The latest Big Sky power rankings are here as conference play kicks off this weekend. The Week 4 conference slate is headlined by two Top-10 matchups. No. 3 Montana State will travel to face No. 10 Weber State, while No. 7 Idaho host No. 4 Sacramento State in two of the biggest games of the 2023 FCS season.
Each week we will release updated power rankings for the Big Sky. Week 4 Big Sky Power Rankings are listed below.
No. 12 Northern Colorado (0-3)
Northern Colorado started the season with a brutal out-of-conference schedule, which leaves the Bears winless entering conference play. However, the Bears have struggled to even be competitive throughout the first three games of the season. The Bears rank last in the Big Sky in offensive and defensive yards per play. Despite the difficult start for the offense, sophomore wide receiver Blake Haggerty has been a standout with 15 catches for 157 yards and one touchdown. This team will have a chance to turn the season around at Idaho State this Saturday.
No. 11 Cal Poly (2-1)
Cal Poly has had a solid start in Paul Wulff’s first season as head coach. The offense has played well in both wins this season and rank No. 4 in yards per play in the Big Sky. Defensive end Elijah Ponder has been one of the best pass rushers in the conference with three sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. The competition will take quite a step up as the Mustangs enter Big Sky conference play. Cal Poly has a great opportunity to move up in the rankings with a road win over Portland State this weekend.
No. 10 Portland State (1-2)
Portland State is a difficult team to figure out at this point in the season. The Vikings are one of the few programs that have not played an FCS opponent this season. The Vikings put up a solid fight against Wyoming in the only competitive game they have played this season. Senior wide receiver Jermaine Braddock has been a standout so far this season with 11 catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Veteran quarterback Dante Chachere has had a rough start to the season but will look to bounce back as they host Cal Poly in a very important matchup for both teams.
No. 9 Northern Arizona (0-3)
Northern Arizona enters Big Sky play winless after a disappointing loss at home against Utah Tech. The offense has played very well considering the competition and the Lumberjacks boast one of the conference leaders in receiving with Coleman Owen. Owen has 18 catches for 261 yards and one touchdown this season. The defense has really struggled giving up 7.1 yards per play (No. 11 in the Big Sky). The Lumberjacks have an interesting home matchup with Montana on Saturday to open Big Sky play this season. Montana is the clear favorite, but with the offensive struggles for the Grizzlies this season, the Lumberjacks could keep things interesting at home.
No. 8 Idaho State (0-3)
Idaho State enters conference play winless after playing two FBS teams (San Diego State and Utah State) and a tough out-of-conference game against Northern Iowa. Even with the tough competition, Idaho State has still averaged over 370 yards of offense per game. Junior wide receiver Christian Fredrickson has been a standout with 18 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns (No. 1 in Big Sky). Quarterback Jordan Cooke has had a solid start for a freshman but will need to cut down on turnovers (4 INTs) for this team to compete with the top teams in the Big Sky. The Bengals will look to get their first win of the season this weekend against Northern Colorado.
No. 7 Montana (3-0)
Ranking Montana No. 7 in the Big Sky may be too low for the Grizzlies by the time the season ends, but I need to see a lot more from the Montana offense before I believe this team can compete with the top teams in the conference. The Montana offense ranks No. 11 in the Big Sky only averaging 4.9 yards per play despite playing an easy schedule compared to some of their conference counterparts. Transfer Quarterback Sam Vidlak has shown flashes of potential, but has struggled with turnovers (3 INTs). Redshirt freshman Eli Gillman has been impressive and ranks No. 2 in the Big Sky in rushing yards with 275 yards over three games. Wide Receiver and return specialist Junior Bergen is an electric playmaker and has over 250 all-purpose yards with two touchdowns.
The defense looks to have reloaded and is still elite led by linebacker Braxton Hill (25 tackles). Defensive linemen Kale Edwards and Alex Gubner (6 TFLs combined) are a force along the defensive front. It will be interesting to see how this defense performs against some of the better offenses in the conference. The Grizzlies travel to Northern Arizona this weekend and have a chance to make a statement after multiple uninspiring out-of-conference performances.
No. 6 Eastern Washington (1-2)
Eastern Washington also had a difficult out-of-conference schedule with games against FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, Mountain West champs Fresno State, and defending Southland champions Southeastern Louisiana. The Eagles not only competed well against difficult competition but also finished their out-of-conference slate with an impressive 40-29 win last weekend against the Lions. Quarterback Kekoa Visperas has impressed after throwing for a Big Sky-leading 849 yards (283 yards per game). Eastern Washington boasts three of the top 12 receivers in the conference in Efton Chism III, Nolan Ulm, and Anthony Stell Jr.
Defensive consistency will be the key for the Eagles throughout conference play. The secondary has played well holding opposing teams to 6.1 yards per pass attempt. The defensive line is the biggest concern for the Eagles and must establish a bigger presence in run defense. Eastern Washington travels to No. 15 UC Davis this Saturday in a big conference matchup. The defense will be the key against the Aggies as Visperas and the offense have enough firepower to pull off the upset and make a huge statement to open Big Sky play.
