Friday, December 29, 2006

Lil' B comes up big vs. Poly

His first dribble of the game, off the opening tip, was a showy albeit nonchalant blur between his legs as he crossed over and danced his way up the floor.
His first shot a few seconds later, from about 20 feet out and directly in front of where Cal Poly head coach Kevin Bromley was sitting, slipped through the net without even thinking about grazing the rim on the way by.
Cal State Fullerton’s Bobby Brown, wearing socks that donned the NBA logo on each side, has the flashy game to go with the flashy name. And the 6-2 senior guard had it all going in Thursday night’s Big West Conference-opening win over the Mustangs.
A game-high 28 points. A game-high eight assists. Zero turnovers.
“L.B.,” as his coach Bob Burton calls him, “was absolutely terrific in all phases of the game.”
Yes, Burton and the Titans feel lucky to have “Little B” this season after testing the NBA Draft waters following his junior season. Brown later withdrew his name from the pool but not before working out for the Clippers and Lakers and attending a Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando.
His game has been evolving ever since.
When Brown wasn’t sinking five of his eight three-point attempts Thursday, the true-point-guard-in-the-making was tossing alley-oops to his high-flying forwards. When he wasn’t supplying the highlight-reel feeds, he was coming up with steals and uncontested throwdowns at the other end.
It’s just one game, but Brown has emerged as the frontrunner for Big West Player of the Year honors.
Then again, he might’ve won that earlier this month when he dropped a school-record 47 points in a game, hitting 11 threes in a win over Bethune-Cookman earlier this year.
“I’m just having fun out there, man,” Brown said. “Every time I go out there I’m having fun with my teammates because I’m playing with a bunch of guys I’ve grown up with. This is something I’ve been planning and wanting to happen for a long time.”

Friday, December 22, 2006

Homecoming of sorts for Mustang trio

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of reception the Cal Poly players with Fresno ties receive Saturday night when the Mustangs men's basketball team plays at Fresno State.
Sophomore forward Titus Shelton is a Clovis West High graduate.
Freshman guard Rick Higgins is the son of Rod Higgins, one of the biggest names in Fresno State basketball history.
Rod Higgins played at Fresno State from 1979-82 and was a two-time All-American. He led the Bulldogs to NCAA Tournament appearances in 1981 and '82 when they went to the Sweet 16. He is listed is listed among Fresno State's Top 25 athletes of the last century.
Higgins (shown miniature golfing with a young Michael Jordan during their days with the Bulls) played 13 seasons (1982–1995) in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, Seattle SuperSonics, San Antonio Spurs, New Jersey Nets, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Then there's assistant coach Wil Hooker who played and coached at Fresno State.
Hooker played at Fresno State from 1988-92, finishing his career as the all-time leading scorer in program history, according to Bulldogs homer Joshua D. Scroggin.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Mustangs keep their cool

In the box score, it went down as nothing more than Northern Arizona guard Riley Van Patten’s third personal foul late in an 82-60 blowout loss to Cal Poly.
But for the 1,467 fans on hand for Tuesday’s men’s basketball game in Mott Gym, it was a noteworthy play that shouldn’t go overlooked.
It happened with just under six minutes remaining and the Mustangs leading by almost 30 points (it was 71-42 to be exact).
The play starts with a loose ball at midcourt in a game that’s been out of reach since halftime, but players are still hustling and even leaving their feet to save the possession.
One thing leads to another and there’s an NFL-like pile taking place in the middle of Mott Gym.
During the scrum, some players are battling for position while others are pulling players off each other thinking the play was dead.
But no whistles are being blown, or at least none are being heard, so Cal Poly forward Dreshawn Vance, Van Patten and others continued to scrap for the prized Spalding.
Some pushing takes place. Some words are exchanged. Players on both benches rise to their feet. But in the end the three officials are able to restore order just as fans are having flashbacks of Saturday’s Nuggets-Knicks melee (see video below).
Maybe Saturday's Fight Night at Madison Square Garden -- which also occurred late in a frustrating blowout loss and resulted in 10 ejections and thousands of dollars in fines -- was on the minds of the players too as cooler heads prevailed and nothing more than a few dirty looks were exchanged.
After a brief delay, the officials agreed no blows were thrown and only Van Patten was whistled for a personal foul.
No technicals. No ejections. No “brawl ball” headlines in Wednesday’s paper.
Hey, maybe there was some benefit from Saturday's brawl after all.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Plenty of options for Poly football

There are two words pass-happy football fans never want to hear:

"Triple option."

