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Big sky picks: Eastern Washington, Montana State have stiff road tests

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 7, 2018, 11:03 p.m.

Eastern Washington running back Dennis Merritt (44) celebrates a fourth-quarter touchdown during the EWU/CWU game Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018 at Roos Field at Eastern Washington University in Cheney. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington running back Dennis Merritt (44) celebrates a fourth-quarter touchdown during the EWU/CWU game Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018 at Roos Field at Eastern Washington University in Cheney. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Montana State (1-0) at No. 3 South Dakota State (0-0) - The Bobcats’ defense was impressive in a win over Western Illinois last week. But the high-powered Jackrabbits and quarterback Taryn Christion are the real deal. Great test for MSU, but its run-it-down-your-throat offense won’t be able to keep up, especially on the road.

The pick: SDSU 34, Montana State 21

No. 10 Weber State (0-1) at Cal Poly (0-1) - Tough sledding for Poly as it faces another good defense after getting smacked at No. 1 North Dakota State last week (and losing starting QB Khaleel Jenkins in the process). The Wildcats’ offense looked atrocious in a blowout loss to Utah last week, but this should be the game former Royal High (a Washington prep 1A power) quarterback Kaden Jenks settles in and gets some confidence moving forward.

The pick: Weber State 28, Cal Poly 17

Southern Utah (0-1) at Oregon State (0-1) - If the T-Birds win a game between now and early October, I’ll be surprised. After dropping a heartbreaker at home to a first-year FCS program (North Alabama), SUU has a four-game road gauntlet at Oregon State, Arizona, Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington. Rough. The Beavers are an awful FBS team, comparable to the WSU train wrecks from 2008-2010, but even those Paul Wulff-led Cougs took care of business against FCS programs.

The Pick: Oregon State 35, Southern Utah 20

Northern Colorado (0-1) at South Dakota (0-1) - South Dakota nearly upset Kansas State last week, leading well into the fourth quarter before falling 27-24. UNC gave No. 17 McNeese State all it could handle in a 17-14 loss in Greeley. I am more impressed with the former.

The pick: South Dakota 35, UNC 17

Drake (0-0) at No. 14 Montana (1-0) - Bobby Hauck made a lot of pundits (me, especially) look dumb last week, as his young group of unknowns beat a ranked Northern Iowa club in Missoula. Drake is no Northern Iowa.

The pick: Montana 35, Drake 13

Portland State (0-1) at Oregon (0-0) - Nevada had the ability to hang 90 on the Vikings last week, but settled for 72 after a slow start. The Mario Cristobal era start off on easy street in Eugene.

The pick: Oregon 62. Portland State 14

San Diego (1-0) at UC Davis (1-0) - USD has qualified for the last three FCS playoffs, but UC Davis handled the Pioneer League power 35-7 in 2017. The Aggies are even better this year. After beating FBS San Jose State expect quarterback Jake Maier and his impresive receiver group (star Keelan Doss wasn’t even the receptions leader last week) to pile up even more yards.

The pick: UC Davis 40, San Diego 28

Sacramento State (1-0) at San Diego State (0-1) - The Aztecs are expected to challenge Fresno State for the West Division title in the Mountain West. We saw what Fresno State did to the Hornets’ Big Sky foe Idaho last week. Wowza.

The pick: San Diego State 45, Sac. State 14

Western New Mexico (0-1) at Idaho (0-1) - After getting blistered 79-13 at Fresno State, the Vandals welcome an average NCAA Division II program to the Kibbie Dome. Quarterbacks Mason Petrino and Colton Richardson are going to need the confidence boost before their Big Sky Conference slate.

The pick: Idaho 48, Western New Mexico 14

No. 6 Eastern Washington (1-0) at No. 18 Northern Arizona (1-0) - Over 80 points were scored in the last two EWU-NAU tilts. Expect the same Saturday, which isn’t an indictment of either of their defensive units. Two of the FCS level’s top QBs, Gage Gubrud and Case Cookus, lead a balanced, explosive offenses that will get their points. If the Eagles’ defensive line can apply decent pressure and not get gashed as its secondary focuses on the likes of Butler, that will improve the Eagles’ chances. Limited turnovers and decent run defense are the keys for EWU. If NAU’s loaded secondary limits EWU’s growing receiving corps (NAU averaged around 175 yards through the air last season) and its defensive line can apply the same pressure to Gubrud that it did in El Paso (five sacks) last week, the Eagles will have trouble.

The pick: EWU 45, NAU 42

Collingwood season record: 10-3

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