Who Will Win The Big Sky?

The Big Sky is one of the deepest conference top to bottom. Predicting a winner is difficult. Last year was my first attempt to take emotion out of it and use analytics to predict the winner. How I did this was combination of a “True Skill Ranking” and “Strength of Schedule” calculation.

Before we get into this year. It is a fair question to ask, How did last year go? How accurate is this? It is a little difficult to compare as I originally completed predicitons before five Big Sky Schools opted out of Spring. Lets look anyway with removing the teams that did not play and adjusting.

Predicted FinishTeamPredicted RecordActual FinishTeamActual Record
1Weber State6-01Weber State5-0
2E.Washington5-12E.Washington5-1
t3UC Davis4-2t3UC Davis3-2
t3N.Arizona4-2t3N.Arizona3-2
5Idaho2-4t5Idaho2-4
t-6Idaho State1-5t5Idaho State2-4
t-6Cal Poly1-57S.Utah1-5
8S.Utah0-68Cal Poly0-3

I will let you all determine if this was succesful or not, especially with last springs circumstances. But at least now you know how it did.

This season will be a test as all 13 current Big Sky Football Conference teams are playing. This is also only looking at the conference schedule. The out of conference schedule has not been included. Also the database used to calculate my True Skill rankings are not released yet. These prediciton are stricly of SOS and leave room for updating before conference kickoff.

Before we get into predicitons, lets take a look at some of the oddities of the 2nd annual Strength of Schedule Tub Table.

Obviously this system is not perfect, I am the first to acknowledge this. As Weber State (Preseason pick to win conference) benefits from not playing themselves and vice versa Northern Colorado and Cal Poly are punished for not playing themselves.

That being said it is the second time in as many seasons Weber State has the path of least resistance to win the championship. Montana State and Eastern Washington have a weird scenario too. Eastern Washington has the toughest schedule at home (Montana,Idaho,Weber & Montana State). While Montana State has toughest road schedule (Portland State, Weber State, Eastern Washington & Montana). Then they swap and Eastern has the least difficult road schedule. While Montana State has by far the easiest schedule at home. sidenote, I honestly wonder how season ticket sales are going with no Choate, 18 months of no football and a lackluster home schedule.

If you are looking for this years dark horse, Northern Arizona harbors 3rd easiest schedule and only by 2 points. The Standard Deviation for strength of schedule is 9.4. Being only 2 points off from easiest schedule is a big benefit to the lumberjacks of Flagstaff. To their defense, Shaun Rainey of SWX Montana and Colter Nuanez of Skyline Sports have been high on Portland State, Even saying they are top four in big sky. They do have 5th easiest schedule in the conference and could be one of those annual dark horses the big sky seems to get every year.

Okay enough of me nerding out over schedule strength statistics that really dont mean anything once the ball is kicked off to what you are all here for… using those useless statistics to make analytical predictions for each team in the conference.

t13. Cal Poly 0-8

t13. Northern Colorado 0-8

11. Southern Utah 1-7

t10. Portland State 2-6

t10. Idaho State 2-6

8. Idaho 3-5

t5.Northern Arizona 5-3

t5. Montana State 5-3

t5. UC Davis 5-3

t3. Eastern Washington 7-1

t3. Sac State 7-1

t1. Montana 8-0

t1. Weber State 8-0

Reminder these are not my predictions. You can tune into our live youtube show August 10th around 8 PT with Skyline Sports Colter Nuanez to hear how myself and the rest of the team think conference season will go.

*** As always I”m not an journalist so, take your gramatical error comments, & put them in a beg some-Where. Hope you enjoyed the content regarless if you maid it too dis disclaimer 😉

Tubs Preseason Big Sky Poll

We submitted three polls to the conference office. Here is how the three of us voted and why.

Chris
Brian
Dallas
1Weber StateMontanaWeber State
2EWUMontana StateEWU
3MontanaWeber StateMontana
4UC DavisEWUSac State
5Montana StateSac StateMontana State
6NAUUC DavisUC Davis
7Idaho StateIdahoIdaho State
8IdahoIdaho StateNAU
9SUUUNCIdaho
10Sac StateSUUSUU
11Cal PolyPortland StatePortland State
12UNCNAUUNC
13Portland StateCal PolyCal Poly

For those of you that read our Preseason All-Conference Team post you can see our picks for All-Conference lead to our opinions on our polls.

Further Explanations

Chris:

  • Weber State at 1 – The Wildcats return possibly the best Secondary in the FCS. Three members of the secondary made our All-Tubs Team. Bronson Barron (technically a true freshman still) had barely been on campus and had to compete for starting job last season. That is not the case this fall, he will be receiving all the reps. Pair that with former Jerry Rice Award winner Josh Davis and an emerging stable of backs returning. The Achilles heel of this program, the offense, has to take a step forward. Even if the offense doesn’t improve, they have still won four straight Big Sky titles. Why would I bet against them?