Rumors of triple option at Cal Poly have been circulating around campus since the tail end of the 2006 season when the Mustangs' passing game struggled to get off the ground under second-year quarterback Matt Brennan.
Since the season ended, I've heard a number of people close to the program joke about a possible switch from a spread option to more of a triple-option approach.
I laughed off what I thought were tongue-in-cheek comments and figured it was just that ... a joke.
But after finding out former Righetti High star running back Ryan Mole was transferring to Cal Poly from Sacramento State, I realized this might not be a joke after all. With backs like Mole, James Noble and Fred Hives II in the backfield, the Mustangs might be headed in that direction.
For those who aren't familiar with the triple option, here's a good explanation by ESPN's Bob Davie.
Basically, the scheme is built on a two-running back set that gives the quarterback three options: keep it himself, get it to the fullback, or pitch it to the slotback. Notice that passing isn't mentioned as one of the options.
The triple option made headlines earlier this week when Air Force head coach Fisher DeBerry, considered the authority on the triple option, resigned after 23 seasons.
Running DeBerry's latest edition of the triple option, Air Force ran the ball 660 times and passed just 146 times in 2006 (running 82% of the time). By comparison, Cal Poly's spread option ran 475 times and attempted 174 passes (already running 73% percent of the time).
Cal Poly actually tinkered with a two-back set against North Dakota State late in the season, with Hives lining up at fullback and Noble moving to slotback for the first time. It was a unique formation the Mustangs have rarely used in head coach Rich Ellerson's six years, but one they broke out shortly after learning Mole wanted to come to Cal Poly.
Coincidence? I guess only time will tell.
After the season, I asked Ellerson if there was a chance Cal Poly would utilize the two-back set more in 2007, or if any other changes were in store for the Mustangs' offense. Here was his take, two days after the season finale with Savannah State:
"In this system, there are certainly some things that we want to get into that right now we're not doing," Ellerson said. "But what we've done, and what we do well, that's still the foundation of anything we'll go to in the future."
In other words, wait until spring ball and find out for yourself.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Buck stops here

For an unprecedented third straight year, a Cal Poly football player has won the Buck Buchanan Award.
Linebacker Jordan Beck (2004) and defensive end Chris Gocong (2005) ran away with the award the previous two seasons.
This year, it was senior linebacker Kyle Shotwell who took home the award, edging out James Madison linebacker Akeem Jordan on Thursday as Division I-AA’s top defensive player.
As relieved as Shotwell was to finally emerge from the shadow of the two NFL defenders before him, he pointed out the Mustangs’ three Buchanan award winners had a lot in common during their playing days at Cal Poly.
“All three of us really love the game and enjoy getting better at the game,” he said in a phone interview from Chattanooga, Tenn. “Coming into college, we didn’t exactly know where our careers were headed. All we knew is that we wanted to be the best and pushed each other to be that way. That’s the common denominator, we were never satisfied with being average and that was contagious.”
How will Shotwell celebrate the Mustangs’ third straight Buchanan award?
On Friday, he’ll attend the Division I-AA Championship Game between Appalachian State and UMass, wondering what could have been if the Mustangs had made it to the 16-team playoffs.
On Saturday, he’ll be watching his old friend Beck and the Atlanta Falcons host the Dallas Cowboys, wondering what it would feel like to play in the NFL.
But if Beck or Gocong’s paths to the league are any indicator, Shotwell could find out soon enough.
“That’ll be fun watching Jordan play again,” he said, “because he’s a good friend, a guy whose footsteps I’ve been following at Cal Poly.”

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Stevenson stays true to his word

Cal Poly volleyball coach Jon Stevenson was so frustrated by Saturday’s second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Cal that he initially refused to speak with the media afterward.
After some prodding by athletic director Alison Cone and Co., the fiery coach (and beach volleyball coverboy in this June 1988 Volleyball Monthly) eventually spoke at a mandated news conference, discussing the disappointment that came with the 30-24, 30-26, 23-30, 30-20 downfall in Mott Gym.
Following a few therapeutic responses about his team’s breakdowns, Stevenson was able to reflect on what has been a pretty remarkable turnaround for his program.
Cal Poly’s second-year coach needed just those two years to turn a 5-24 program into a NCAA Tournament team.
Not that it caught anyone by surprise.
Stevenson did the same thing at St. Mary’s from 2002-04, taking a five-win program — which had just one winning season in 15 years — to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
He even pulled off a turnaround at Sonoma State from 2000-01, needing just two seasons to turn a 6-20 program into a 22-11 team ranked in the top 10 of Division II's Pacific Region.
On Friday, Cal Poly joined the turnaround club, beating Michigan for its first NCAA Tournament victory at home since 1989.
It was the same reversal of fortunes Stevenson predicted at the same podium in February 2005 when he was announced as the program’s next head volleyball coach.
“I have no doubt, with the will of these young student-athletes here,” he said at the time, “and that drive that I have and the nice facet I'm going to put together, that we are going to be able to do the same thing here.”

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Division I-AA Name Change for Dummies

As the 2006 Division I-AA football season comes to an end, so does the label that Cal Poly and other I-AA teams play under.
On Dec. 15, the NCAA will no longer use the I-A and I-AA designations for describing Division I football programs.
In fact, the NCAA has already begun to use the new and supposedly improved labels in conjunction with last week’s start of the 16-team Division I-AA playoffs, err the “NCAA Division I Football Championship.”
Division I-A is now being called the “Football Bowl Subdivision.”
Division I-AA is now the “Football Championship Subdivision.”
Confused yet?
I’ve opted to avoid using the new designations in my stories until after the 2006 football season officially comes to a close in an effort to avoid confusing readers (I’ll probably refer to it as I-AA/FCS early on).
Funny thing is, the NCAA’s board of directors decided to make the change because of the confusion I-A, I-AA and I-AAA labels were bringing other sports.
“The previous labels,” according a recent NCAA memo, “have generated a significant amount of concern among the I-AA and I-AAA membership, as the labels were confusing and misapplied by the public, boosters and media when referring not only to their football programs but their overall athletics programs (e.g., I-AA basketball program).”

