Just like football season, the Big Sky Podcast Network Power Rankings are back. The rankings are assigned by votes from all our network’s contributors, and the write-ups are the province of Brian Marceau. Please direct all hate mail his way.
We’re Talking Frisco!
Last Week: LOSS at Cal (13-27)
This Week: at San Diego
The Aggies built a 10-0 lead on Cal after the first quarter and trailed by only a touchdown in the fourth quarter. They didn’t come away with the win, but UC Davis proved it deserves its preseason top-10 ranking and will remain a threat to win the Big Sky outright. Just like most of its peers, the UC Davis offense did not produce against the talent and speed of a Power 5 defense, but the Aggies showed they might be able to win games with their defense. Also noteworthy, even with Jake Maier having what should be his worst game of the season (19-37, 173 yards, no touchdowns), second year running back Ulonzo Gilliam looked the part of an All-Big Sky rusher with 89 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Last Week: LOSS at San Diego State (0-6)
This Week: vs. Cal-Poly (non-conference)
Had a holding penalty not nullified Rashid Shaheed’s 99-yard kick return, Weber State would’ve left San Diego with a signature week one win for the Big Sky Conference. Instead, the Wildcats 6-0 loss to San Diego State left Weber State looking a lot like last year’s FCS quarterfinalist model: wretched on offense and elite on defense.
Granted, this came against the most talented defense Weber State will face this year (SDSU was picked to finish second in the Mountain West Western Division), but the Wildcats offense is abominable. Weber State accrued five total first downs, Jake Constantine only averaged 3.8 yards per pass attempt, and with no threat to move the ball through the air the Aztecs had no trouble bottling up 2018 STATS FCS Freshman of the Year Josh Davis for only eight rushing yards.
As we’ve come to expect, the Weber State defense looked like the best in the FCS. SDSU quarterback Ryan Agnew’s stat line was as bad as Constantine’s (16-30, 108 yards), and while the Aztec offense did earn 14 first downs, Weber State kept them out of the end zone. In short, head coach Jay Hill’s squad answered how they’ll replace the seven defensive starters his team lost from 2018.
Last Week: LOSS at Washington (14-47)
This Week: vs. Lindenwood (DII)
How Eastern Washington will replace the 13 departed starters from last year’s FCS runner-up finish is the Eagles biggest question heading into September. In a 47-14 loss at Washington, we received few answers.
Andrew Boston did look comfortable as a number one receiver with six catches for 112 yards and a touchdown. Eric Barriere did throw for over 200 yards and notched a touchdown while the Eagles didn’t commit a turnover against a team that expects to compete for the FBS College Football Playoff. Considering the Eagles couldn’t establish the offensive balance head coach Aaron Best prefers due to the size and speed of the Huskies defense, EWU’s offense only mustering 14 points and 274 total yards was not embarrassing. Maybe the most pressing question for Eagles fans is how much to read into the 570 yards their defense gave up. Last season, EWU had the Big Sky’s best scoring defense (16.9 points per game) and second-best total defense, but lost seven starters and last year’s Defensive Player of the Year in Jay-Tee Tiulli. Their showing against Washington does not reveal anything terminal, but until we see otherwise, the Eagles may have a few more defensive growing pains in them than we saw in 2018.
We’re Talking Frisco?
Last Week: WIN at South Dakota (31-17)
This Week: vs. North Alabama
Unlike most of the Big Sky, there’s a lot to take away from Montana’s opening win at South Dakota starting with the work-in-progress offensive line. The Grizzlies had essentially no success (or space) on the ground, but looked much better while protecting quarterback Dalton Sneed during his 52 pass attempts. An exclusively aerial offense is not what most expected to see under Head coach Bobby Hauck, but against the Yotes the Grizzlies pass attack looked unstoppable. Montana uses three-receiver sets with Sammy Akem, Samouri Toure, and Jerry Louie-McGhee, who could all be the number-one receivers on most Big Sky teams. Against South Dakota, Akem and Toure effortlessly stretched the field with a combined 18 catches for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns, while looking like a pair of first team All-Big Sky wideouts. Louie-McGhee and running backs Adam Eastwood and Marcus Knight took turns stretching short passes into intermediate gains, which more or less functioned as Montana’s best rushing attack. Hauck might like a little more balance on the ground, but the Grizzlies pass attack at South Dakota was devastating and at this point looks like their best bet against the rest of their loaded 2019 schedule.
