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True freshman QB leads Portland State

Quarterback Kieran McDonagh (4) directs a Portland State offense that ranks third in the Big Sky Conference in scoring and total offense. (Associated Press)
Quarterback Kieran McDonagh (4) directs a Portland State offense that ranks third in the Big Sky Conference in scoring and total offense. (Associated Press)

This hasn’t been the greatest of football seasons at Portland State, but don’t blame quarterback Kieran McDonagh.

McDonagh, a true freshman from Vancouver, Wash., has been the key for a Viking offense that ranks third in the Big Sky Conference in scoring (34.9 points) and total offense (441.2 yards).

Last week, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound McDonagh was named to the Jerry Rice Award Watch List as one of the top freshmen in the Football Championship Subdivision.

For his part, McDonagh is averaging 233.7 yards of total offense per game entering Saturday’s game against fifth-ranked Eastern Washington. He has completed 148 of 270 passes for 1,001 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also averages 33 yards rushing.

“Kieran has one of the strongest arms I’ve been around,” said Portland State head coach Nigel Burton, whose Vikings are 3-7 overall and 2-5 in the Big Sky.

Burton says McDonagh is a leadership-by-example player: “But hopefully he’ll be able to have that fiery leadership, that follow-me attitude.”

Title talk

With one weekend remaining, four teams still have a chance to claim at least a share of the Big Sky regular-season title. Montana State, Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona and Cal Poly are all 6-1 in conference play.

As many as three of them could wind up sharing the championship. Northern Arizona plays host to Cal Poly, so the loser would be eliminated from the title hunt, while the winner will be no worse than co-champion.

Unless both Montana State and Eastern Washington lose, a tiebreaker will be used to determined which teams gets the automatic bid to the Division I playoffs.

If MSU and EWU both lose, the winner of the NAU-Cal Poly game will be the outright champion and earn the automatic bid to the playoffs.

The playoff field

The FCS playoff will be announced Sunday morning at 10:30 on ESPNU. Ten conference champions receive automatic bids to the playoffs. The other 10 at-large teams will be selected by the Division I Football Committee.

Portland State athletic director Torre Chisholm is the Big Sky’s representative on the committee. Eight teams will play in the first round Nov. 24.

Twelve teams won’t play until the second round on Dec. 1. The committee will seed five teams, and those five teams will be guaranteed home games in the second round.  The Big Sky has sent at least two teams to the playoffs each year since 1999.

Montana State is seeking its third straight playoff bid. Eastern Washington is looking to advance to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, and the sixth time since 2004.

Northern Arizona hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2003. Cal Poly advanced to the playoffs in 2005 and 2008, when it was a member of the Great West Conference. The playoff field expands to 24 teams next year.

Sagarin ratings

The Big Sky is once again ranked as the second-toughest FCS conference in the Jeff Sagarin Ratings.  The Missouri Valley is first, and has moved ahead of the Sun Belt and Conference USA, both FBS conferences. Montana State is the top Big Sky team, with an overall ranking of 85 and an FCS ranking of 4. Eastern Washington is second at 88 and 6. Cal Poly is third at 93 and 9. Northern Arizona is fourth at 103-13.

UNC player suspended

Northern Colorado football player Courtney Hall has been issued a one-game suspension for an illegal hit, the conference announced Wednesday. Hall, a sophomore defensive back from Pompano Beach, Fla., will be suspended for Northern Colorado’s season finale on Saturday against North Dakota.

Extra points

Cal Poly needs 135 yards to set a single-season league record for rushing yards in a season. Montana rushed for 3,477 in 1971. Cal Poly has 3,343. … Idaho State has set a league record for most points allowed in a season with 552. The previous record was 494 by Idaho State in 2008. … Montana State coach Rob Ash won his 48th game with the Bobcats last week, becoming the school’s all-time leader in wins. … NAU’s Jerome Souers needs one win to tie Don Read for second place on the Big Sky’s all-time win list with 85. … EWU is 10-0 in games after Nov. 1 since 2010. … Cal Poly now leads the nation in third-down conversion percentage at 54.66 percent. Montana State is third at 53.21.