• • •
So here’s a handy, dandy Division I-AA Football Name Change Table to help clear up any confusion, thanks to the the fine folks at the NCAA:

Old Terminology

New Terminology

Division I-A

Football Bowl Subdivision

Division I-AA

NCAA Football Championship Subdivision

NCAA Division I-AA Football Championship

NCAA Division I Football Championship

I-A (short hand)

Bowl Subdivision

I-AA (short hand)

Football Championship Subdivision

I-A (acronym)


I-AA (acronym)


• • •
The name change already has some Web-based news services scrambling to change the way they do business:
  • has moved its operations to the organization’s parent company, College Sporting News, at will remain a reference-only Web site with any new reporting being posted at CSN.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

How Shotwell stacks up

It remains to be seen if Cal Poly senior LB Kyle Shotwell can be the third Mustang to win the Buck Buchanan Award in as many years. The winner of the award for Division I-AA football's top defensive player will be named Dec. 14 on the eve of the championship game. Here's how Shotwell's numbers stack up against the two previous winners from Cal Poly, DE Chris Gocong (2005) and LB Jordan Beck (2004):

Kyle Shotwell
Senior Season
G TT Solo Sacks
11 122 62 7
Career Totals
G TT Solo Sacks
46 392 201 17
Chris Gocong
Senior Season
G TT Solo Sacks
13 98 46 23.5
Career Totals
G TT Solo Sacks
41 212 117 42
Jordan Beck
Senior Season
G TT Solo Sacks
Career Totals
G TT Solo Sacks
G (games), TT (total tackles)
"When Beck left we weren't sure who was going to fill those shoes. When Gocong left, we didn't know who was going to fill those shoes. But people step up and Coach Ellerson knows how to recruit and plug people into the system. ... It's going to be exciting to see who the next player is on the Buchanan list."
Kyle Shotwell after Saturday's 55-0 win over Savannah State.
So who's the next Mustang Buck Buchanan candidate? Offer your suggestion in the comments section below.

Shotwell said he like's rover Mark Restelli's chances.
"He's just got so much athletic ability," Shotwell said of the rover, who could move to mike linebacker. "He's just such a great football player and I can see him doing a great job at that (Mike linebacker) spot."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Poly volley ready to go dancing

What a week it was for the Cal Poly volleyball team.
First, San Luis Obispo High star Ashley Adams signs a National Letter of Intent to play for the Mustangs next season.
Then Cal Poly goes out over the weekend and wins the Big West Conference title outright, its first conference title since 1984 when Mustangs took the Pacific Coast Athletic Association (the precursor to the Big West) crown.
For the second straight year, the Mustangs will have to wait awhile before the NCAA announces the 64-team field for the tournament (Nov. 26). But this time around, Cal Poly knows its in and doesn’t have to worry about being overlooked because of schedule strength – or in the 2005 team’s case, lack there of.
But hosting a regional in the first and second round (there’s usually four in each region) will be tough out west this year, considering how many regional foes were ahead of the No. 16 Mustangs in Monday’s CSTV/AVCA coaches p
oll (for the record, Cal Poly is ranked 17th in the Rich Kern and 13th in the Pablo rankings:

2. Washington 22-3
3. Stanford 21-3
4. USC
9. Utah 23-2
13. Hawaii 21-5
15. Cal 17-8
16. Cal Poly 21-5
17. San Diego 22-5
20. BYU 22-4
Other teams to consider for the postseason out West: No. 21 New Mexico State, No. 22 Santa Clara, No. 25 Pepperdine, Long Beach State, Oregon, Sacramento State and San Francisco.
Note: The NCAA uses its own formula for determining postseason positioning.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The stats tell the tale

The stats from the Cal Poly football team’s 51-14 loss at North Dakota State on Saturday told the story.

The Good:
The Mustangs opened with touchdowns on their first two drives, snapping a streak of six quarters without a touchdown. … Cal Poly tallied four first downs on the first two drives, which ended in Matt Brennan’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Justin Belcher and James Noble’s 2-yard touchdown run.

The Bad: Cal Poly added just two more first downs and allowed 51 unanswered points the rest of the way. … Brennan finished 3 of 8 for 15 yards passing. Noble had another rough game with 13 carries for 52 yards.
The Ugly: North Dakota State had 466 yards of offense, including 324 yards rushing as two backs surpassed the 100-yard mark against a Cal Poly defense that had allowed just one 100-yard rusher all season. … The Bison didn’t have to punt until 4 minutes into the fourth quarter. … Time of possession: NDSU 40:17, CP 19:43. … No. of plays: NDSU 68, CP 37. … Red-zone scoring opportunities: Both teams were perfect. Cal Poly was 2 of 2. The Bison were 6 of 6. ... We'll go ahead and stop right there.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gazing into I-AA's crystal ball

