Opinion: Tiered ranking of Big Sky football

The sun went down moments before Weber State’s homecoming matchup against Eastern Washington. The Wildcats beat the Eagles 45–21 on Oct. 8.

Two weeks have gone by since the last power ranking, and a lot has happened across the Big Sky Conference for football.

Sacramento State made bold statements with their offense, and Portland State seems to be recovering well from their loss of quarterback Davis Alexander. Rather than a true power ranking, this list shows which teams to look out for and which teams might be struggling this season.

Tier 1: Contenders
Weber State University

A strong argument can be made that the Wildcats deserve their own tier after their recent homecoming victory. Weber State is dominating the conference with a powerful offense and a great defense. With stars on both ends, the Wildcats will have multiple players on the All-Big Sky teams at the end of the season. Weber State struggled last season, but they look poised to return to their conference championship winning days.

University of Montana

University of Montana’s team was tied with Weber State on previous power rankings. Since then, the Grizzlies stopped a winless Idaho State University team from making a comeback. Beating teams by an average of nearly 29 points, Montana is a force to be reckoned with. There’s not a quarterback in the Big Sky who isn’t worried about linebackers Patrick O’Connell, Marcus Welnel and Tyler Flink, nor a defense who’s expecting an easy game against quarterback Lucas Johnson and wide receiver Mitch Roberts.

Montana State University

The Bobcats are coming off a dominant win against Idaho State, beating the Bengals 37–6. For what they might lack on defense, Montana State makes up for in offensive dominance. Running back Sean Chambers currently leads the conference in total rushing yards, averaging 96.8 per game (No. 3 in the Big Sky Conference). They may be the only team with a loss in this tier, but keep in mind that the loss was to Oregon State University. A case can be made that they’ve handled their Big Sky opponents better than any other teams have.

Sacramento State University

Coupling the Hornets’ high-scoring offense with an efficient defense has made Sacramento State look like a juggernaut in the Big Sky. What stops them from being unanimously considered the most powerful team in the conference is their ease of schedule. The Hornet’s had a dominant win against an FBS Colorado State University team. However, Sacramento State’s opponents in the Big Sky thus far have not been of that caliber. The Hornets are a threat to once again be crowned Big Sky Champions in this decade and it’ll be interesting to watch them play a Montana team that’s at their level on Oct. 22.

Tier 2: Good
University of Idaho

Coming off of a bye week following a 55–35 win against UNC, the Vandals will hit the road and take on the University of Montana. The No. 2 Griz have a notorious home-field advantage and look to use that in their favor. The Vandals will rely on Gevani McCoy, who was named the Stats Perform FedEx Ground National Freshman Player of the Week. In conference play, McCoy has a completion percentage of 85.1% with five touchdowns. The Vandals season looks like it will become more difficult down the road, but have wins against both Big Sky opponents in NAU and UNC. Outside of the conference, UofI fell to Washington State University and Indiana, but closed out preseason play with a win against Drake University. It might be a stretch to say Idaho will finish higher than fifth in the conference this year, but it looks to be a possibility in the following years.

University of California Davis

It wouldn’t be fair to say UCD doesn’t have a chance to be in the contenders tier, but the Aggies can’t catch a break considering the strength of their schedule. Currently sitting at 1–4 overall and 0–2 in conference play, the Aggies’ only win came against the University of San Diego in a dominant 43–13 performance. If we were to evaluate their loss against Weber State on paper, it would look like the Aggies should’ve won. They out-gained the ‘Cats in both rushing and passing yards, they won the turnover battle and time of possession. Miles Hastings is powerful in the pocket and during that performance completed 39 of 57 attempts for 68.4%. If there is anything that needs to be cleaned up, it looks like it should be field goals. Overall, the team has completed six of their twelve attempts on the season. Looking to host NAU, we’ll have to see if this is the break they are looking for.

Tier 3: Okay
Northern Arizona University

The Lumberjacks looked to have a hopeful season with RJ Martinez, reigning Big Sky Freshman of the Year, but have had a lackluster start thus far. Currently 2–4 overall and 1–2 in conference play, NAU has struggled to find their groove. The Lumberjacks’ offense will be tested against the Davis defense, but Martinez is headed into the game with an Offensive Play of the Week accolade in the Big Sky. Although it wasn’t against the most difficult of opponents, Martinez threw for 359 yards and had four touchdowns against the Mustangs.

Eastern Washington University

Expectations may have been too high for the Eagles after their beloved quarterback, Eric Barrier, graduated. EWU is a difficult puzzle to piece together and looking at their offense, Gunner Talkington looks to be doing well considering the shoes he’s expected to fill. Talkington was picked apart by Weber State but walked away with 198 yards. Tuna Altahir may really be what the Eagles’ offense is looking for. The freshman collected 81 yards through 19 carries. Looking at their strength of schedule, EWU has had to go against the University of Oregon and University of Florida, and then two of the top four teams in the Big Sky: Montana State and Weber State. Things won’t settle down for the Eagles until after they face Sac. State on Oct 15.

Portland State University

It might be a fair state to say the Vikings are in a league of their own. They currently sit in the middle of the conference standings at 1–1 and 2–3 overall. Like EWU, Portland State has had to make the adjustment of losing a quarterback that held them together. Although Barrier stood alone at the top, Davis Alexander made a name for themselves at PSU. Coming off of a dominant 48–6 win against Lincoln University, the Vikings will have to face the Weber State team that is notoriously successful on the road.

Tier 4: Struggling

University of Northern Colorado

Without sounding too harsh, the Bears haven’t made a name for themselves in a dominant Big Sky Conference. In comparison to other schools across the conference, UNC didn’t necessarily have the most difficult preseason, with losses against Houston Baptist and Wyoming and a win against Lamar. Elijah Anderson-Taylor led the Bears with 13 tackles against Sac State. If Northern Colorado wants to move up in standings, changes will have to be made to the offense. Quarterback Dylan McCaffrey had 16 completions for 103 yards and one interception.

Cal Poly SLO

Despite Northern Arizona’s RJ Martinez throwing for 359 yards and four touchdowns, the Mustangs kept things competitive during their 31–29 loss. Cal Poly typically loses by roughly 15 points per game. Quarterback Spencer Brasch and wide receiver Chris Coleman aren’t a duo to be overlooked. The Mustangs won a game in the preseason, and there’s a strong possibility they’ll beat Idaho State during their matchup on Oct. 15 to give them their first in-conference win.

Idaho State University

The Bengals gave a valiant effort against the Grizzlies, but it wasn’t enough to have fans question whether Idaho State would be able to pull off an upset. Losing every game by an average of nearly 23 points, the Bengals have pieces for a successful offense like quarterback Hunter Hays, running back Raiden Hunter and wide receiver Xavier Guillory but not enough experience to complement their abilities. Idaho State probably won’t finish the season in another tier, but after what they did to Montana, there’s a good chance they can win a game or two.


For Big Sky action in Ogden, Weber State will be on the road for a game against Portland State on Oct. 15 and a game against Montana State on Oct. 22. The Wildcats will return home to take on the Grizzlies on Oct. 29 at Stewart Stadium.