  • Montana at 3 – Look even with some “?” still at QB. This team returns a lot of talent. How bad could it be when you get to throw to Maybe the best WR in the FCS, Sammy Akem. If the QB works out, they could easily win the conference. But right now with Weber returning Bronson & Eastern returning EB3, I gave them the SMALL nod over the Griz. Its going to be a close race this year.

  • Sacramento State at 10 – I understand I’m sticking my neck out with this one. I just think the 2019 season was a flash in the pan. I expect this team to be closer to their 42-28 home playoff loss to start the playoffs, more then the 49-22 win vs the Griz. The Hornets in my opinion benefited greatly from being a sleeper until about half way through the 2019 season, an out of nowhere QB (who has since transferred out) and no one having tape on first time head ball coach Troy Taylor. I expect them to struggle early and maybe make a charge late. Are they the 10th best team in conference probably not, probably a bit better. But weeks 1 thru 6 I expect them to play below where most people have them. Most throw out the easy schedule this year as a reason to have them high. I think the easy schedule will catch them sleep walking with rust early. Though lighting can strike the same spot twice…

Brian:

  • Weber State at 3 – Defending Big Sky champion Weber State (finally) looks vulnerable. The Wildcats won a single spring game by a margin greater than a touchdown–with all of those nail biters coming against teams that will be picked in the bottom half of this fall’s season–but Weber’s schedule, and Jay Hill’s tendency to just never lose games he shouldn’t, makes a 6-2 (in conference) floor all but locked in.

  • Idaho at 7 – This vote was a strict judgement of talent–which should put Idaho not in the top tier of the conference, but close enough to talk yourself into yet another but maybe this year discussion.

    Which is lunacy.

    We all know the Idaho blueprint from the previous three years: stay competitive at home, but faceplant on the road. Hang with, or knock off a playoff-level team, then stumble in comical fashion against the Northern Colorados, or Northern Arizonas occupying league’s bottom tier. Never mind that Idaho has its toughest league schedule since rejoining the Big Sky. 

    So yes: in my written-in-blood preseason poll, Idaho sits at number seven. And yes: the moment my poll was officially sent, I could not believe their slot was higher than ten.

  • Northern Colorado at 9 – Consider Northern Colorado a composite character of Idaho, Idaho State, Southern Utah, and Northern Arizona: it’s an absolute crap shoot rating any of those teams above each other. Before the Bears land higher than ninth, we’ll need to see the fruits of Coach McCaffrey produce. The talent influx following McCaffrey alone will make Northern Colorado at least good enough to spoil someone else’s playoff hopes, but with the promising spring efforts from other projected lower-tier teams, there’s too crowded a field of candidates to repeat the out-of-nowhere rises of UC Davis and Sacramento State to rate Northern Colorado much higher.   

Dallas:

  • Eastern Washington at 2 – Eric Barriere is one of the best players in the entire FCS, and when you have a quarterback like him running the show, you’re going to have at least a puncher’s chance in every game. Yes, their questionable defense allowed 35 straight points in the first round of the spring playoffs to a weakened North Dakota State. Yes, the receivers drop more passes than they should. Yes, they have an extremely tough conference schedule this year. But, their three toughest games (Montana, Montana State, Weber State) are all in Cheney this year and I’d expect they win two of the three to keep themselves just behind Weber in the conference standings. Even in their last true down year (2015, when Vernon Adams transferred to play his final year at Oregon), they tied for fourth in conference, going 5-3 with two losses to ranked teams.

  • UC Davis at 6 – UC Davis has a deep cast of receivers, a solid defense (as Vandal fans likely remember), and one of the best running backs in the conference. QB Hunter Rodrigues had 21 FCS passes to his name coming into 2021 and may have benefited more from the spring season than any other athlete. So why do I have them sixth? Weber State, Eastern Washington, and the Montana schools certainly look better on paper and should all slot in as top five finishers, even if they trade losses around. I don’t see the Aggies beating Weber State (and yes, I know they had a double digit lead on the Wildcats last season) or Eastern Washington. Even if they beat Sacramento State in the Causeway Classic to finish the year, I don’t think a game in hand on the Hornets helps, courtesy of the absolute gift of a schedule Sacramento State got this year. Nothing against UC Davis, but a top five finish doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

  • Idaho at 9 – Every year it seems I talk myself into Idaho finally becoming a bully in the Big Sky. Take one look at the schedule and you’ll realize why I’m not doing that this year. The Vandals could be favored in three of their four home conference games, but even if they won out at home with an upset of Montana, they will not be favored in a single road game this season. I don’t think they win a single game outside of Moscow this year, even without Paul Petrino’s track record of failure away from the Kibbie Dome. There’s plenty of talent on this team, just like there was in the spring, but I don’t see any reason to believe that it magically clicks this season. 4-4 in conference is the ceiling for this team if things go well, and 2-6 is certainly on the table. We’re looking at another long year.