The latest Gridiron Power Index – considered the top indicator for at-large playoff selection at the Division I-AA football level – is out, just in time to start looking at the playoff picture heading into the final two weekends of the season. The 16-team playoff field will be unveiled Nov. 19 at 10 a.m. Keep in mind that eight teams will get automatic bids by winning their respective conference – champions of the Atlantic 10, Big Sky, Gateway, MEAC, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern and Southland conferences. The other eight teams will be selected by the committee. Here are the top 25 teams in the GPI and where they stand in the playoff race (teams in blue aren't eligible for the playoffs):

  • 1. Massachusetts, A10 (N), 8-1
    UMass isn’t the No. 1 team in the opinion polls but is in contention for a home bid, especially with AD John McCutcheon (formerly CP’s AD) on the committee.
  • 2. Appalachian State, SOCON, 9-1
    The first team to earn a playoff spot, the defending champs are No. 1 in nearly every other poll.
  • 3T. Montana, BSC, 8-1
    Saturday’s win over Cal Poly only solidifies their position as the team to beat out West. A Big Sky title could keep them at home in the playoffs.
  • 3T. James Madison, A10 (S), 8-1
    The A-10 is the GPI's second strongest conference behind the Great West and will surely get multiple teams in.
  • 5. North Dakota State, GWFC, 8-1
    A top-five team but not eligible for the postseason during the transition from Division II, which could free up another spot out West for a team like Cal Poly or even San Diego.
  • 6. Youngstown State, GFC, 8-2
    A win away from the Gateway title, the Penguins are marching toward the playoffs and could be in consideration for a seed (top four) if they finish strong.
  • 7. Illinois State, GFC, 7-2
    The Gateway is the third toughest conference, which means multiple teams probably go from this league too.
  • 8. Cal Poly, GWFC, 6-3
    The Mustangs’ best shot is to win out, get to seven Division I wins and earn a share of the title in the toughest league in the GPI. A split puts them in the danger zone.
  • 9. New Hampshire, A10 (N), 6-3
    After losing 3 of 4, the Wildcats can’t afford to lose again.
  • 10. Northern Iowa, GFC, 6-3
    The Panthers decide their own fate with games against Southern Illinois and Illinois State is the grueling Gateway.
  • 11. Portland St., BSC, 6-4
    A four-loss team way up here? Yeah, because to of those loses are to I-A teams. One four-loss team that will get consideration and could be the second Big Sky team to follow Montana to the postseason.
  • 12. Tennessee-Martin, OVC, 8-1
    Who? Yes, Tennessee-Martin is making a run and is unbeaten in the OVC. Two wins (or a win and a Tenn. St. loss) gives the Skyhawks the league’s automatic bid.
  • 13. San Diego, PFL, 9-0
    One of the most interesting cases, San Diego has a game against UC Davis scheduled for the first weekend of the playoffs but will cancel that game if given an invitation. But the PFL is ranked 15th among 16 I-AA conferences and San Diego has played a schedule that consists largely of nonscholarship teams
  • 14. Maine, A10 (N), 6-3
    With games against UMass and New Hampshire remaining, the Bears control their own destiny.
  • 15. Harvard, IVY, 7-1
    Ivy League schools aren’t eligible for the playoffs.
  • 16T. Southern Illinois, GFC, 6-3
    Another three-loss team that has to keep winning at home against Northern Iowa and then Southern Utah.
  • 16T. Furman, SOCON, 7-3
    The Paladins probably need to beat Georgia Southern to get in as four-loss teams usually get left out of the at-large race.
  • 18T. South Dakota State, GWFC, 6-3
    Like North Dakota State, ineligible for the postseason but makes the GWFC look that much more worthy of an at-large bid.
  • 18T. Montana State, BSC, 7-3
    If you drop the ineligible teams above them, the Bobcats are in at this point. Then again, there are a lot of automatic-bid leagues that we haven’t even gotten to yet, which will bump out a couple of deserving candidates. Their best bet is to beat Montana and take home the Big Sky automatic bid.
  • 20. Princeton, IVY, 7-1
    Ivy League schools aren’t eligible for the playoffs, in case you missed it the first time.
  • 21. UC Davis, GWFC, 4-5
    Another GWFC team ineligible during its move to Division I-AA.
  • 22. Yale, IVY, 7-1
    Ivy League schools aren’t eligible for the playoffs, in case you missed it the second time.
  • 23. Towson, A10 (S), 6-3
    Would have to finish strong to be considered, especially with so many other teams from the A-10 being in the race.
  • 24. Wofford, SOCON, 5-4
    With four losses, Wofford is a probably a long shot at this point unless something crazy happens down the stretch.
  • 25. Hampton, MEAC 9-1
    Hampton is ranked 11th in the opinion poll. A win over Florida A & M gets the Pirates the automatic bid.
Because no teams from the Patriot or Southland conferences are listed above, at least two teams not listed will make the playoffs. It looks like Lehigh and McNeese State are the frontrunners in those respective leagues. Upsets in automatic-bid leagues could also shake things up and 9-2 Coastal Carolina is in the conversation out of the Big South thanks to a No. 16 ranking in the latest Sports Network poll.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Forward progress? You make the call

It’s been a good 48 hours now and some Cal Poly football fans are still grumbling over a couple calls that took place late in Cal Poly’s 10-9 loss at Montana on Saturday.
Both the controversial plays took place on the Grizzlies’ game-winning drive, which was capped by Dan Carpenter’s 21-yard field goal with 5 seconds left.
As luck would have it, this highlight video courtesy and KPAX-TV just so happens to show both those plays back to back, so you be the judge. Did this group of Big Sky Conference officials make the right call?
Click here to start the video, which is designed for Windows Media Player on a PC. Skip to the 3:37 mark on the video to see the two plays, which are broadcast back to back with a replay in between.

