College football: Southern Utah, Weber on different paths as Big Sky play begins
For Southern Utah, it's been a September to remember.
For Weber State?
Not as much.
Utah's two Big Sky football teams open conference play Saturday after distinctly different pre-league seasons.
Southern Utah is 3-1, losing only to Washington State of the Pac 12, and will try to keep rolling at Northern Colorado. Weber State is 1-3 and hopes to get back on track against Sacramento State in Ogden.
The Thunderbirds' ability to win close games has been a key to their successful start.
In its opener, SUU rallied past Football Bowl Subdivision opponent South Alabama, 22-21. Last week, Southern Utah forced overtime with 31 seconds left in regulation before defeating Sacramento State, 24-21. The game that did not count in the Big Sky standings.
"We were fortunate to win," said Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb. "They played incredibly hard and gave us a lot of trouble."
As league play begins, SUU looks like one of a handful of teams with a chance to make a run at the Big Sky championship.
The league has four teams ranked in this week's FCS top 25, including No. 2 Eastern Washington, No. 7 Montana, No. 11 Montana State and No. 24 Northern Arizona.
Eastern Washington owns the Big Sky's most impressive win so far a 49-46 victory over Oregon State of the Pac 12.
Lamb believes the Thunderbirds learned a lesson last season, when they defeated Montana, Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona but finish only 4-4 in the conference.
"Our team good enough to contend a year ago and did not get that done," he said.
Meanwhile, Weber State has struggled to be competitive against one of the most difficult nonconference schedules in school history.
After a 50-40 victory over Stephen F. Austin in their opener, the Wildcats lost consecutive road games at Utah (70-7), Utah State (70-6) and undefeated McNeese State (43-6). They trailed at halftime in those three games, 115-6.
Coach Jody Sears thinks the rugged schedule, which was set up "three or four years ago," will help Weber State now that the Big Sky season has arrived.
"It's good to throw the young guys under the bus and let them get calloused up," Sears said.
Still, the Wildcats probably over-scheduled.
Theoretically, Sears says playing one Football Bowl Subdivision opponent for a big paycheck and one smaller school for a probable victory might be preferable to back-to-back games against the likes of Utah and Utah State.
"But hindsight is 20-20," Sears said, "and I'm not a look-behind-me guy."
Weber's win over Stephen F. Austin should give the Wildcats hope. Last week, the Lumberjacks defeated Montana State, 52-38.
"You're only as good as your last performance," Sears said. "... I know Stephen F. is a very good team, bu you can't read too much into that. You have to go week-to-week. You can't focus on those kind of scores those kind of things."
Sacramento State at Weber State
O Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV • None
Radio • 1430 AM, 103.1 FM
Records • Sacramento State, 1-3; Weber State, 1-3
Series • Weber State, 11-6
Last meeting • Sacramento State, 19-14 (2012)
About the Wildcats • They have lost three straight, to Utah (70-7), Utah State (70-6) and McNeese State (43-6). ... The defense allows 591 yards per game. ... They are one of seven teams nationally that have not attempted a field goal. ... LB Anthony Morales needs nine tackles for ninth place on the school's all-time list.
About the Hornets • They are 0-8 in Ogden. ... They come off a 24-21 overtime loss to Southern Utah. ... Against FBS opponents this season, they have lost to San Jose State (24-0) and Arizona (55-0). ... RB Ezekiel Graham averages 75.8 yards rushing fourth in the Big Sky. ... They are 0-for-5 in field goal attempts this season.
Southern Utah at Northern Colorado
O Saturday, 1:35 p.m.
TV • none
Radio • 91.1 FM
Records • SUU, 3-1; UNO, 1-3
Series • UNO, 2-1
Last meeting • Southern Utah, 20-17 (2005)
About the Thunderbirds • They haven't started 4-1 since 1997. ... This is their fourth road game in five weeks. ... Senior K Colton Cook needs one field goal to break the school's all-time record of 38, which he currently shares with Herkey Marxen (1987-90).
About the Bears • They are 15-67 since 2006, when they joined the Big Sky. ... They opened the season with 31-10 win over Langston before losing to Northern Iowa (26-7), Wyoming (35-7) and Division II Colorado State-Pueblo (41-36).