We've been posting at 2pm every day for over a month, but we move things up today for a very good reason. We'll get to the important part of today's post in a moment, but first it's our hot takes on week nine of the Big 12 schedule. Although those takes aren't all that hot, because... well, look, this sort of thing isn't that common, but the week nine schedule in the Big 12 is awful. How awful?
West Virginia at TCU
Texas at Iowa State
Our staff cast nary a dissenting vote on the outcomes of these four games. TCU, Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State were all predicted to win by 11-0 margins, TCU because they're really good and the other three because their opponents are really bad. That makes for a really boring article, which is why it's a really good thing there's a Division I college football game on television today.
BotC's Projected Big 12 Standings after Week Nine
Division I College Football Begins Now
There is actually a game nearly all of you can watch before this one: our little pals from Baker take on 2013 NAIA champs Grand View in GV's debut game as a member of the Heart of America Conference at 11am CT on ESPN3. But obviously the marquee game today is this one:
Who: (1) North Dakota State Bison at (13/12) Montana Grizzlies
When: 2:30pm CT
Where: Washington-Grizzly Stadium (25,217), Missoula, MT
The series: North Dakota State leads the series 4-3. Montana won the first three meetings, all prior to World War II. The Bison won in consecutive Camellia Bowl meetings in 1969 and 1970, and in Missoula back in 2003, before winning 22-10 at Fargo last season.
Outlook: Montana is, of course, a very good team, and they are now coached by SB Nation's coaching spirit animal Bob Stitt, formerly the boss at Colorado Mines. Even if this weren't going to be a great game, that would be reason enough to tune in. North Dakota State, of course, is embarking on a quest only one other team in the history of college football at any level has attempted: they're trying to win their fifth straight objective national championship. Division III Augustana (IL) had that opportunity in 1984 and failed. Can the Bison complete the unprecedented five-peat? The answer to that question starts today.
Television: ESPN, with Brent Musburger, Jesse Palmer, and Maria Taylor. Why did Musburger get this assignment? He's from Montana. HE'S BIASED, PAWWWWWWWWL.
Radio: Not nationally available. The game can be heard throughout the upper Great Plains and Rockies, however. KGFO 790 and Mix 101.9 in Fargo, as well as the rest of the Bison Radio Network, will have the call with Scott Miller, Phil Hansen, and Jeremy Jorgenson; on the Montana Grizzly Radio Network, from its flagship KGVO 1290 AM/101.5 FN in Missoula, Mick Holien and Greg Sundberg perform the honors.
Your North Dakota State preview was just a couple of days ago. Your Montana preview? Keep reading, because it's below.
Big Sky Conference Preview
|2014 Standings and Info|
|4||Eastern Washington University Eagles||Cheney WA||7-1||11-3|
|13||University of Montana Grizzlies||Missoula MT||6-2||9-5|
|20||Montana State University Bobcats||Bozeman MT||6-2||8-5|
|25||Idaho State University Bengals||Pocatello ID||6-2||8-4|
|rv||Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks||Flagstaff AZ||5-3||7-5|
|rv||California Polytechnic State University Mustangs||San Luis Obispo||5-3||7-5|
|rv||California State University, Sacramento Hornets||Sacramento CA||4-4||7-5|
|Southern Utah University Thunderbirds||Cedar City UT||3-5||3-9|
|University of North Dakota ???||Grand Forks ND||3-5||5-7|
|Portland State University Vikings||Portland OR||2-6||3-9|
|Weber State University Wildcats||Ogden UT||2-6||2-10|
|University of Northern Colorado Bears||Greeley CO||2-6||3-8|
|University of California, Davis Aggies||Davis CA||1-7||2-9|
It's rather bizarre that a league this size with this many good teams still only has two of them which can claim FCS titles. Last year, the conference title came down to the final weekend, with Eastern Washington and Montana facing one another for the Big Sky title. The Eagles came out on top, but they march into 2015 with one huge loss -- one surrounded by acrimony.