On the defensive side of the ball, Montana looked solid. South Dakota had more success moving the ball through the air than on the ground, but overall the Yotes picked up a total of 352 yards, production in line with Northern Colorado’s league worst average (354 yards per game) in 2018. The Grizzlies gave up a few intermediate rushes and a couple long passes, but otherwise kept a solid looking FCS team to seventeen points. To give themselves slack in Big Sky play, the rest of Montana’s FCS non-conference schedule games feel like must-wins, but if Hauck keeps letting Sneed and company air it out, this looks like a playoff team.
Last Week: WIN vs. Missouri State (37-23)
This Week: at Arizona
The Lumberjacks needed a quarter to get their sea legs back before handling Missouri State (FCS) 37-23. Case Cookus played like an All-Big Sky candidate while averaging 10 yards per attempt and tossing two touchdowns. Wide receiver Brandon Porter might make NAU fans forget Emmanuel Butler sooner than imagined with his performance of six catches for 140 yards, two touchdown hauls and even one touchdown pass. Cookus did take a few hard early hits, which should be as concerning for the Lumberjacks as their 10 penalties and inability to move the ball on the ground, but broadly speaking, after week one NAU looks like a team that should compete for one of the Big Sky’s final playoff spots.
Last Week: LOSS at Texas Tech (10-45)
This Week: vs. Southeast Missouri State
Redshirt freshman quarterback Casey Bauman’s 31 yard touchdown pass to Coy Steel in the second quarter of Montana State’s week one loss at Texas Tech gave fans a taste of what soon could be. A reliable threat to stretch the field should open up the Bobcats’ rushing attack and compliment the Big Sky’s third-best scoring defense from 2018 which, with the return of nine starters and the addition of Troy Anderson at his true position looks to be even stronger this season.
The jury is still out on how much Bauman can contribute, but he undeniably gives the Bobcats arm talent at quarterback they lacked in 2018. Maybe more interesting than Bauman’s debut were the number of offensive looks used by head coach Jeff Choate. Four different players threw passes for Montana State (Kevin Kassis, Tucker Rovig, and Troy Anderson combined to go 5-5 for 42 yards), while 11 different players took turns running the football. No one on the ground looked close to as strong as Isaiah Ifanse. The sophomore rushed 15 times for 77 yards and has a chance to be a top-three Big Sky running back.
There’s not much to glean from Texas Tech’s 35 first downs and 691 yards of total offense. Moving the ball is what the Red Raiders do. The Bobcats week two match-up with Southeast Missouri State, who won their opener against Southern Illinois, will give us a better idea of whether or not Montana State is ready to live up to their preseason top-15 expectations. Thus far, Casey Bauman will give the Bobcats an aerial threat they lacked last year, but don’t expect Coach Choate to pin his team’s hopes on a passing attack. Montana State will continue to be as creative as they can on offense, but defense and special teams will be Bozeman’s meal ticket back to the playoffs.
We’ve Heard of Frisco
Last Week: WIN vs. San Diego (52-34)
This Week: at Weber State (non-conference)
The second biggest surprise of week one had to be Cal Poly’s win over San Diego, an FCS playoff team in 2018. Sophomore fullback Duy Tran-Sampson looked more than ready to replace Joe Protheroe with 15 rushes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Jalen Hamler did more damage through the air, going 8-11 for 221 passing yards and tossing three touchdowns, than we’ll likely see the rest of the year while also hurting the Toreros with his legs rushing for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Though, a lot of this production might be a one-time affair. Six of the Mustangs touchdowns came on plays of 30 yards or more, including three touchdowns on plays of 50 yards or more. Cal Poly also surrendered 535 yards to San Diego, meaning the Big Sky’s least efficient defense from 2018 is back for an encore.
Last Week: LOSS at Arkansas (13-20)
This Week: vs. Simon Fraser (DII)
Head coach Bruce Barnum and the Vikings surprised just about everyone battling Arkansas to a one-score loss. Portland State came on strong late last season and this could be an indication that the Vikings are continuing those strides. Similar to last season, it was Portland State’s defense that kept them competitive, limiting Arkansas starting quarterback Ben Hicks to fewer than five yards per pass attempt and a sub-50 completion percentage. Offensively, the Vikings could not move the ball, which we could write off as being a product of facing an SEC defense if this were not a continuing theme from 2018, where Portland State finished in the Big Sky’s bottom tier in scoring, total yards and passing yards.
