There’s been some reshuffling in the Big Sky Podcast Network Power Rankings this week. Big wins, ugly wins (welcome back to the bottom, Idaho), and narrow losses gave this week’s version a face lift. As always, votes come from Big Sky Pod Network contributors and Brian Marceau explains the results.
The Filet Mignons
1. Weber State
Last Week: WIN vs. Cal Poly (41-24)
This Week: at Nevada
If the Wildcats can turn in a few repeat offensive performances like this, Weber State will be near unbeatable in the FCS. Jake Constantine is still not much of a difference maker, going 17 of 23 for 137 yards and a touchdown, but he did enough to support Josh Davis’ ground work (14 carries, 129 yards, two touchdowns) for Weber State to stretch their 17-10 halftime lead to 38-17 early in the fourth quarter.
Again, the Wildcats defense was great, limiting Cal Poly to 346 yards of total offense—just more than half of the Mustangs’ week one output against San Diego. Weber State won the turnover battle, allowed a mere 16 first downs, and killed Cal Poly in time of possession (35:15 to 24:45). The jury is in — when the Wildcats are unbeatable when they score around 30 or more points. Expect Weber State to keep it close on the road this week against FBS Nevada.
2. Eastern Washington
Last Week: WIN vs. Lindenwood (D-II, 59-31)
This Week: at Jacksonville State
Head coach Aaron Best can’t be ecstatic about the 374 yards and 31 points his Eagles surrendered to Division II Lindenwood, but we’re not reading much into a game EWU led 31-0. Eric Barriere put up video game stats (32-46, 522 yards, five touchdowns) and a running back committee contributed another three touchdowns in a game that was never in doubt.
EWU has the Big Sky’s game of the week this Saturday on the road against No. 17 Jacksonville State. A road win would boost both EWU’s and the Big Sky’s playoff aspirations. A second premier Big Sky win (Montana State over Southeast Missouri State being the first) will buy the Eagles a margin for error during the conference season.
3. (Tie) Montana State
Last Week: WIN vs. Southeast Missouri State (38-17)
This Week: at Western Illinois
There is no athlete in the Big Sky as impressive as Troy Anderson. He’s a defensive captain, a linebacker, and this week also became the offensive catalyst of Montana State’s dominating win over No. 12 Southeast Missouri State. Anderson rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns on just six attempts, while Isaiah Ifanse added another 114 yards on the ground. The blowout is a signature win for Montana State, and evidence that Jeff Choate and the Bobcats’ preseason top 15 ranking was more than deserved.
The Bobcats should be heavy favorites against Western Illinois. Expect more of the same on the defensive end from the Bobcats, and if Bauman can provide just enough threat through the air, Anderson and Ifanse will be too much for all but the best of the FCS.
3. (Tie) UC Davis
Last Week: WIN at San Diego (38-35)
This Week: vs. Lehigh
The Aggies’ defense looked much less impressive in their week two win over non-scholarship San Diego than it did in week one against FBS Cal. San Diego won the time of possession and converted more first downs, which is why the top-five Aggies needed late game heroics from Ulonzo Gilliam (21 carries, 135 yards, two touchdowns) and a goal line stand to escape a San Diego team that’d been handled by Cal Poly the week prior. Otherwise, Jake Maier looked almost like the All-Big Sky quarterback we expect (29-38, 359 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions) and the Aggies had no trouble moving the ball with 539 total yards. Hosting a not-particularly-strong Lehigh this week is the Aggies last chance tune up before traveling to North Dakota State in two weeks, followed by their conference opener at home against Montana.
Last Week: WIN vs. North Alabama (61-17)
This Week: at Oregon
The Grizzlies passing game looked elite while the running game struggled. Montana’s offense was closer to balanced (296 passing yards and 234 rushing yards), but it has yet to find the ideal yardage ratio. But if we’re looking for progress, the Montana rushing attack was a weapon in week two in a way it was not in week one. Part of that has to do with the attention North Alabama gave to Sammy Akem and Samouri Toure, but Montana responded to a rocky first half (down 16-17) the way an elite playoff team should with its second half performance.
This week’s scheduled loss at Oregon won’t be at all a detriment if the Grizzlies can leave Eugene healthy. More important is their final non-conference contest at home against Monmouth. Finishing their non-conference schedule with three FCS wins means Montana will only need to pick up one win against the combination of UC Davis, EWU, Weber State or Montana State, provided the Griz hold serve against the rest of their mid-to-bottom tier Big Sky slate, to hit the minimum threshold of eight wins expected of playoff teams this season. With play like we’ve seen the first two weeks, sneaking into the playoffs should be Montana’s 2019 floor. The Grizzlies are dangerous already. If these guys can string together four quarters a couple times, a Big Sky title is within reach.
Is that a New York Strip, or a Sirloin?
6. Northern Arizona
Last Week: LOSS at Arizona (41-65)
This Week: vs. Western New Mexico (D-II)
Most of the damage didn’t come until the Lumberjacks trailed 51-10, but Northern Arizona showed it might have one of the Big Sky’s better offenses by scoring 28 second-half points against Pac-12 opponent Arizona. Even if those four touchdowns came against backups, Case Cookus had another strong outing (28-48, 373 yards, 2 touchdowns, two interceptions) and both Hendrix Johnson and Brandon Porter (15 combined receptions for 176 yards) showed NAU has the skill position players to stretch Big Sky defenses. There’s still no running game to speak of, and we’ll learn nothing when the Lumberjacks blowout Division II Western New Mexico this week, but two weeks in, NAU looks like a playoff contender.