The coaches and media are divided in the preseason polls. The coaches split their first-place votes evenly between Montana State and Eastern Washington, with one vote going to Montana. The Bobcats edged the Eagles by a mere point overall. The media also had an even split of first-place votes (17 each) between the two, with Eastern Washington having a slight lead overall. Montana and Idaho State each earned five first-place votes from the writers, with Cal Poly and Northern Arizona grabbing one each. Montana was third in both polls, but in the media poll the Griz are tied with Idaho State, followed by Cal Poly and Northern Arizona. The coaches went Cal Poly-Northern Arizona-Idaho State. Sacramento State and Southern Utah are next in both polls, very close together. The coaches then have Portland State tied with North Dakota, followed by Weber, Davis, and Northern Colorado; the media poll final five goes North Dakota, Weber, Davis, Portland, and UNC.
In other words, what a mess.
We've been including honorable mentions as All-conference selections for several days, but we're making an exception for the Big Sky because they also announce a third team.
All-Big Sky selections (total, gone/returning): 11 (6/5)
Preseason selections: 4
Key losses: QB Vernon Adams Jr. (3483 yards, 35 TDs/8 INT), RBs Quincy Forte (910 yards/9 TD) and Mario Brown (585/4), All-American OL Jake Rodgers, LB Ronnie Hamlin (112 tackles), DB Tevin McDonald (17 PD), P Jake Miller (44.9 avg)
Key returnees (preseason selections in italics): QB Jordan West (1072, 9/1), RB Jalem Moore (378/5), two-time All-American WR Cooper Kupp (1431/16), WRs Shaq Hill (756/5; 27.1 avg KOR/1 TD) and Kendrick Bourne (814/10), OLs Aaron Neary and Clay DeBord, DL Samson Ebukam (12 TFL/7.5 sacks), LB Miquiyah Zamora (102 T)
Incoming FCS transfers: TE Jared Klingenberg (Idaho), P Jordan Dascalo (Washington State)
This team was really good last year. Really good. The Eagles lost two games, both by exactly a touchdown: one was the national semifinal to Illinois State. The other was at Washington in front of 63,000 angry people. And all this wondrous glory was despite giving up over 6000 yards of offense, although to be fair that was only 442 a game because their playoff run went so deep.
Now they're going to have to move forward without Vernon Adams, who transferred on the graduate transfer plan... to Oregon. And the Eagles have to play Oregon in the season's opening week, making it doubly painful (and arguably more than a little uncouth). West saw plenty of action as Adams backup, putting up nice numbers in only seven games. Moore will have a huge task ahead of him trying to fill the shoes of both Forte and Brown, but West will have plenty of targets to throw to. Kupp will be gunning for his third All-America selection in a row, and his running mates aren't too shabby themselves. The core of a solid offensive line returns as well.
Dascalo will probably take over immediately as the Eagles' new punter, having handled the duties all season long for Washington State last year and averaging 41.6 per. As disturbing as it sounds, this is actually a loss for Washington State.
But that defense. Yuck. It could well be the Eagles' Achilles heel, and if West isn't up to the challenge of playing full-time this could go down the swirly real quick.
All-Big Sky selections: 12 (6/6)
Preseason selections: 5
Key losses: RB/RS Shawn Johnson (607/4), RB Anthony Knight (496/12), TE Tiai Salanoa, LB Alex Singleton (136 T/15 TFL), DB Deonte Flowers (23 PD)
Key returnees: QB Dakota Prukop (2559, 18/6; 966/13 rushing), RB Gunnar Brekke (424/4), FB/ST Chad Newell (487/8), WRs Mitch Griebel (445/0), Jayshawn Gates (382/3), Justin Paige (379/3), and Mitchell Herbert (339/4), OLs J.P. Flynn, John Weidenaar, Quinn Catalano, and Joel Horn, DL Taylor Sheridan, DBs Rob Marshall and Bryson Keeton (77 T/29 PD), K/P Trevor Bolton (44.4 avg/P)
Incoming FCS transfers: WR Brandon Brown (Baylor), OL Garrett Gregg (Utah State), LB Marcus Tappan (Cincinnati), DB Desman Carter (UAB)
The entire offense goes through Prukop both on the ground and in the air, but his supporting cast goes deeper than any team we've previewed so far. Montana State will not lack for options other than Prukop to run the ball, and an absolutely goofy six receivers (of the eight) who had over 200 yards last year return to give the preseason first-team quarterback all the targets he could ever possibly want. That crew will be joined by Brown, who was Prukop's teammate at Austin's Vandergrift HS.
