State is one of the top 10 teams in the country and bring in a defense that can shut down NAU’s elite offense. The Lumberjacks will need to slow down the Redbirds’ offense to keep this one close.
Prediction: Illinois State 31 Northern Arizona 20
Game 5: Cal Poly @ Southern Utah – Cedar City, UT – 6:00 MST
The season could not have started any worse for Cal Poly. Coming off a playoff appearance, hopes were high for the Mustangs. However, they opened with a loss to Colgate and things went downhill from there. A close road loss to Northern Iowa provided hope, but they’ve lost two more since that point. With Joe Protheroe lost for the season, they’ve needed someone to step up as the focal point of the triple option attack. QB Khaleel Jenkins did have a solid performance against Idaho State running for 202 yards, so that should provide hope going forward.
Southern Utah has had an up and down season so far. After a tough loss to offensive juggernaut FBS Oregon, the T-Birds slaughtered Stephen F. Austin, and posted an impressive home victory over Northern Iowa. They followed that up with a blowout loss to Sacramento state where they seemingly couldn’t stop anything. Their rushing defense seemed to be a strength after holding UNI and SFA to a combined 19 yards, but they then gave up 333 yards on the ground against Sac State. At this point, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get from Southern Utah. It helps that they are coming off a bye week.
Leaders for Cal Poly:
QB Khaleel Jenkins 28-66 for 597 yards, 2 INTs, 8 TDs – 96 rushes, 377 yards, 4 TDs
RB Jared Mohamed 102 rushes, 431 yards
LB RJ Mazolewski 36 total tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FF
Leaders for Southern Utah:
QB Patrick Tyler 62-108 for 811 yards, 5 INTs, 6 TDs
WR Landen Measom 17 receptions, 349 yards, 2 TDs
LB Chinedu Ahanonu 39 total tackles, 7 TFL, 1 sack, 2 FF
After Southern Utah’s struggles against Sacramento State’s spread offensive attack, you have to think that bodes well for Cal Poly. Southern Utah will need to get their offense going the way they did against SFA.
Prediction: Southern Utah 40 Cal Poly 35
Game 6: Eastern Washington @ UC-Davis – Davis, CA – 6:00 PST
The Eagles struggled mightily to start the season, but they have regained form since then rattling off three straight wins averaging 52 points per game. Consistency on both offense and defense was a weakness in their early losses to Texas Tech and North Dakota State. We haven’t seen much from EWU’s run game so far, but the last three games it hasn’t really been necessary as Gage Gubrud has been on a tear. Like many Big Sky teams, the defense has been a struggle. Eastern has given up 213 yards per game on the ground and 281.6 through the air.
UC-Davis has had a great start to the season in comparison to recent years. New coach Dan Hawkins must be making some great changes, especially to the offense. It was a surprise that they only scored 3 against Weber State, because they have moved the ball so easily the rest of the season. QB Jake Maier has arguably had just as good of a season as EWU All-American Gage Gubrud. The Aggies have been futile against the run allowing 229.6 yards per game.
Leaders for EWU:
QB Gage Gubrud 140-220 for 1736 yards, 6 INTs, 13 TDs
WR Nic Sblendorio 41 receptions, 385 yards, 2 TDs
WR Nsimba Webster 34 receptions, 386 yards, 1 TD
S Mitch Fettig 48 total tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack
Leaders for UCD:
QB Jake Maier 125-174 for 1685 yards, 5 INTs, 12 TDs
WR Keelan Doss 41 receptions, 662 yards, 4 TDs
WR Wesley Preece 20 receptions, 319 yards, 4 TDs
LB Ryan Bua 28 total tackles, 1.5 TFL, 3 FRs
This will be yet another battle of two high-powered offenses against two relatively weak defenses. Eastern Washington has found success when they’ve been able to take the lead early, but they also proved they can come from behind in the game against Montana. Both teams need to take care of the ball. Eastern has 12 turnovers on the season, and UC-Davis has 10.
Prediction: Eastern Washington 45 UC-Davis 38