The London Broils
7. Sacramento State
Last Week: LOSS at Arizona State (7-19)
This Week: vs. Northern Colorado
The surprise of the week came in Tempe, where Sacramento State trailed Pac-12 Arizona State by only five points with six minutes left in the game, only to surrender a late touchdown to fall 19-7. A contest that close is a victory for the Hornets, whose defense allowed only 15 first downs. If that defense is for real, Sacramento State is going to shatter the bottom shelf expectations most had for a team that won zero Big Sky games in 2018. This week, the Hornets host Northern Colorado in a game that should show whether or not Sacramento State has moved into the Big Sky’s middle class. Expect Elijah Dotson to look more like himself in Greeley than he did in Tempe (11 carries, 32 yards).
8. Cal Poly
Last Week: Loss at Weber State (24-41)
This Week: at Oregon State
The big plays Cal Poly needed to beat San Diego last week predictably weren’t there against Weber. That’s not to say the Mustangs looked bad in their road loss to the Wildcats — Cal Poly stayed competitive through the first half, but the Mustangs just do not have the defense to survive against better teams if their offense isn’t winning the time of possession battle or scoring on big plays. Two weeks in, Cal Poly looks like a threat to make any Saturday tough, but well behind the league’s six playoff contenders.
9. Portland State
Last Week: WIN vs. Simon Fraser (D-II, 70-7)
This Week: at Boise State
There’s little to glean from Portland State’s 63 point win over a weak Simon Fraser. The Vikings defense was strong for a second consecutive week (113 total yards allowed), but there’s no extrapolation we can make on the offensive end. At best, head coach Bruce Barnum’s last couple years of highly touted recruiting classes might be turning a corner, but with Portland State’s final non-conference games coming against FBS Boise State and NAIA Eastern Oregon, we’ll know nothing about the Vikings until a couple weeks into the Big Sky season.
The Expired Spams
10. Idaho State
Last Week: WIN vs. Western Colorado (D-II, 38-13)
This Week: at Utah
Head coach Rob Phenicie has accomplished something Idaho’s Paul Petrino has not: he’s picked a quarterback. Junior Matt Stuck showed he has an arm in the Bengals ugly 38-13 win with going 22-41 for 385 yards passing, four touchdowns and one interception, but doing so against the least talented defense Idaho State will face this season doesn’t exactly signal the second coming of Tanner Gueller. Overall, there’s not much else to take from the Bengals beating a D-II squad in a game which was closer than indicated. We’ll learn more in next week’s scheduled loss at Pac-12 Utah.
11. (Tie) Idaho
Last Week: WIN vs. Central Washington (D-II, 41-31)
This Week: at Wyoming
It cannot be stressed how awful the Vandals looked in their narrow win over Division II Central Washington. In spite of Idaho’s defense surrendering a total of 15 first downs dominating the Wildcats on third down defense, Idaho only led by a touchdown with seven minutes left in its home opener. Sure, the athleticism of the Vandals offensive line and rushing game eventually wore CWU down, but this win was both alarming and embarrassing for an Idaho team just two seasons removed from FBS play.
Head coach Paul Petrino has the highest base salary in the Big Sky by more than $100,000 per year over the next closest coach, and for that premium he’s delivered five wins since the transition …. two unconvincingly against D-II opponents. This weekend we saw similar trademarks of a Paul Petrino roster: great athletes, good individual performances (wideout Jeff Cotton’s 16 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns), but a team far away from becoming a cohesive unit. This a familiar scene to what we witnessed in dark seasons prior to the 2016 breakthrough, and with his team’s continued lack of offense while he starts his hardworking, intelligent, but just not Division-I athlete son at quarterback, the Vandals will need a defense comparable to Weber State’s to even think finishing this season around .500. At this point, that’s not what Idaho has. With FBS Wyoming next week followed by EWU at home the next, Idaho will likely end non-conference play at 1-3. If Idaho can’t find a way to be competitive in those games then fan support in the Kibbie Dome may be near nonexistent for the rest of the season.
11. (Tie) Northern Colorado
Last Week: LOSS at Washington State (17-59)
This Week: at Sacramento State
Northern Colorado’s blowout at Washington State was the outcome we all expected, but the Bears delivered a few moments of hope in the 59-17 loss. Jakob Knipp did not shine (8-15, 128 yards), but Northern Colorado’s ground game looked stronger against Washington State than it did the week before against a much weaker San Jose State. Milo Hall and Juleen Ison combined for 180 yards and a touchdown on 44 carries, with Cole Ingersoll also contributing a score on a 28-yard rush. This week’s match-up at Sacramento State looks tougher now than it did a couple weeks ago and will be the first chance to see what kind of hope both teams will have during the conference season.
13. Southern Utah
Last Week: LOSS at Northern Iowa (14-34)
This Week: Stephen F. Austin
For a second straight week, Southern Utah was not competitive. Granted, Northern Iowa is often an FCS power which seems like it’ll find a spot in the 2019 playoff bracket, but the Thunderbirds made it clear while trailing 34-0 with three minutes left in the third quarter that this team is miles from the 2017 FCS playoff iteration of the program. Without the ability to move the ball on the ground (101 yards on 46 attempts) or through the air (126 yards on 31 attempts), there will be no rebound for Southern Utah in 2019.