As is so often the case in the Big Sky, defense is the issue. The Bobcats piled up 6353 yards last year... and allowed 6328. They won't have any trouble maintaining the good number of those two. It's completely up in the air as to whether the defense is going to improve or get worse, and that's going to determine the Bobcats' fate. Carter is expected to step in immediately, and Tappan might be a big help as well.
All-Big Sky selections: 8 (5/3)
Preseason selections: 4
Key losses: QB Jordan Johnson (2784, 24/6), RBs Jordan Canada (1207/11) and Travon Van (478/7; 733/5 receiving), All-American DL Zack Wagenmann (23 TFL/17.5 sacks), DL Tonga Takai, DBs Matt Hermanson (109 T/6 INT) and Josh Dennard (23 PD)
Key returnees: WR Jamaal Jones (1041/8), DL Tyrone Holmes (13.5 TFL/6.5 sacks), LBs Kendrick Van Ackeren (122 T), Jeremiah Kose (117 T/9 TFL), and Herbert Gamboa (107 T/10.5 TFL/6 sacks), RS Ellis Henderson
Incoming FCS transfers: QB Chad Chalich (Idaho), DB Markell Sanders (Washington State)
After righting the ship following the ouster of Robin Pflugrad in 2012, Mick Delaney retired following last season. With the naming of his replacement came much rejoicing among the college football intelligentsia, as Colorado Mines offensive mastermind Bob Stitt was brought in to take over the program.
Still is going to have some rebuilding to do, especially on offense. Over 5000 yards of total offense is no longer in Missoula, and the Griz only amassed 5522 last year. Chalich has more experience in FBS than any returning quarterback has with the Griz, but the job belongs to Brady Gustafson, who attempted only two passes in five games last season, both incomplete. Chase Naccarato, Reese Carlson, and Ellis Henderson will complete Stitt's four-wide set with Jones, while John Nguyen will feature in the backfield.
On defense, while the loss of Wagenmann (the Big Sky Defensive POY) is huge and the secondary was chopped in half, the linebacking corps remains completely intact and devastatingly effective. The unit barely gave up 5000 yards last year, and while that might increase it shouldn't be too drastic.
The Griz may not have enough in the tank to win the Big Sky this year. It's a rebuilding year, which in Missoula usually means a nine-win season. But while your average football fan isn't paying much attention, a lot of students of the game, coaches, and athletic directors will be. If there's anyone who can slap this offense back together in one off-season, it's Bob Stitt; the fun is going to be in seeing how well he does it.