The two plays in question:

  • The first was on second-and-five from the Grizzlies’ 15-yard line. Montana quarterback Josh Swogger hits Eric Allen down the Montana sideline for a 29-yard pass play. The Mustangs defenders think he’s out of bounds before he has possession. The Grizzlies players and coaches believe he made the catch while he has possession. If you pause the video as the receiver appears to make the catch, it looks as if he might just have that foot down in time … although from that angle there’s no way you can see if his toe is on the line or not.
The ruling: The officials ruled that Allen did in fact get a foot down in bounds while he had possession of the ball, giving the Grizzlies a first down.
  • The second play came later in the drive but is shown immediately after the first on the video. This one was Swogger’s 14-yard pass to Ryan Bagley on fourth-and-13. If Cal Poly denies Bagley the first down, Montana’s game-winning drive comes to an end. Bagley appears to make the reception just past where the first-down marker should be (around the Cal Poly 46) to the Mustangs’ 45 but backtracks in an attempt to pick up more yardage. It appears his first contact with a Cal Poly defender comes back shy of the 46-yard line.
The ruling: Officials determined that Bagley’s “forward progress” got him up to the Mustangs’ 45 where Montana was given a first down.

... Ten plays later, the Grizzlies won it on Carpenter's field goal.

• • •
When asked about the fourth-down play afterward, Cal Poly head coach Rich Ellerson (knowing Weber State coach Ron McBride was recently suspended by the Big Sky for criticizing officials) said his opinion on the play didn’t matter because “I don’t have a vote.”

Montana head coach Bobby Hauck also reserved judgment because he had “the worst seat in the house” for the play.

Bagley was a little more candid when asked about the play: “Yeah, I don't know what I was doing there. I knew I was wide open, and I figured I was far enough, and I was. I don't know why I was running backward. He gave me the spot, so whatever.”

• • •
Did the refs get it right? Post your thoughts by clicking the comments link below.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Mustangs facing must-win scenario

Saturday’s football game at Montana’s Washington-Grizzly Stadium certainly had a playoff feel to it.
No. 6 Cal Poly at No. 2 Montana.
Two of the most dominant defenses in the West Region, if not all of Division I-AA football, trying to outdo eachother all afternoon.
One touchdown. Four field goals. Four trips to the red zone. Ten sacks. Nineteen punts!
I don’t think it will surprise anyone on either side if these two teams meet up again in the playoffs, which would mark the fourth meeting between the two programs in two seasons.
That’s if Cal Poly even makes the playoffs.
The Mustangs were this close to beating the No. 2 team in the country, on Montana’s home turf where the Grizzlies are an unbelievable 130-18 all-time.
Still, the Mustangs (6-3) aren’t guaranteed a spot in the 16-team playoffs and could easily miss the postseason if they don’t win their final two games against No. 5 North Dakota State (8-1) and Savannah State (1-8).

Here’s why:

  • Teams with more than three losses have a tough time getting in. In fact, only two teams with more than three losses have advanced to the postseason since 2003. Eastern Washington went with four losses last season and Montana State advanced with five defeats in 2003. Both were automatic qualifiers out of the Big Sky Conference.
  • At the same time, the committee could throw out Cal Poly’s loss to San Jose State considering the Spartans were a Division I-A opponent. But if the Mustangs win just one of their final two games, that would leave Cal Poly with just six Division I victories. (Remember the season-opening win against Fort Lewis? Yeah, that win is meaningless in the committee’s eyes.) According to the Division I Football Championship Handbook, “less than seven Division I wins may place a team in jeopardy of not being selected.”
  • The good news? Cal Poly has some familiar faces on this year’s committee. While the Great West doesn’t have a representative on the eight-person committee, former Cal Poly and current UMass athletic director John McCutcheon is still on there. And current Cal Poly athletic director Alison Cone is on the regional advisory committee.
• • •
North Dakota State, by the way, just overcame a 24-point deficit in the second half to stun UC Davis 28-24 on Saturday. Sound familiar?
lost by 60, that's right 60, to No. 17 Coastal Carolina, 66-6!
Cal Poly and No. 9 New Hampshire (6-3), which lost to No. 3 UMass (8-1) 20-28, were the only top-10 teams that lost Saturday.
• • •
Not that you would need to watch any highlights from Saturday's game after reading our thorough coverage (read the mainbar and notebook), but if you feel the need you can watch them here courtesy and KPAX-TV in Missoula, which provided the feed for KSBY's broadcast of the game.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Better pack your parkas Mustangs

Hello Mustangs fans,
Hope y’all are doin’ well out there on the sunny Central Coast.
I’m out here in Montana, getting ready for the big football showdown between No. 6 Cal Poly and No. 2 Montana.
Missoula, for those of you who won’t be making the trip, is beautiful this time of year. The leaves are turning. The autumn sunsets are breathtaking.
But there’s one little problem … it’s freezing out here.
Check that. It’s not even freezing. Try 20 degrees right now (Wednesday night) – 40 degrees cooler than it is in San Luis Obispo. With the wind-chill, it’s like 15 degrees.

