Boosted by three victories over Football Bowl Subdivision teams toward the start of the season, the Big Sky’s top teams are highly concentrated at the top of the FCS rankings.
With two weeks to go, the conference has five teams in the top 12 of the Stats Perform poll this week, including No. 7 Eastern Washington (7-2, 4-2 Big Sky).
But right there behind those five teams in the conference standings is Portland State, victorious in its last three games and 4-2 in Big Sky games (5-4 overall).
“I like how we’re playing now. The kids are playing fast. They’re playing with confidence, which is fun to watch,” PSU coach Bruce Barnum said during his weekly interview.
Last weekend, the Vikings did something the Eagles failed to do the week before: beat Weber State. The Vikings did so on the road, no less, ending Weber State’s playoff hopes while keeping their own alive.
“(Players) kept their composure and played hard and got out of there with a ‘W,’ ” Barnum said. “Anytime you go to Ogden and get a win it’s a fun one, and that was fun.”
Portland State – which will host Eastern Washington on Nov. 20 – has won four of its past five since a 30-17 loss at Montana State on Sept. 25. Among Big Sky quarterbacks, PSU senior Davis Alexander is second behind Eric Barriere in passing yards (2,505) and touchdowns (17).
Alexander was also added to the Walter Payton Award watch list this week. Barriere was already listed, along with Big Sky running backs Josh Davis (Weber State), Elijah Dotson (Sacramento State) and receiver Samuel Akem (Montana). Montana State running back Isaiah Ifanse, who leads the conference in rushing yards, was also added to the list this week.
On Saturday, Portland State will play at No. 12 Sacramento State (7-2, 6-0), a team coached by Troy Taylor, who was the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Eastern Washington in 2016.
“There have been three programs that have taken a hit in the last decade,” Barnum said. “That’s Folsom High School, where Troy (Taylor) was, then Eastern Washington and then Utah, and when Troy landed at Sacramento State (in 2019), I knew the impact would be there and it’s already there.
“How Troy coaches, how he runs his squad, his staff, is strong. It’s a challenge for anybody, especially the mighty Viks.”
Big Sky lobbies for College GameDay
For the past couple of weeks, a movement has been growing in Montana to coax ESPN’s College GameDay to Missoula for the Nov. 20 game between the Grizzlies (7-2, 4-2) and Bobcats (8-1, 6-0), ranked ninth and third, respectively, in the FCS Stats poll.
On Tuesday, the Big Sky released a 1-minute video of its staffers singing along to Big & Rich’s song “Comin’ to Your City” in an appeal to coax College GameDay – which features that song in its intro – to set up its Saturday morning show in Montana for the first time.
Montana State coach Brent Vigen was on the North Dakota State staff when GameDay set up in Fargo in 2013 and said this week that it is a credit to ESPN for identifying that there are big games and venues and programs outside the FBS.
“They haven’t made it out this far yet, so if it happens, great. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” Vigen said. “But it was a neat opportunity, I know, for NDSU and our players, and I think it’s just good for football, it’s good for college football (and) it’s good for the FCS, to have a light shined on it.”
Montana coach Bobby Hauck was also on board with the idea.
“I think it’d be great for the University of Montana, great for Missoula,” he said during his media availability Monday. “So that’d be awesome.”
Montana plays at Northern Arizona on Saturday; Montana State hosts Idaho.
There have been five Big Sky matchups this season between ranked teams. The Montana-Montana State game and the UC Davis-Sacramento State game Nov. 20 would make two more.
FCS set to lose three top teams
Three FCS teams announced last week that they will leave their conferences and move into the FBS. That includes current No. 1 Sam Houston and No. 2 James Madison, as well as Jacksonville State, which won at least 10 games in five of its previous six seasons.
In the summer of 2023, Jacksonville State and reigning FCS national champion Sam Houston will join Conference USA, which will soon lose nine of its 14 teams to the American Athletic Conference and the Sun Belt.
James Madison, FCS champion in 2016, will join the Sun Belt in June .
“Will that change the landscape, a few of the high-profile teams leaving the division? Certainly. And that’s been occurring for several years,” Vigen said this week. “What does that mean to us? I think you’ve got to go about it from a perspective of all we can do is control what we can control. We’re here in Bozeman, Montana, so for the Sun Belt or C-USA to look at us, that wouldn’t make any sense.”
When asked about the moves and whether Montana should stay in the Big Sky, Hauck said it was a discussion better timed for the offseason.
“I don’t know. I’d have to think on that,” Hauck said. “But like I said, if anybody can improve their positioning, they should do it.”
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