All-Big Sky selections: 11 (4/7)
Preseason selections: 6
Key losses: QB Justin Arias (4076, 38/10), RB Daniel McSurdy (781/8), OL Jim Bagley, DL Austin Graves (11.5 TFL/9 sacks), DBs Vai Peko (4 INT/18 PD) and Mitch Beckstead (117 T/9.5 TFL/4 INT)
Key returnees: RB Xavier Finney (1495/14), WRs Madison Mangum (1234/10) and K.W. Williams (922/10), TE Josh Cook (524/3), OL Christian Diehm, DL Tyler Kuder, LB Mario Jenkins (120 T/10.5 TFL), DBs Taison Manu (110 T/8 TFL) and Cody Sorensen (95 T)
Incoming FCS transfers: RB Lonell Woodhouse (Nevada), WR Josh Rhinehart (Boise State), TE Jordan White (Colorado State), DL JonRhyeem Peoples (BYU), DBs Khalil Bell (BYU) and Kyle LeBlanc (Nevada)
The Bengals are an enigma. Three of the team's top four tacklers were in the secondary, but is that really a problem in the Big Sky? Especially when you consider how active those DBs were in the backfield? It's difficult to say, but Idaho State had better shore that defense up because they're not going to be able to count on racking up almost 7000 yards of offense again this year. Quarterback is a question, with junior Michael Sanders trying to fight off redshirt freshman Tanner Gueller. Defensively, LB Kurt Karstetter has apparently been tearing it up in camp and Peoples appears set to step in and start at nose guard.
But the vibe from camp has been a bit negative, with coach Mike Kramer already saying his team is "mentally tired" and expressing dissatisfaction with the quarterback play. (But then, how is any new quarterback going to compare to Arias?) If that's just coachspeak and motivation, then Idaho State will probably be a threat to Montana. If he's being serious, the Bengals are already wearing the "overrated" target.
All-Big Sky selections: 7 (3/4)
Preseason selections: 1
Key losses: FB Brandon Howe (867/10), WRs Chris Nichols (182/1) and Kenny Mitchell (222/2), LBs Cameron Ontko (101 T) and All-American Nick Dzubnar (167 T/9.5 TFL)
Key returnees: QB Chris Brown (1465, 12/3; 1265/17 rushing), RB Kori Garcia (1039/7), WRs Jordan Hines (312/4) and Roland Jackson (415/1), OL Nick Enriquez, DL Marcus Paige-Allen, DB Chris Fletcher (68 T/22 PD)
Incoming FCS transfers: WR Alex Egurbide (Purdue), OL Colin Goebel (Iowa), LB Chris Santini (Boise State), DB Kevin Griffin (Washington State)
It's not often you lose an 800-yard back and shrug your shoulders dismissively because he was your number three. But that's the situation the Mustangs find themselves in this fall. Cal Poly's top two receivers by yardage also return, so the offense is set to continue without skipping a beat. Defense may be another story. With the losses of Ontko and Dzubnar, basically everyone who did much of note is gone. That said, Cal Poly had one of the best defenses in the conference last year, posting a sub-5K yardage. Obviously, that load was spread around, and perhaps that means the Mustangs can absorb those departures. It's probably a team Bill Snyder would appreciate, posting a +8 turnover margin and a slight advantage in time of possession as well as posting exceptional passing efficiency numbers, even if not for a ton of yards..
All-Big Sky selections: 6 (3/3)
Preseason selections: 4
Key losses: QB Chase Cartwright (1480, 12/3), RB Marquice Paige (482/4), WR Ify Umodu (692/5), TE Beau Gardner (417/5), OL Joe Gurski
Key returnees: QB Kyren Poe (1139, 5/7), RBs Casey Jahn (834/4; 311/3 receiving) and Corbin Jountti (401/4), FB Nick Butler, WR Alex Holmes (660/3), TE R.J. Rickert, OL Eric Rodriguez, DBs Marcus Alford (23 PD) and Eddie Horn (88 T), K/P Ryan Hawkins (51.2 avg/P)
Incoming FCS transfers: WR Kendyl Taylor (Washington)
Cartwright and Poe rotated back and forth last year, with QB/WR Jordan Perry (535, 5/1) also getting some licks in. The job is probably Poe's this year, but he could be pushed. NAU had originally signed Connor Brewer (Texas, then Arizona) to compete with Poe, but he switched to Virginia in June. Losing Paide and Umodu is signifcant, but recoverable. On defense, the Lumberjacks didn't lose anyone exceptional, but also don't really have any such talent hanging around this year. They are a very steady unit, and a good one -- allowing under 400 yards a game. This is a good, but not great, team; they'll be solid, but unremarkable.
