Even as three of the Big Sky’s top football teams sat idle, the conference’s status in the polls improved this week as it heads into its final three weekends of the regular season.
Two Football Championship Subdivision teams previously ranked in the top 10 lost last weekend, which allowed idle Eastern Washington (7-1, 4-1 Big Sky) and Montana State (7-1, 5-0) to each move up – to No. 5 and No. 4, respectively, in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 – ahead of their important contest Saturday at Roos Field.
UC Davis (7-1, 4-1), also idle, moved up one spot to No. 8. The Aggies visit Northern Arizona (4-4, 3-2) on Saturday.
Like Montana State coach Brent Vigen, UC Davis coach Dan Hawkins spoke this week about the good timing of the week off as the Big Sky’s top teams work out a logjam atop the standings.
In his news conference Monday, Hawkins said the bye rejuvenated his players’ “souls and their minds and their bodies.” He also pointed out that between the team’s spring season, his players have played 13 football games since early March.
Eastern Washington played seven games in the spring, including one in the FCS playoffs. Montana State opted not to play during the 2020-21 season.
“We’re embarking on our 14th game this season, so we’re very mindful of that, both in terms of the physical stress on our guys and the mental stress,” Hawkins said. “I know our guys are excited about the prospects for this season, but we’ve been on the football treadmill for a while.”
As the Eagles, Bobcats and Aggies rested, two of the Big Sky’s other top teams in the standings sputtered but notched victories.
No. 11 Montana (6-2, 3-2) held on 20-19 over Southern Utah (1-8). It was also the case for Sacramento State (6-2, 5-0), which remained unbeaten in conference games with a 27-24 victory at Northern Colorado (3-6, 2-4). The Hornets dropped one spot in the poll, to No. 16, despite the victory.
Those games were reminders of the parity possible within the Big Sky. UC Davis, for example, suffered its only loss of the season in Idaho State’s only victory.
But the schedule as it sits is also a reminder of the imbalance inherent in a schedule when a conference has 13 teams but plays just eight conference games.
Take Sacramento State: The Hornets already beat Montana in Missoula, and they will finish the regular season against their primary rival, UC Davis. But they will not play Montana State, Eastern Washington or 24th-ranked Weber State this regular season.
The Eagles, for their part, will play four of the other five ranked teams. They beat Montana, lost to Weber State, will face Montana State this weekend and then will play at UC Davis on Nov. 13.
“It’ll be fun. It’ll be challenging,” Eagles coach Aaron Best said of Saturday’s game against the Bobcats.
“We’ve got to beat the best to be the best. … We don’t want an easy schedule. We don’t want things that are easy, because with things that come easy, there’s less appreciation.”
Just like the Eagles, the Bobcats will arrive at Roos Field as rested as they’ve been all season.
“Guys coming off eight straight weeks of mileage have been able to get some more tread on their tires,” Vigen said Monday in his news conference. “I don’t think the bye week for us could have come at a better time.”
Montana’s quarterback situation still unclear
Cam Humphrey returned to play in Montana’s victory over Southern Utah, completing 10 of 14 passes in his first action since leaving late in the team’s loss at Eastern Washington.
But the senior quarterback didn’t finish the game, and Montana might again be turning to redshirt freshman Kris Brown. Each of the two have started four games this season.
The injuries seem to be piling up for the Grizzlies, too, something coach Bobby Hauck alluded to during his news conference Monday.
“We’re injured and we’re fighting to get back for Saturdays and be competitive on Saturdays. That’s where we are right now,” Hauck said.
“If the theory that the reason that you practice is to improve, (if that) applies, then that’s going to dictate your performance on Saturdays,” Hauck said. “So if you can’t practice, you can’t play well. … We do the best we can and try to get ready and limp out on Saturday and try to get a win. That’s what it’s going to be this week, too.”
The Grizzlies visit Northern Colorado this weekend.
Weber State’s Shaheed sets FCS record
Wildcats senior Rashid Shaheed was named Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week after returning a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in Weber State’s 40-17 victory at Idaho State on Saturday.
The play marked Shaheed’s seventh kickoff return for a touchdown, which set an FCS career record. He is one of three players with multiple kickoff return touchdowns in the FCS this season.
Among Big Sky players, Shaheed also ranks fifth in yards per reception (17.0) and 13th in total receiving yards (459).
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