The sense of urgency might not measure up to what Eastern Washington University was feeling last fall when it needed to put together a dramatic late-season run – much like it did in 2007 – just to squeeze into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs with an at-large berth.
This time around, the Eagles (7-2 overall, 6-1 in the Big Sky Conference) would seem to have at least a slight margin for error as far as their at-large playoff chances are concerned.
But Eastern’s third-year head coach Beau Baldwin insists there is just as much at stake for his team this year as it prepares for Saturday’s 1:05 p.m. non-conference matchup against Southern Utah at Roos Field.
“Hopefully, we’re not looking at our (results and record) as much as a cushion as we are an opportunity,” Baldwin said early Monday afternoon. “Instead of having to win our last two games just to have a shot to get into the playoffs like last year, we’ve put ourselves in position to win this game and our last one (at home against Idaho State on Nov. 20) and have a chance to be seeded pretty high.”
A win over the Great West Conference champion Thunderbirds (6-4, 4-0) on Saturday, coupled with a victory over lowly Idaho State in their season finale, would greatly enhance the seeding prospects for EWU – even if it ends up tying Montana State (8-2, 6-1) for the regular-season BSC title but loses the league’s automatic playoff berth due to the 30-7 setback suffered against the Bobcats in Bozeman, Mont., back on Sept. 25.
“There’s still a lot riding on how we finish the year,” Baldwin added. “So we’re looking at this as an opportunity to, perhaps, not only be seeded high, but potentially get a home playoff game – or even home playoff games – depending on how we finish.”
BYE WEEK PROGRESS
Eastern practiced only twice during last week’s by week, but, according to Baldwin, got plenty accomplished in the film and weight rooms.
“Overall, it was a good week for us,” Baldwin said. “We were still able to practice twice, which helped us keep our wind and our timing. But we also watched a lot of film and got in three lifts to help keep our strength up.
“We did something every day, Monday through Friday, and got a lot done.”
In addition, the week off allowed senior defensive tackle Tyler Jolley to recover completely from the concussion that kept him out of the Eagles’ 50-17 rout of Portland State back on Oct. 30. However, sophomore cornerback Artise Gauldin, who missed the PSU game because of suspension handed down by the Big Sky for an illegal hit in the Eagles’ win over Sacramento State the previous Saturday, remains questionable because illness.
EAGS CLIMB AGAIN
Eastern, despite coming off a bye week, moved up one spot – from 6th to 5th – in both The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top 25 and FCS Coaches’ Poll.
The rankings are the highest ever attained by the Eagles during the regular season, although the 1997 team that finished 12-2 and advanced to the semifinals of the FCS playoffs before losing to eventual national champion Youngstown State, was ranked No. 4 in the season-ending poll that came out after the playoffs.
Montana State, by virtue of last Saturday’s 24-10 win over Weber State, climbed from 11th to 10th in the coaches’ poll and from 12th to the 11th in the TSN/Fathead.com rankings, while Montana, which was idle last weekend, remained at No. 13 in the TSN poll, but dropped from 16th to 17th in the coaches’ poll.
Cameron Higgins’ quest to become the Big Sky’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes might be over.
Weber State’s senior quarterback, who is currently tied with EWU’s Matt Nichols and Montana’s Dave Dickenson with 96 career TD tosses, threw for 229 yards – but no touchdowns – in last Saturday’s 24-10 loss to Montana State and suffered a knee injury in the final two minutes of the game.
The Wildcats have road games against Northern Arizona and Texas Tech remaining, and there is a chance Higgins won’t be able to return, which would also leave him 287 yards short of moving ahead former Weber great Jamie Martin into second place on the BSC’s all-time passing list.
Montana State, which is tied with Eastern Washington for the Big Sky lead and owns the tiebreaker over the Eagles, has a bye this Saturday before closing regular-season play against archrival Montana in Missoula on Nov. 20. … The 20-team FCS playoff field will be announced at 7 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 21, on ESPNU. … The Big Sky remained the No. 2 FCS conference in this week’s Sagarin ratings, trailing only the Colonial Athletic Association. In those same ratings, Eastern Washington is the highest rated Big Sky team at No. 4 (7th among all NCAA Division I schools), followed by Sacramento State at No. 8 (85th overall) and Montana State at No. 10 (91st overall).