All-Big Sky selections: 9 (5/4)
Preseason selections: 3
Key losses: QB Garrett Safron (3490, 34/10; 751/4 rushing), RB De'Jon Coleman (440/7), WR DeAndre Carter (1321/17), DL Jaycee Totty (11.5 TFL/6.5 sacks), LB Henry Fernandez (106 T), DB Robbie Kendall (91 T)
Key returnees: RB Jordan Robinson (863/5), WR Nnamdi Agude (1156/10), OL Aleksander Milanovic, LB Darnell Sankey (100 T), K Brad Cornish
Incoming FCS transfers: QBs Kolney Cassel (SMU) and Alexis Robinson (Baylor)
The Hornets will try to replace Safron with either incumbent backup Daniel Kniffin or one of the two transfers. Early in camp, it seems the contest is between Kniffin and Cassel. Some big playmakers are gone, but they didn't leave the bucket empty by any means. For Sacramento State, it's just a question of whether old faces improve and new faces sweep in with the tide. They're a middling team in the Big Sky, always a danger to overachieve.
All-Big Sky selections: 4 (0/4)
Preseason selections: 3
Key losses: WR Chris Robinson (880/8)
Key returnees: QB Ammon Olsen (3049, 21/10), RB Malik Brown (375/1), WRs Justin Brown (678/3) and Mike Sharp (511/4), DLs James Cowser (28.5 TFL/11.5 sacks) and Robert Torgerson (10.5 TFL/6 sacks), LB Chinedu Ahanonu (152 T/8.5 TFL), DBs Miles Killebrew (101 T/17 PD) and
Incoming FCS transfers: none
The Thunderbirds' defense was atrocious last year, giving up over 525 yards a game. But there's hope, as they bring back five big playmakers. Another year together might well work wonders, especially if some of the new blood mixes well with them. The offense should improve somewhat as well, despite the loss of Robinson. These are clearly things that both the coaches and media see as well; Southern Utah is expected to climb the ladder precipitously this season, and on paper that's eminently sensible.
All-Big Sky selections: 2 (1/1)
Preseason selections: 0
Key losses: RB Jer Garman (857/7), LB Garret Reineke (9.5 TFL/5 sacks), RS Alex Tilman
Key returnees: QB Joe Mollberg (919, 3/5), DL Brandon Dranka (10.5 TFL), LBs Will Ratelle (106 T), Brian Labat (12 TFL), and Taj Rich (11 TFL), K Reid Taubenheim
Incoming FCS transfers: RBs Ja'Won Arrington (UAB) and Oscar Nevermann (Wyoming), WR Clive Georges (Arizona), LB Daquan Baker (New Mexico), DB Jahmere Irvin-Sills (Mississippi State)
On defense, the whatever-they-ares were the best team in the Big Sky, allowing just a shade over 350 yards a game. Unfortunately, you also have to score points to win football games, and part of that is gaining yardage. North Dakota failed miserably at this task, gaining a hundred yards a game less than even their stout defense allowed. That defense will mostly return unscathed. Making the offense work will be the task facing Bubba Schweigert.
All-Big Sky selections: 3 (3/0)
Preseason selections: 0
Key losses: WR Shaydon Kehano (976/8), DE Dustin Mrtin (15 TFL/5 sacks), LB Felix Woods (84 T), P Blake O'Neill (44.1 avg)
Key returnees: QB Billy Green (2055, 11/8), RB Zach Smith (742/3), WR Cameron Livingston (856/1), LB Emmett Tela (79 T/10 TFL), DBs Taron Johnson (19 PD) and Josh Burton (17 PD)
Incoming FCS transfers: OL Chase Larson (BYU), LB Jared Afalava (Nebraska)
Well, it's not as bad as it was. The disaster perpetrated by John L. Smith's acceptance of the head coaching position only to run off to Arkansas when Bobby Petrino got fired is still being cleaned up, but there's been progress. They've got two more years of Green, a highly-recruited prospect who transferred in from BYU last year. There's still work to do here, but Weber is actually in better shape now than the league's bottom three.