Big Sky Podcast Network Big Sky Conference Football Power Rankings: Week Four

Sans Weber State, the nonconference schedule has come to a close. There’s a ton we don’t know about the mid-to-lower tier teams, but the four playoff favorites have separated themselves and begin the hunt for signature wins—starting with UC Davis and Montana. As always, votes come from the many Big Sky Podcast Network contributors and Brian Marceau fills in the rest. 

 

The Elites

 

  1. Montana State

Record: 3-1

Last Week: Win vs. Norfolk State (56-21)

This Week: vs. NAU

 

Coach Jeff Choate pulled the plug on freshman quarterback Casey Bauman with a last minute substitution of sophomore Tucker Rovig, who rewarded MSU with the type of performance (21/27, 221 yards, 4 TDs) that—if repeated—will transform the Bobcats from playoff-lock to championship contender. We’ll have to see if Rovig can deliver against real competition—Norfolk State is a lower tier FCS program—but if MSU’s already elite defense and special teams is now paired with a strong offense, the Bobcats shouldn’t see a close game until the last two weeks of the season (vs. UC Davis and Montana). Montana State was already a heavy favorite this week against NAU, but if the quarterback question is solved and both Troy Anderson and Isaiah Ifanse can return to something around 100 percent, the Bobcats will be the most complete team in the Big Sky, and maybe the entire FCS outside of North Dakota State. 

 

  1. Weber State

Record: 1-2

Last Week: Bye

This Week: vs. Northern Iowa

 

Weber State has looked good in their one FCS win (nonconference over Cal Poly) and two single-score FBS losses. It’s unclear what to think of the Wildcat offense, which scored 41 against Cal Poly, but only 13 combined in their FBS losses. What is clear is how dominant the Weber State defense has been in allowing 43 total points and an average of 345 yards against mostly FBS competition. Coach Jay Hill expects injured quarterback Jake Constantine to return from a knee injury to start this week against top 10 brethren Northern Iowa in a game with playoff seeding implications. 

 

  1. UC Davis

Record: 2-1

Last Week: Loss at North Dakota State (27-16)

This Week: vs. Montana

 

The Big Sky’s best showing this week might have been UC Davis outgaining North Dakota State (422 yards for UC Davis to 354 for NDSU), and trailing by four at the end of the third quarter. Jake Maier’s three interceptions held the Aggies from pulling the upset, but UC Davis more than held their own in Fargo and proved their top five ranking is more than deserved. The Aggies open up Big Sky play hosting Montana in what should be a matchup of two top 15 teams. Montana has not yet underperformed against an FCS team the way UC Davis did in their season opener at San Diego, but their close loss at NDSU has erased concerns about whether the Aggies’ rocky first two weeks would carry into the conference season. 

 

  1. Montana 

Record: 3-1

Last Week: Win vs. Monmouth (47-27)

This Week: at UC Davis

 

The worst we can say about Montana heading into conference play is they haven’t been tested the way Weber State, UC Davis, and Montana State have, though again, Montana looked strong in a convincing 20 point win over Monmouth en route to the Grizzlies’ third FCS win. Dalton Sneed was electric through the air (334 yards, 4 TDs), but maybe more importantly, the immergence of running back Marcus Knight (21 carries, 148 yards, 1 TD) gives Montana one of the league’s better threats on the ground. This week, Montana faces their first FCS elite on the road at UC Davis. A win would catapult Montana into the top 10, but even staying competitive in their first real test of 2019 would go a long way in proving the alleged Return to Dominance has truly begun.   

 

The Inseparables 

 

  1. Idaho

Record: 2-2

Last Week: Win vs. EWU (35-27)

This Week: at Northern Colorado

 

Maybe the narrow loss at Wyoming was a turning point for Idaho. After opening with an embarrassing 72 point loss at Penn State and an uninspiring 10 point win over DII Central Washington, it appeared the Vandals were giving the Big Sky an encore performance from last season’s disappointing squad. Instead, Idaho dominated EWU for three quarters and gave fans a look at what could be the Big Sky’s biggest turnaround team. 

