(STATS) - Montana State football coaches track the results of other Big Sky Conference teams in their team's offices on what head coach Rob Ash calls the "big board."
The coaches have been busy keeping up on the appropriately named spot as members of the largest FCS conference (13 teams) keep posting some of the more impressive results of the FCS season. On Saturday, four Big Sky teams are involved in the three games matching teams from the STATS FCS Top 25.
"The conference is pretty darn good this year and the first couple weeks have been fascinating - some great scores, some great victories for teams in our league. It's fun to look at it," Ash said.
The Big Sky owns two of the four FCS wins over FBS opponents - Portland State over Washington and North Dakota over Wyoming - and several other teams were competitive in such matchups. Montana beat North Dakota State, the four-time defending FCS champion, to kick off the college football season. Cal Poly then beat Montana a week later and Northern Arizona won on the road over nationally ranked Stephen F. Austin.
Among this week's matchups, No. 11 Montana State visits No. 14 Eastern Washington, although the game is considered non-conference and won't count toward the Big Sky standings. Eighth-ranked Montana makes a rare eastern appearance at No. 15 Liberty and No. 17 Cal Poly hosts No. 9 Northern Iowa.
Plus, intrastate games rule with North Dakota taking its shot at No. 4 North Dakota State as well as Idaho State visiting Boise State (Friday) and Northern Arizona taking on Arizona while crossing FBS-FCS lines.
"If you have a feeling that you're gonna be a good football team, to play the best is when you find out just how good you are," said Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh, whose team was tied with Arizona State well into the fourth quarter before falling 35-21 last Saturday.
"There's no question that we'll be prepared for championship-style football. It's our responsibility to go play championship-style football."
Mark that concept down on the big board. Teams need it to compete in the Big Sky.
FCS GAME OF THE WEEK
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET at Seibert Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama
Television: American Sports Network
Series: Chattanooga leads, 27-10-3 (most recent meeting: Chattanooga won at home 38-24 on Sept. 27, 2014)
The Skinny: The week's FCS non-conference schedule is a beauty, but this matchup is one of the most meaningful in the Southern Conference this season.
Chattanooga might be able to chalk up last weekend's 44-34 win over Mars Hill (it was 37-34 going into the final four minutes) as a trap game between Jacksonville State and Samford. But the Mocs struggled to stop the run for the second straight game. They have a secondary fortified enough to slow Samford quarterback Michael Eubank, but can the Mocs stop running back Denzel Williams? One of their goals is to give fewer chances to Samford's quick-strike offense. Quarterback Jacob Huesman, who roomed with Eubank when they were counselors at the Manning Passing Academy this past summer, is adept at a running a ball-control offense.
Early results suggest Samford, which has throttled Central Arkansas and Florida A&M, should be nationally ranked like the Mocs. The visitors are known for their physical style of play, but Samford has bigger size across its two-deep. That includes the redshirt senior trio of DT Michael Pierce (6 feet, 340 pound), the conference's preseason defensive player of the year; MLB Justin Cooper (6-1, 236), the conference's reigning defensive player of the week; and CB James Bradberry (6-1, 213), a preseason second-team All-American. Even bigger is the 6-5 Eubank (45 for 69, 652 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs), who has taken to first-year coach Chris Hatcher's fast-paced spread offense. The Bulldogs, who have 10 scoring drives of under two minutes, rank second in the FCS in total offense (644 ypg) and passing offense (399.5 ypg) as well as third in scoring (51.5 ppg).
Prediction: Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman is an impressive 5-1 against Samford, but the late-season loss in 2013 was the Mocs' last one in the SoCon. That game was decided in overtime and this one should be tight in the fourth quarter. Samford, 31-28.
WEEK 3 PICKS
Last Week's Record: 57-13 (.814)
Season Record: 138-23 (.857)
(All Times ET, X-Predicted Winner)
THURSDAY, SEPT. 17
Florida A&M (0-2, 0-0 MEAC) at X-South Carolina State (1-1, 0-0), 7:30 p.m.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 18
Idaho State (1-1) at X-Boise State (1-1), 9 p.m.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 19
Delaware (1-1, 0-0 CAA) at X-No. 6 Villanova (1-1, 0-0), noon - The talk always centers on QB John Robertson, but the play of the Wildcats defense is reinforcing how it has more experienced players than the offense.