All-Big Sky selections: 4 (2/2)
Preseason selections: 0
Key losses: RB Shaq Richard (668/3), WR Kasey Closs (538/4), Rimington Award winner OL Cornelius Edison, All-American P Kyle Loomis (46.0 avg)
Key returnees: QB Kieran McDonagh (1742, 12/13), RB Steven Long (605/2), WR Alex Toureen (541/2), LB Jeremy Lutuli (86 T/10.5 TFL), DBs Xavier Coleman (25 PD) and Aaron Sibley, K Jonathan Gonzales
Incoming FCS transfers: WRs Blair Cavanaugh (Oregon State) and Trent Riley (UNLV), DLs Junior Alexis (Miami FL) and John Jackson (Wyoming), DB Tyler Foreman (UCLA)
The Vikings cut loose head coach Nigel Burton after the season, immediately naming Bruce Barnum as the interim. Because PSU was also without an athletic director, the school later announced that in order to maintain continuity and allow the new AD the opportunity to choose his own hire, Barnum would be given a 12-month contract and remain the interim head coach through the 2015 season, so he's going to have to produce to impress his new boss. Mark Rountree, who comes over from Miami (OH) where he was associate AD.
The main reason the Vikings are expected to knuckle under Weber is the lost talent. The best center in FCS is gone, and that's a big loss. Really, losing an All-American punter can't be completely dismissed either. But the Vikings had twins at both RB and WR, and half of each duo is gone as well. Throw all that in with an unsettled coaching change, and Portland seems a bit shaky. Maybe some of those transfers will help.
All-Big Sky selections: 2 (2/0)
Preseason selections: 0
Key losses: RB Gabe Manzanares (831/5), OL Ian Joseph
Key returnees: QB Ben Scott (1739, 19/7), WR Ramon Vargas (670/8), LB Artice Nelson (60 T)
Incoming FCS transfers: none
Awful team, with at least the benefit of returning their starting QB/WR tandem. The running backs and receivers are deep, but none other than Vargas did much last year to distinquish themselves. Nelson led the team in tackles, which is just sort of terrifying. The Aggies gave up 281 yards per game in the air... and just a foot shy of 200 per game on the ground. But at least they're not the worst team in the league, so that's something.
All-Big Sky selections: 5 (0/5)
Preseason selections: 0
Key losses: QB Sean Rubalcaba (1925, 11/6), RB Robert Holland (606/2), WR Dimitri Stimphil (870/7), DL Lexington Smith (72 T), LB Dominick Sierra (12.5 TFL), DBs Kyle Griffin (4 INT) and Courtney Hall (22 PD)
Key returnees: FB Quinn Zamora, WRs Stephen Miller (586/3) and Sean Leslie (288/2), DB Brandon Lenoir (70 T), KR Ellis Oric (26.8 avg/1 TD)
Incoming FCS transfers: QB Kyle Sloter (Southern Miss), OL James Floyd Jr. (Tulsa), DLs Austin Berk (Colorado State) and Khairi Bailey (Western Michigan) LB Kyle Newsome (Washington State)
There is just so much gone from this squad and so little actual talent coming back that it's entirely possible the Bears will go winless. Last year's backup QB, Jonathan Newsom (617, 4/2) will compete with Sloter for the starting gig; other than that, it's all up in the air.
Game of the Year
Today's game is pretty big, right? But it's not our game of the year. For that, we'll have to direct our attention to September 19 when Montana State visits Eastern Washington in a game which is actually not a Big Sky conference game (but will still count if any tiebreakers come into play).
Week 10 of our Big 12 picks. wherein we actually get to make fun of someone; thoughts on NDSU/Montana; and finally, our Ivy League preview.