No. 5 Weber State (2-1)
Weber State is 2-1 after playing a solid out-of-conference schedule after an opening game against a Division II opponent. A win against Northern Iowa was incredibly impressive, but a lot of questions remain about the offense. The Wildcats won that tough road matchup through elite defense and star running back Damon Bankston. Bankston leads the Big Sky in rushing with 322 yards on 7.5 yards per carry to go along with five touchdowns. Bankston has been one of the best running backs in the nation and yet the offense is only managing 5.1 yards per play (only .2 more than Montana). The questions for the Wildcats start and end with new starting quarterback Kylan Weisser. Weisser has only completed 51.5% of his passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The defense; however, has remained elite even with the departure of former head coach Jay Hill. The Wildcats have one of the best linebacker units in the nation, led by Winston Reid and Jack Kelly. Reid leads the Big Sky with 36 total tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss over three games. The defense will have to continue to be dominant if Weber State is going to compete for a Big Sky championship. Many of these questions will be answered this Saturday when Weber State hosts No. 3 Montana State. Last season the Wildcats could not keep the Bobcat running game in check and the Bobcats scored 43 points in a win. The defense will need to perform better than a season ago if the Wildcat offense is going to have a chance to go win this Top-10 matchup.
No. 4 UC Davis (2-1)
UC Davis at No. 4 might be the biggest risk in these rankings. The Aggie offense returned a ton of weapons from one of the top offenses in the nation a year ago but has not performed up to the high standards. Quarterback Miles Hastings will need to get the offense back on track entering conference play. Running back Lan Larison is very talented and a homerun threat on every play. The defense is led by All-American safety Rex Connors, who ranks top 5 in tackles per game and passes defended per game in the Big Sky. The only loss of the season is to Oregon State, but last week’s close win against Southern Utah was a bit concerning. I believe the Aggies will get back on track and compete at the top of the Big Sky by the season’s end due to their experience at key positions. UC Davis will face a massive test this weekend as they host an explosive Eastern Washington offense.
No. 3 Sacramento State (3-0)
There were a lot of pre-season questions about Sacramento State after losing head coach Troy Taylor and multiple top contributors from last season. The Hornets appear to have answered those questions after a Week 3 upset over Coach Taylor and Stanford. Quarterback Kaiden Bennett has taken control of the QB room and has been a dangerous playmaker with his arm and his legs. The Hornets still have star running back Marcus Fulcher and All-American tight end Marshel Martin. The defensive line looks to be the strength of the defense and leads the Big Sky with 10 sacks through three games. Defensive linemen DeShawn Lynch and Jett Stanley lead the unit with six combined sacks.
The Hornets enter conference play with a 19-game Big Sky winning streak. Sacramento State will travel to the Kibbie Dome to face No. 7 Idaho in one of the biggest games of the season at the FCS level. If the defense can put pressure on Gevani McCoy and keep the explosive Vandal offense on the sidelines, the Hornets have a great chance to come out with another massive win in Andy Thompson’s first season as head coach.
No. 2 Idaho (2-1)
Idaho comes in at No. 2 in the power rankings after finishing 2-1 in out-of-conference play, including a dominant 33-6 win over Nevada. The Vandals’ offense is led by quarterback Gevani McCoy, but wide receiver Hayden Hatten has picked up where he left off last season with 256 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Anthony Woods is an explosive athlete and ranks No. 3 in the Big Sky in rushing with 265 rushing yards. The Vandals lead the Big Sky in yards allowed per pass attempt, allowing only 4.4 yards per pass attempt. The Vandals have added some transfers along the defensive line that appear to have bolstered the Idaho run defense, including defensive end Keyshawn James-Newby. Idaho is the only team in the Big Sky that is top 2 in both offensive and defensive yards per play, including ranking No. 1 in defensive yards per play.
The impressive start of the season by Montana State is the only thing keeping the Vandals out of the No. 1 spot this week. Idaho can make their case for the top spot with an upset over No. 4 Sac State on Saturday.
No. 1 Montana State (2-1)
Montana State enters Big Sky play with a 2-1 record as the only loss came on the road against No. 1 South Dakota State. The Bobcats played well in the loss against the Jackrabbits and were one play away from pulling off the upset. Despite that fact, Montana State has been lethal on offense as the Bobcats lead the Big Sky with 7.7 yards per play. The rushing attack continues to be dominant as the Bobcats are currently averaging 319 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Tommy Mellott has struggled with some injuries, but the offense hasn’t missed a beat with Sean Chambers at the helm.
On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Sebastian Valdez leads a defensive line that has shown improvement from last season. The only question that remains for this team is the offensive passing attack. It remains to be seen whether the top teams in the Big Sky can take advantage of the Bobcat’s lack of weapons on the outside. The Bobcats have a brutal Big Sky schedule as they face road matchups with Weber State, Sacramento State, Idaho, and Montana. The test to remain at No. 1 starts Saturday against No. 10 Weber State.
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