The FCS playoff field has been decided. Three Big Sky teams will be making an appearance in the field of 24. Northern Arizona, Southern Utah, and Weber State will represent the conference in the annual tournament. Reigning FCS champion James Madison collected the overall one seed while North Dakota State will be the two seed on the other side of the bracket.
Southern Utah won the auto-bid as the conference champion. The Thunderbirds were 7-1 in conference play, their only loss coming to Sacramento State. Southern Utah will have the seven seed in the tournament. Their second round opponent will be the winner of Weber State and Western Illinois. The Wildcats will be hosting their first ever playoff game in Ogden this week. Northern Arizona will be hosting Pioneer league champion San Diego. The winner of that game will move on to face North Dakota State in Fargo.
Left out of the playoff field were Eastern Washington, Montana, and Sacramento State. All three teams could have made a case for being in the playoff field, but alas, other teams were picked ahead of them. Eastern Washington athletic director Bill Chaves had some words for the playoff selection committee in a series of tweets on Sunday morning. Assistant Big Sky Commissioner Jon Kasper also had a few choice Tweets for the playoff committee.
Onto the week’s action..
In the annual Treasure State Super Bowl Montana State hosted rival Montana. The Cats and Griz have been battling for 118 years. Montana could not get the best of the Bobcats in this one. Montana State quarterback Chris Murray rushed for 98 yards and rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown. In total the Bobcats rushed for 322 yards and four touchdowns in their Saturday win. Montana collected 326 yards through the air, but a costly Gresch Jensen fumble deep on Montana territory all but sealed the deal for the Cats. On Monday Montana athletic director, and Skyline Sports first reporting, that Bob Stitt’s contract at Montana would not be renewed and a coaching search would ensue.
Cal Poly and Northern Colorado finished their seasons with the Big Sky’s weekly pillow fight. The Mustangs showed true pillow fight material by giving up 42 straight points to Northern Colorado. Northern Colorado quarterback Conor Regan, playing in relief for Jacob Knipp, threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Bears. Kicker Collin Root scored 10 of the Bears’ 42 points. Pretty good day for a kicker. Cal Poly will likely try to forget this season as soon as possible, one of their worst since joining the Big Sky Conference. The Mustangs finished 1-10 on the season. The Bears finished a respectable 3-7.
Weber State emphatically made their case for a playoff spot, and a chance for a conference title if Southern Utah faltered, on Saturday. The Wildcats flat whipped the Idaho State Bengals 35-7 on Ogden on Saturday. As a reward they will get to host a playoff game. Stefan Cantwell accounted for 337 yards and four touchdowns. Idaho State didn’t account for that many yards as a team, if that’s any indicator how their Saturday went. The Wildcats will host Western Illinois on Saturday.
Northern Arizona and Southern Utah did battle in their final game of the season in Cedar City. If Northern Arizona wanted to get off of the bubble and send Jerome Souers out on a winning note they were going to have beat the Thunderbirds. They did neither of those. Southern Utah won by 28 points and wrapped up the Big Sky’s auto-bid to the playoffs. Patrick Tyler had 238 yards passing and 31 yards rushing with two touchdowns. In a strange turn of events, even with NAU losing and getting a playoff spot, the University announced on Monday afternoon that the Lumberjacks would retain Jerome Souers for next season. Also announced was Andy Thompson would be named assistant head coach, an obvious succession plan to Souers. Northern Arizona will host San Diego on Saturday, while Southern Utah will wait out the winner of Weber State and Western Illinois.
In the annual Causeway Classic the Sacramento State Hornets hosted the UC Davis Aggies. Sacramento State somehow stayed within grasp of the playoff field. The Hornets and Aggies racked up an impressive amount of yards in a game that didn’t particular matter for anything important other than central valley bragging rights. They combined for 1250 yards in a 52-47 win for the Hornets. UC Davis made it a game after falling behind. They scored 13 unanswered in the fourth quarter. UC Davis got the ball back late but couldn’t convert on fourth and six to keep their chance at a win alive. Helluva season, Hornets.