• • •
It’s so cold …
… kids dressed up as penguins and polar bears for Halloween.
… the roaring river (Clark Fork) that runs between the team hotel and Washington-Grizzly Stadium is starting to freeze over around the edges.
… this once scalding hot caramel macchiato was an iced macchiato by the time I got back to the room.
… this avid angler/sportswriter I know won’t even consider fly-fishing any of Missoula’s legendary blue-ribbon trout waters in-between writing his football features, basketball previews and this, I mean his, mind-numbing blog about the weather.
• • •
Now I’m no Dave Hovde, but I’m guessing Saturday’s noon (local time) kickoff will be a little bit nippier than Cal Poly’s last game at San Diego State (77 degrees at 5 p.m.).
It should warm up a bit by kickoff, jumping to a whopping 40 degrees, but that’s only because there’s a 60 percent chance of showers at outdoor Washington-Grizzly Stadium (pictured from the "M" atop Mount Sentinel).
Not that the Grizzlies mind.
Fifty-two of Bobby Hauck’s players are originally from Montana.
Senior defensive end Dustin Dlouhy is from Idaho Falls and says he actually enjoys playing football in this frigid environment.
“I hope it gets nasty,” Dlouhy said with a cold chuckle following Tuesday’s practice. “I know it’s a little more pleasant in San Luis Obispo right now. Meanwhile, we’ve been practicing in full thermals and Under Armour. I’m hoping for the worst Saturday because I think that’ll benefit us.”
Luckily for most of you Mustangs fans, this one’s televised by KSBY (11 a.m. Pacific).
And for those of you making the trip, well, I’d recommend packing the parka.
Stay cool,
• • •
P.S. Saturday's game is The Sports Network's "Game of the Week" in Division I-AA. You can read Matt Dougherty's preview here. His prediction? Montana 17, Cal Poly 13.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

San Diego media all over Aztecs

The San Diego press is having a field day with the Cal Poly football team's win over San Diego State on Saturday, a lot like the El Paso media did in 2003 when the Mustangs upset I-A UTEP:

Is it time for Aztecs to take a step back?
North County Times

It has come to this: San Diego State can no longer be considered a serious Division I-A football program.
Anybody for dropping down to Division I-AA so it can compete with the likes of Cal Poly, Sacramento State, Montana and UC Davis? ...

There's new disgrace in town: 'Chuckyball'
San Diego Union-Tribune

... Really, it's almost impossible to fathom. But it would be wrong to call this the worst defeat in SDSU history. Because the Mustangs were better than the Aztecs. And certainly far, far better coached. ...

Gift horse punches Aztecs in the mouth
Daily Aztec

Saturday's game almost left me at a loss for words. I could only think of a few to describe how I felt afterward.
Embarrassed or disappointed. ...

Aztecs kicked while they're down

San Diego Union-Tribune

In assessing the talent gap between his team and Division I-A schools last week, Cal Poly coach Rich Ellerson said he believed the Mustangs had reached a point where they could be competitive against middle-of-the-pack programs from the Mountain West and Western Athletic conferences.
Seems they're pretty good against the bottom feeders, as well. ...

SDSU dropped by I-AA Cal Poly

Daily Aztec

With a game against Division I-AA Cal Poly San Luis Obispo the following weekend, SDSU looked like a team in prime position to put together a winning streak ...

Memorable quotes from Qualcomm

Some of best lines from the Cal Poly football team’s 16-14 victory at San Diego State in Qualcomm Stadium:

“This is what I call a homecoming!”
Tredale Tolver, Cal Poly’s wide receiver and San Diego native, during the team’s postgame celebration. The win came seven days after the Mustangs’ meltdown on homecoming at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
“Well, basketball season starts on Wednesday.”
An unidentified San Diego State staff member moaned as the 1-6 Aztecs left the field.
“… I just started laughing and fell on it as quick as I could.”
Cal Poly safety Kenny Chicoine on the late-game fumble that was bouncing around in front of Mustangs defenders Andre Thomas and Kyle Shotwell. Chicoine beat both players to the ball, setting up the game-winning field goal by Nick Coromelas.
“It came down to one play, 50 times.”
Cal Poly head coach Rich Ellerson doing his best Yogi Berra impersonation.
“I actually kicked the ground first, so it didn’t feel good at all, initially.”
Cal Poly kicker Nick Coromelas on his wobbly line drive of a field goal that won the game.
“This was one of the toughest days of my career.”
First-year San Diego State head coach Chuck Long, a runner-up for the Heisman as a quarterback at Iowa who coached previously at Oklahoma.
• • •
You can read the game story here for more on the Mustangs' second victory over a I-A opponent in the Ellerson era. ... Here's a follow on Kyle Shotwell's record night. ... Up next for the Mustangs is No. 2 Montana, which is coming off a 23-10 victory over Idaho State.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"Big Three" up next