Columbia (0-0) at X-No. 18 Fordham (1-1), 1 p.m. - Fordham has won the Liberty Cup in five straight seasons and the last two meetings haven't been close. Former Penn skipper Al Bagnoli makes his Columbia debut.
Tennessee State (2-0, 0-0 OVC) at X-No. 1 Jacksonville State (1-1, 0-0), 2 p.m. Tennessee State basically has nothing to lose and the new No. 1 team has everything to lose as Ohio Valley Conference play gets underway. Oh yeah, upset alert.
No. 20 Southeastern Louisiana (2-0) at X-Ohio (2-0), 2 p.m. - Southeastern coach Ron Roberts is still trying to check off a win over the FBS on the to-do list. The Lions are 0-19 against FBS teams since returning to football in 2003.
College of Faith (0-1) at X-Valparaiso (0-2), 2 p.m.
Southeast Missouri State (1-1) at X-No. 23 Indiana State (1-1), 3:05 p.m. - If the epicenter of key early season injuries isn't at Eastern Washington, then it's in Terre Haute, Indiana. Sycamores safety Mark Sewall (broken ankle), running back LeMonte Booker (knee sprain) and the inside linebackers are on a growing list.
North Dakota (2-0) at X-No. 4 North Dakota State (1-1), 3:30 p.m. - The most-played rivalry on the Division II level finally hits the FCS for the first time. UND holds a 62-45-3 series lead, and its win in their most recent meeting in 2003 was its third straight over the Bison.
No. 10 Chattanooga (1-1, 0-0 Southern) at X-Samford (2-0, 0-0), 3:30 p.m. - The FCS game of the week.
No. 11 Montana State (1-0) at X-No. 14 Eastern Washington (0-2), 4:05 p.m. So let's see, the co-favorites for the Big Sky title are meeting once again in a game that doesn't count in the conference standings. OK, we'll accept it if they go 52-51 like last year.
Western Illinois (1-1) at X-No. 2 Coastal Carolina (2-0), 6 p.m. These teams' only meeting came in the 2010 FCS playoffs, when WIU won 17-10 in Conway. Youth is served with the WIU defense as the top seven tacklers are freshmen and sophomores.
VMI (1-1) at X-No. 22 Richmond (1-1), 6 p.m. - Underrated linebacker Omar Howard is a perfect 10, collecting 10 tackles in each of Richmond's first two games. Jackson State (0-2, 0-0 SWAC) at X-Southern (1-1, 1-0), 6 p.m.
No. 8 Montana (1-1) at X-No. 15 Liberty (1-1), 7 p.m. - Big Sky, Big South, big crowd, yeah, this is a big game. Flames QB Josh Woodrum's first career start in 2012 had everything but the win against Montana (34 of 44, 322 yards, two TDs, INT).
Lamar (1-1, 0-0 Southland) at X-No. 3 Sam Houston State (0-1, 0-0), 7 p.m. - Having caught their breath since playing a human video game at Texas Tech, the Bearkats figure to roll up many more yards and points in their conference opener.
X-McNeese State (1-0, 1-0 Southland) at Stephen F. Austin (0-2, 0-0), 7 p.m.
X-Butler (1-1) at Taylor (1-1), 7 p.m.
X-No. 5 Illinois State (1-1) at Eastern Illinois (0-2), 8 p.m. - ISU All-American running back Marshaun Coprich found his stride a week ago. The host Panthers (five points) are still trying to find the end zone.
No. 9 Northern Iowa (1-1) at X-No. 17 Cal Poly (1-1), 10:30 p.m. - Just who is responsible for UNI playing last year's national team rushing leader a week after facing Eastern Washington's No. 1-ranked passing offense?
No. 24 Northern Arizona (2-0) at X-Arizona (2-0), 11 p.m. - It will be really impressive if NAU freshman QB Case Cookus is still leading the FCS in passing efficiency (223.3) after facing Desert Swarm.