In the final game of the day Eastern Washington pushed to keep its playoff hopes alive and all they had to do was beat Portland State. I would like to say this game was close, and it was for two quarters. Then Eastern Washington exploded for 28 points in the third quarter and it wasn’t close anymore. A turning point early in the game for Eastern Washington was Gage Gubrud somehow being sacked in the end zone and simultaneously flinging the ball over his back shoulder resulted in an incomplete pass. The Eagles then went on a 99 yard scoring drive. That pretty much summed up Portland State’s day. Eastern Washington did not make the playoffs despite having a resume that suggested they should.
Montana State 31
Cal Poly 0
Northern Colorado 42
Idaho State 7
Weber State 35
Northern Arizona 20
Southern Utah 48
UC Davis 47
Sacramento State 52
Portland State 33
Eastern Washington 59
Big Sky Player of the Week
The Big Sky Player of the Week this week is Weber State quarterback Stefan Cantwell. Cantwell was 21/29 for 262 yards and 3 TDs, while rushing 16 times for 75 yards and 1 TD as Weber State wrapped up their season with a win against Idaho State.
Big Sky MVP Candidates
Gage Gubrud, QB, Eastern Washington – 17/32 for 445 yards, 4TD, 8 rush for 67 yards, 1 TD
Elijah Marks, WR, Northern Arizona – 5 receptions for 86 yards
Keelan Doss, WR, UC-Davis – 13 receptions for 173 yards, 1 rush for 42 yards, 1 TD
Gresch Jensen, QB, Montana – 30/49 for 326 yards, 1 TD 1 INT, 6 rush for 35 yards
Patrick Tyler, QB, Southern Utah – 20/30 for 238 yards, 1 INT, 10 rushes 31 yards 2 TD
Big Sky Power Rankings
1. Southern Utah
2. Weber State
3. Eastern Washington
4. Northern Arizona
6. Sacramento State
7. Montana State
9. Northern Colorado
10. Idaho State
11. North Dakota
12. Cal Poly
13. Portland State
Final Thoughts and Hot Takes
There’s no hot takes I can offer that can match what Bill Chaves and Jon Kasper tweeted out this weekend. They tweeted pure fire at the playoff committee for leaving out Eastern Washington, not seeding Southern Utah high enough, and basically said the playoff committee has their head in their … darker body cavities. They both make a strong case, and mildly suggest that the playoff committee try watching football in the Mountain and Pacific time zones someday.
The Jerome Souers story is totally nuts. He was told early in the season that he would not be retained as their head coach at the end of the season. Effectively him and his staff were lame ducks. Over the weekend the NAU athletic director took a new job at UTSA. NAU’s president decided Sauers was getting a raw deal and decided on his own to retain him. Presumably Souers had done enough this season to warrant not being pushed out the door. Bizarre circumstances in Flagstaff.
Montana firing Bob Stitt is a puzzler. 21-14, 1-1 in playoff games. Griz fans are very demanding of their coaches and nothing short of Nick Saban success is good enough. Now if only Montana had Alabama finances to justify this kind of outrage. That being said, that’s college football nowadays, what have you done for me today? I think Montana was a year away from being a very formidable football team. However, in the Treasure State beating the cats is a higher priority than most anything. Can’t face your co-workers on Monday after a loss.
That said, Bruce Barnum went 0-11 and will still be the head coach at Portland State next season.
Eastern Washington not getting into the playoffs was a bit of a sham. Just looking at the playoff bracket I can see some teams in there in the “do not belong” category. I’m looking at you Monmouth, Nicholls State, and just because it pisses me off, San Diego. Lehigh will be in the playoff field with a 5-6 record and not getting any votes in the STATS or AGS top 25 polls. However, because their sham of a conference is awarded an auto-bid, here we are. Colgate, by the way? 7-4, 5-1 on the season. Their only conference loss? Lehigh. Thus, your autobid.
My winners for next week: Stony Brook, Weber State, Northern Iowa, New Hampshire, Kennesaw State, South Dakota, Elon, Northern Arizona.
My champion: James Madison d. North Dakota State.