Eastern Washington beat writer Ryan Collingwood predicts Saturday’s Week 1 Big Sky Conference football games.
Portland State at Arkansas: Sometimes Portland State looks like a Power 5 team getting off the bus – physically it’s had some studs over the years – but rarely plays like one. Tight end Charlie Taumoepeau is the real deal, but the Razorbacks (28-point favorites) will knock the Vikings around in the Arkansas heat. Arkansas 52, Portland State 17
UC Davis at California: One of the best offenses in the FCS vs. one of the best defenses in the Pac-12. The Aggies, aiming for a deep FCS playoff run this season, don’t have the horses up front to play witht the Bears (13-point favorites), but if anyone can give a big school problems it’s coach Dan Hawkins, the former Boise State and Colorado head coach who’s swiftly changed UC Davis’ culture. Cal 38, UC Davis 21
Idaho at Penn State: Idaho offensive guard Noah Johnson can’t block the entire Nittany Lions (36-point favorites) defense and kicker Cade Coffey can’t kick consistently hit from 73 yards out, so the Vandals are pretty much doomed in State College. No. 15 Penn State 51, Idaho 10.
Montana State at Texas Tech: The ascending Bobcats may push for a Big Sky title, but will have their hands full in Lubbock. Big test for new MSU quarterback Casey Bauman. How many positions will Troy Andersen will play against the Red Raiders (25-point favorites)? Four? Texas Tech 47, MSU 17
Weber State at San Diego State: This is one of the last FCS teams I’d want t play if associated with a Mountain West Conference school. Because if even San Diego State (Seven-point favorites) wins, it’s going to be sore for a few days. Weber is a physical, nasty bunch with a defense full of Mountain West-level talent. Remember, the Aztecs needed a late push to beat Sacramento State last year. SDSU 24, Weber State 14
Southern Utah at UNLV: The Thunderbirds can prove they’re back in the right direction if they can give the Running Rebels (24-point favorites) some trouble in Las Vegas. SUU has won a couple Big Sky titles in recent years, but key injuries and a tough schedule led to an aberrant 1-10 record last season. Quarterback Chris Helbig, who racked up tons of yards before an early season-ending injury last season, is back. That helps. UNLV 42, SUU 24.
Montana at South Dakota: Remember the opening scene in “The Return of Bobby” in which the Griz opened with a home win against tradition-rich Northern Iowa, only to win five more games in 2018? When it beats a decent South Dakota team on Saturday, it won’t be as exciting for the improved Griz. The fact Montana – once the Alabama of FCS football – is opening its season in Vermillion, South Dakota, tells you things have sure changed. Montana 35, South Dakota 27
Southern Oregon at Sacramento State: New Hornets head coach Troy Taylor’s offense will be cooking with gas against Southern Oregon, an NAIA power. Sac. State 54, S. Oregon 21
Cal Poly at San Diego: The Torreros are great in the nonscholarship Frontier League, making the playoffs four of the last five seasons. It’s also the worst conference in the FCS. But this should be said: It’s lone two playoff wins in that span were against the Big Sky’s Cal Poly and Northern Arizona. Cal Poly may struggle again after a bad 2018 season, and the Frontier favorite Torreros feature stud receiver Michael Bandy, a Walter Payton Award candidate. Cal Poly’s run-run-run offense will try to keep the ball out of his hands. USD 28, Poly 21
EWU at Washington: EWU’s top-to-bottom experience, chip on its shoulder and nothing-to-lose approach makes it dangerous in games like this, but the Eagles are three years removed from being able to physically compete with teams of this caliber (UW is a 21-point favorite). When the Eagles pushed UW in a 59-52 thriller in 2014, that was one of EWU’s most talented and experienced teams, featuring the school’s best quarterback (Vernon Adams) against a new Chris Petersen-led team that was still figuring out his system. Now it’s established itself as one of the best FBS programs in the country and, in recent years, the best in Pac-12. If the Eagles (No. 3 in the FCS preseason coaches poll) can come out healthy and show some brightness at cornerback, it’s one inexperienced position group, it’s a good day. No. 13 Washington 41, EWU 17.
Thursday’s games recap
NAU 37, Missouri State 29: NAU stud quarterback Case Cookus was injured when Missouri State smacked the Lumberjacks last season in Springfield (that town near Shelbyville). The sixth-year senior passed for 290 yards and two touchdowns to avenge the loss in Flagstaff last night. Are the Lumberjacks back?
San Jose State 35, Northern Colorado 18: The bad FBS program beat the bad FCS program, but at least sixth-year UNC quarterback Jacob Knipp - a good player with a career devastated by injuries - was healthy. Knipp struggled, though, completing 26 of 44 passes fo 177 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.