 

It didn’t hurt that five EWU defensive starters were out with injuries, but the Idaho offensive line dominated from start to finish. The Vandals rushed for 223 yards and three touchdowns, though more importantly, by controlling the line of scrimmage, Idaho was able to consistently find themselves in short yardage situations on second and third down. Not only did this allow quarterback Mason Petrino’s short yardage accuracy to become a weapon for the Vandals in a way it never has been in the senior’s two years as a starter, it enabled Idaho to keep EWU’s offense off the field by manufacturing long clock burning drives featuring a ton of easy third down conversions (10/16 on 3rd down). With Northern Colorado on the schedule next week, Idaho should find itself on the right side of .500 for the first time since returning to the Big Sky.  

  1. Sacramento State

Record: 2-2

Last Week: Loss at Fresno State (34-20)

This Week: Bye

 

Sacramento State again looked fantastic in hanging all four quarters with another FBS team that will undoubtedly make a 2019 bowl game. Against both Arizona State and Fresno State, the Hornets received no production from 2018 All-Big Sky running back Elijah Dotson, who will unquestionably find more room to run during the conference season. More concerning for the rest of the Big Sky should be the play of quarterback Kevin Thomson, who has thrown nine touchdowns and completed 61.8 percent of his passes in Sacramento State’s three Division I games. 

 

  1. EWU

Record: 1-3

Last Week: Loss at Idaho (35-27)

This Week: vs. North Dakota

 

Last year’s national runner-up will begin Big Sky play with zero FCS wins thanks to an upset loss at Idaho. The defensive struggles present in the Eagles’ DII win over Lindenwood (31 points allowed) and in their second half collapse at Jacksonville State returned for all four quarters against the Vandals, where the generally tepid Idaho offense gained 463 total yards including 223 on the ground. Missing five defensive starters aided in EWU’s poor defensive outing, but that does little to explain how Idaho’s defense was able to keep the Eagles from moving the ball the entire first half and much of the third quarter. Without question, EWU owns the Big Sky’s most disappointing opening month, and for the Eagles to make a return trip to the FCS playoffs, they may have to finish no worse than 7-1 through the conference season.  

 

  1. NAU

Record: 2-2

Last Week: Loss at Illinois State (40-27) 

This Week: at Montana State

 

Northern Arizona could not move past its dark horse status in a road loss at Illinois State in a game that could have given the Lumberjacks their second FCS win. On the year, quarterback Case Cookus (12 TDs, 4 INTs) has shaken any rust from missing most of last year, but without a top tier defense or any semblance of a rushing attack, NAU will have to win a lot of shootouts if they’re going to threaten for an at-large playoff berth.  

 

The Know Nothings

 

  1. Portland State

Record: 2-2

Last Week: Win vs. Eastern Oregon (NAIA, 59-9 )

This Week: at Idaho State

 

Beyond learning that Davis Alexander would be an elite NAIA quarterback (25/34, 366 yards, 5 TDs), throttling Eastern Oregon tells us nothing about the Vikings. A month into the season, Portland State owns two sub-FCS wins and two FBS losses, meaning no one on Earth has an idea what to make of the Vikings.   

 

  1. Idaho State

Record: 1-2

Last Week: Loss at Northern Iowa (13-6)

This Week: vs. Portland State

Idaho State turned in one of the week’s surprising performances in their one-score loss on the road at No. 9 Northern Iowa. Backup quarterback Gunnar Amos (13/26, 134 yards, 3 INTs) struggled while leading Idaho State to 209 yards of total offense, but the Bengals’ defense shined in holding an FCS elite to 234 total yards and 13 points. ISU’s defense was weak in 2018, but if coach Phenicie and company have made strides on that side of the ball, the (eventual) return of quarterback Matt Stuck and some semblance of an offense would push the Bengals back to where they were in 2018—a dark horse for an at-large playoff berth. 

 

  1. Cal Poly

Record: 1-2

Last Week: Bye

This Week: at Southern Utah

 

If big play passing is now part of the Mustangs’ arsenal (quarterback Jalen Hamler has passed for three touchdowns and 403 yards on 25 total attempts), it might compensate yards Cal Poly purges on defense (496 yards per game vs. two FCS teams).  

 

The Known Quantities

 

  1. Southern Utah

Record: 1-2

Last Week: Loss at South Dakota State (43-7)

This Week: vs. Cal Poly

 

Aside from their week three win over one of the worst FCS teams (Stephen F. Austin), Southern Utah has scored almost no points until trailing by 30 or more in 2019. Those blowouts did come against two top 10 FCS teams (Northern Iowa and South Dakota State) and FBS UNLV, but at the close of nonconference play, Southern Utah joins Northern Colorado as the Big Sky’s two nights off. 

 

  1. Northern Colorado

Record: 0-4

Last Week: Loss at South Dakota (14-6)

This Week: vs. Idaho

 

In two FCS games (Sacramento State and South Dakota), Northern Colorado has scored six points and gained 390 total yards. Yes, they kept it close at South Dakota, but until the Bears have something resembling an offense, Northern Colorado will threaten no one.