Sacramento State (2-1) at No. 19 Montana (2-1)
Sacramento State head coach Jody Sears (former EWU defensive coordinator) and his ascending Hornets have a prime opportunity to show the Big Sky Conference and the rest of the FCS that they’ve arrived. They nearly took down San Diego State on the road two weeks ago, but Missoula offers a tougher environment, and the Griz’s front seven will be a chore. This is also a battle between two former UNLV quarterbacks, Sac’s Kevin Thomson and Montana’s Dalton Sneed, who were both recruited to UNLV by Hauck before he resigned as the Rebels’ head coach after the 2014 season. On paper, this is very close, but Montana is tough to beat at home.
The pick: Montana 35, Sacramanto State 28
Southern Utah (0-3) at Northern Arizona (1-2)
The Lumberjacks, without starting QB Case Cookus (injury), got throttled on the road last week at Missouri State, one of the worst programs in the Missouri Valley Conference. Cookus won’t likely be back Saturday, and NAU is also dealing with a handful of other injuries. Defending Big Sky champ Southern Utah, which is traveling just 280 miles to Flagstaff, Arizona, is healthier than NAU, even after playing back-to-back guarantee games against Pac-12 opponents.
The pick: Southern Utah 28, NAU 21
Northern Colorado (0-3) at Weber State (2-1)
Northern Colorado QB Jacob Knipp is out with a broken clavicle. With Knipp, I thought the Bears were one of the best 0-3 FCS teams in the country, losing close games to three solid squads, McNeese State, South Dakota and Sac. State. This Weber State defense, one of the best in the country, will take full advantage of the Knipp-less Bears.
The pick: Weber State 31, Northern Colorado 10
Montana State (2-1) at Portland State (1-2)
Portland State beat a NAIA team (College of Idaho) on a high school field last week (Hillsboro Stadium, where the PSU will play its home games this season). Its Big Sky Conference opener against the Bobcats won’t be nearly as kind, no matter who the extra-physical Bobcats start at quarterback.
The pick: Montana State 35, Portland State 14
Idaho State (1-1) at North Dakota (2-1)
UND made the trek to Huntsville, Texas last week and did something few teams have done in recent years – beat FCS power Sam Houston State at home. The Fighting Hawks also gave Pac-12 power Washington some trouble in Montlake, trailing just 17-3 late in the third quarter. The Bengals are going to have their hands full.
The pick: North Dakota 38, Idaho State 24
Idaho (1-1) at No. 21 UC Davis (2-1)
Idaho’s first Big Sky Conference game since 1995. It’s hard to gauge Idaho’s lopsided loss at FBS Fresno State or its evisceration of NCAA Division II Western New Mexico, so the Vandals are still a bit of mystery to me (its shaky quarterback situation is evident, though). UC Davis, however, appears to be a viable Big Sky Conference contender, beating FBS San Jose State, FCS playoff postseason regular San Diego and scoring more points (10) against Stanford than USC did (three) in Week 2. Davis coach Dan Hawkins, Boise State’s ex-head coach, has a history of handling the Vandals, and that likely won’t stop with Walter Payton Award candidates Jake Maier (QB) and Keelan Doss (WR) spearheading the Aggies’ explosive offense.
The pick: UC Davis 41, Idaho 35
Cal Poly (1-2) at No. 6 Eastern Washington (2-1)
Most of the starters on EWU’s defense have faced Cal Poly’s triple-option twice, and should be disciplined enough to not get sucked into any misdirection. If the Mustangs are efficient on third down and keep EWU on the field for long stretches, this plays right into Poly’s hands, as it keeps the Eagles’ high-octane offense sidelined. Poly’s offense has the horses – namely star running back Joe Protheroe and an experienced offensive line – to move the football, but Poly’s defense doesn’t have the depth or athleticism to keep up with the Eagles, especially in the run game, where Poly is giving up 244 yards a game. Poly hasn’t faced a quarterback as efficient though the air as EWU’s Gage Gubrud, either.
The pick: EWU 38, Cal Poly 21
Collingwood’s season record: 28-6
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