Last Week: BYE
This Week: vs. Western Colorado (DII)
The Bengals opened the year with a bye and open the season against Division II opponent Western Colorado, meaning the news out of Idaho State is no news. As of this writing, head coach Rob Phenicie has not named a starting quarterback in the competition between senior (and University of Idaho transfer) Gunnar Amos and junior Matt Stuck. The two present differing styles. Amos is the more mobile of the two while Stuck has the stronger arm, though the winner may not matter much if the Bengals defense in 2019 is around the conference’s bottom tier the way it was in 2018 – 10th in rushing defense and 12th in passing defense.
We Don’t Believe in Frisco
Last Week: LOSS at Penn State (7-79)
This Week: vs. Central Washington (DII)
It’s hard to know where to start in dissecting Idaho’s 72-point loss at Penn State. Vandal fans knew this was a scheduled loss, they knew the $1.45 Million payday they’d receive was the most important part of their trip to Happy Valley, and everyone knows a Power 5 loss is not indicative of much beyond an immense talent gap. That said, the flaws Penn State exposed look identical to the flaws Big Sky teams exposed last year.
Idaho finished in a three-way tie for the second worst scoring offense in the conference last season and against Penn State, the Vandals gave no evidence of improvement. A lot of the individual match-ups should be written off as the difference between Big Sky and Big Ten athletes (particularly Idaho’s offensive line struggles), but Vandals accrued five total first downs against Penn State, mostly against Nittany Lion third-stringers in the second half. Quarterbacks Mason Petrino and Colton Richardson struggled against the Penn State pressure, though for those predicting who will ultimately be named the starter in week four it’s worth noting Petrino had almost twice as many pass attempts as Richardson (17 to 9). As we’ve said before, we expect Petrino to be named the starter and for Idaho’s offense to remain tepid. This game did nothing to dissuade our projections.
Though this may be hard to believe considering the score, the Vandals did show some promise on the defensive side of the ball. Idaho’s front seven not only looked solid in the first quarter, they appeared disruptive, which might be a generalization to how the Vandals defense will look against competition on our level. The same cannot be said of Idaho’s secondary, which was beaten with both deep and intermediate routes throughout the night, similar to the way Idaho State and Montana abused the Vandals in 2018. Vandal fans will have to hope the influx of talent touted by head coach Paul Petrino just did not have the chance to show their true potential against a top-15 FBS team the way they will in the Big Sky. The jury is out on whether Idaho can field a strong enough defense to compensate for its offense, but if there’s promise in the Vandals fielding a top tier FCS defense, it was not present against the Nittany Lions.
Last Week: WIN vs. Southern Oregon (NAIA, 77-19)
This Week: at Arizona State
We learn as little from the sub-Division I games Big Sky teams schedule as we do from the FBS money games, but at least Sacramento State head coach Troy Taylor has a win under his belt. The Hornets accrued 685 yards and 77 points in just under 27 minutes of offensive possession, while also picking off NAIA Southern Oregon four times. None of those stats mean much, but quarterback Kevin Thomson throwing for 303 yards and rushing for 90 might mean he’s back to full strength, something essential for Sacramento State to improve on last season’s zero Big Sky wins.
Last Week: LOSS at UNLV (23-56)
This Week: at Northern Iowa
The Thunderbirds owned the Big Sky’s worst scoring defense in 2018, which was on full display at UNLV. Heading into the third quarter, the Thunderbirds trailed 56-7, but did score a couple touchdowns late to make the score a little more respectable. Both scores were thrown by backup quarterback Tyler Skidmore, who threw for more yards than starter Chris Helbig (157 to 138), though Skidmore had the benefit of playing against UNLV’s second stringers. This week’s game at Northern Iowa, who lost to 24th-ranked (in FBS) Iowa State in triple-overtime, will not be much of a pick-me-up.
Last Week: LOSS at San Jose State (18-35)
This Week: at Washington State
Of all the Big Sky’s FBS matchups, Northern Colorado’s loss at San Jose State is one of the few with tangible takeaways. San Jose State is a perennial Mountain West bottom feeder that, if a member of the Big Sky, would not project as an FCS playoff team. The good news for the Bears is they stayed fairly competitive throughout their 17-point loss, but some of last year’s struggles remained, particularly on the offensive end. The Big Sky’s worst offense in 2018 (last in scoring and total yards) engineered one touchdown and senior quarterback Jacob Knipp needed 44 pass attempts to reach 177 yards while also throwing two interceptions while receiving almost no help on the ground.