The “Big Three” portion of Cal Poly’s football schedule is finally upon us.
Division I-A San Diego State on Saturday followed by road games against two top-10 Division I-AA teams — No. 3 Montana and No. 6 North Dakota State.
This is when we find out if last weekend’s meltdown against South Dakota State was a “wakeup call,” as the players are calling it, or if it was a premonition of things to come (aka a late-season tailspin).
You know, the ol’ pretenders or contenders cliché.
Winning 2 of 3 during this stretch would surely put the Mustangs on track for an at-large bid to the playoffs ... barring another catastrophe in the season finale with woeful Savannah State (1-6).
Losing 2 of 3 would put the Mustangs in serious danger of missing the 16-team playoffs considering only two teams with more than three losses have advanced to the postseason since 2003. Eastern Washington went with four losses last season and Montana State advanced with five defeats in 2003.
Both were automatic qualifiers out of the Big Sky Conference.
The Great West Football Conference doesn’t receive an automatic bid.
Time to start pounding down on that panic button yet?
I’ll let you be the judge.

• • •
Saturday @ I-A San Diego State (1-5)
No worries: San Diego State has lost five of six this season, lost to San Jose State by 21 (Poly lost at SJSU 17-7 a week earlier), is down to its third-string quarterback, backup running back and a reader poll on the San Diego Union-Tribune Web site on Thursday suggested I-AA University of San Diego could beat the Aztecs.
Panic mode: Cal Poly is 1-5 against Division I-A teams under Rich Ellerson, is battling plenty of injuries itself and is considerably undersized against the Aztecs. Did I mention Cal Poly is coming off its worst loss in the Ellerson era?

Nov. 4 @ I-AA No. 3 Montana (6-1)

No worries: The Mustangs beat the Grizzlies, at their place, in the 2005 playoffs and Montana is without Walter Payton Award candidate Lex Hilliard because of a knee injury suffered in the preseason.
Panic mode: Cal Poly lost the 10 previous meetings against Montana (including the first meeting in 2005), it could be in the 30s come game time, and the Grizzlies’ lone loss in 2006 was to Iowa (receiving votes for the I-A top 25) in the opener.

Nov. 4 @ I-AA No. 6 North Dakota State (6-1)

No worries: The Mustangs are 3-2 against the Bison all-time, winning the previous two meetings by a combined score of 50-16, and the game is indoors instead of out in the Fargo frost.
Panic mode: North Dakota State’s lone loss came to the Big Ten's Minnesota, 10-9, last week in a game where the Bison outgained the Gophers 380-249 in total yardage, had a touchdown called back and a field goal blocked as time expired (see the video below).

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Playing the blame game

It wasn’t tough to find a Mustang who was willing to take part of the blame Saturday after the Cal Poly football team’s collapse against South Dakota State.
“That was my fault,” Cal Poly quarterback Matt Brennan said of his overthrow of wide receiver Tredale Tolver in the final minute of the 29-28 loss, a pass that was picked off by Tyler Koch to seal the game.
“We broke down on the sideline, didn’t communicate very well and that’s my fault,” Cal Poly head coach Rich Ellerson said of the same play.
But most of the heat fell on the Mustangs’ once bullet-proof pass defense, which allowed three costly touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
“There were mistakes obviously,” Cal Poly senior linebacker Kyle Shotwell said. “Where to place blame? I’ll start with me.”
Like Shotwell, everyone on the defense seemed willing to take blame for the defensive struggles, but when asked exactly what went wrong defensively over the final 15 minutes, nobody really had an answer.
At least an answer they wanted to share publicly.
“I don’t really want to talk about it,” Shotwell said. “So many thoughts and emotions are going through my mind right now … It’s really not clear until we see it on film, so I’d rather not comment on that. That’s just going to cause a controversy that I don’t want to do. We’re going to sleep on this a little bit and see how we can fix it tomorrow.”

Check out this story for an in-depth look at what collectively led to Cal Poly’s 22-point collapse:

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I-AA's version of the BCS

The GPI is our BCS.
It doesn’t get quite the publicity, or draw the same rants and raves.
But it’s ours.
To the cult-like followers of Division I-AA football, the Gridiron Power Index is our version of the Division I-A’s Bowl Championship Series standings.
The GPI, like its BCS counterpart, is calculated using the various power, computer and opinion rankings recognized in Division I-AA.
And while it’s not the exact formula the playoff committee uses to determine the 16-team field for the Division I-AA playoffs (that top-secret formula’s been locked up and buried by the NCAA somewhere high in the Appalachian Mountains), it’s been pretty darn close in recent years.
This week’s GPI lists Cal Poly at No. 7 — three spots lower than the Mustangs’ place in this week’s Sports Network media poll.
The Great West Football Conference remains the top-rated conference in the GPI, followed by the Atlantic 10, Gateway and Big Sky.
Montana is No. 1 in the GPI, followed by UMass, Appalachian State, Youngstown State and North Dakota State.
Two of those top-five teams (Montana and North Dakota State) host Cal Poly in November in back-to-back contests that are sure to have all sorts of playoff implications in the West Region.
But if teams aren't listed in the top 16, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a shot at the playoffs.
Teams like North Dakota State, No. 13 Harvard and No. 14 UC Davis aren’t eligible for the postseason. So if your team is in the top 20 toward the end of the season, your team will be in the playoff conversation.
The committee unveils the 16-team field Nov. 19.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs

It’s waaaaaaaaaaaay too early to start talking about the playoffs (cue up your favorite Jim Mora soundbite here).
Ah heck, let’s go ahead and do it any way.
The Cal Poly volleyball team just beat Big West Conference nemesis UC Santa Barbara in three games Saturday to finish off the season sweep and could move up another spot or two in the Top 25 from last week’s ranking of 20.
The Cal Poly football team was ranked fourth heading into Saturday’s bye and could move up another spot after top-ranked New Hampshire’s 42-23 loss to James Madison.
If the fall playoffs were to begin today, both teams could argue they deserve a home date in the opening round.
The football playoffs open Nov. 25. The volleyball postseason kicks off Nov. 30.

Cal Poly’s volleyball team would obviously have a tougher sell with only 16 regional sites (64 teams advance) being named and so many teams playing well in the West Region.
A quick look at last week’s poll shows No. 3 UCLA, No. 4 USC, No. 5 Washington, No. 6 Stanford, No. 7 Cal, No. 11 Hawaii, No. 12 Utah, No. 17 Santa Clara and No. 19 BYU ahead of Cal Poly in the race for a regional bid. (The Mustangs split with Hawaii but did not play any of the other teams ... although the five-game loss at then-ranked No. 19 Pepperdine could come back to haunt their standing in the region.)
Then again, the NCAA says it doesn’t base its decisions on opinion polls and relies heavily on its own RPI formula, so stay tuned on that one.

As things stand right now, the Cal Poly football team would have a better chance at a home site in the first round since eight of the 16 teams get a home game and the Mustangs have been a top-five team for much of the season.
Then again, the Mustangs (5-1, 2-0) don’t exactly know what to expect from the second half of the season.
While the volleyball team has cruised past five of its seven Big West opponents, the Cal Poly football team still has remaining games with a pair of much-improved Great West Football Conference teams (South Dakota State and unbeaten North Dakota State), Division I-A San Diego State and No. 4 Montana. And the latter of those three contests are on the road.
So again, it’s way too early to be talking about the playoffs.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Maniacs out in full force

Cal Poly head football coach Rich Ellerson called it the “best student crowd I’d ever seen.”
More than 8,400 fans in all, with the most vociferous of them all (a.k.a. the students) jam packed into the bleachers beyond both end zones for the sold-out showdown with rival UC Davis.
The Mustang Maniacs were just that, maniacs.
Chanting, singing, dancing along with the band, serenading the Mustangs to a 23-17 victory in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
The green sea of fans booed and heckled the UC Davis players and their Aggie Pack supporters … even taking it a bit too far, cheering when UC Davis quarterback Jon Grant had the wind knocked out of him on a first-half carry – a low point in what otherwise was an impressive showing by Cal Poly’s sometimes dormant fan base.
“It was great, just great,” Ellerson said. “You know, we’re way over there (in front of the empty west concourse) and it’s still loud. They were definitely into it tonight.”

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A special bond

Cal Poly’s weekend tribute to the 1960 football team helped bring peace and closure to the survivors, friends and family members who were devastated by the Toledo plane crash that killed 18 of their own 46 years ago.
For Norman Gomes, a Cal Poly Hall of Fame wrestler who was friends with many of the players, the recently unveiled Mustang Memorial Plaza symbolizes the “special bond” that took place between those lost, those who survived and those who carry on their legacy.
It also shows Cal Poly’s commitment to remembering this unforgettable part of the university’s history, he said.
“A survivor stood with a family (member) of each deceased during the unveiling and many were shocked to find that many of the survivors harbored guilt over the years for having survived while some did not,” Gomes wrote in a recent e-mail.
The unveiling took place Sept. 29 at the new entrance to Alex G. Spanos Stadium and Mustang Memorial Field, a few hours before the entire team was inducted into the university’s athletic Hall of Fame.
Last Saturday, Mustang Memorial Plaza was unveiled to the public for the first time.
The 15,000-square-foot plaza is built around Roy Harris’ bronze mustang sculpture entitled “Unbridled Spirit.” The statue is the centerpiece of a permanent memorial that includes 18 pillars dedicated to each of the 16 players, booster and team manager who died in the crash.
The copper pillars, which display granite plaques engraved with photos and biographies of each individual, puts off a soft beam of light that can seen throughout the stadium on game nights.
“The Cal Poly families came together,” Gomes concludes, “and as the solar lights on the monuments light up each evening there is peace in the 1960s family.”

Rivalry week is here

No. 5 vs. No. 16.
State school vs. a UC.
A top-five offense going up against a top-five defense.
Great West Football Conference foes Cal Poly vs. UC Davis, the two longtime rivals who split the league title a year ago.
At sold-out Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Saturday.
Does it get any better than this?
If you’re one of the 8,000 or so fans who have a ticket for this game, it should be a good one.
It’s a matchup of one of Division I-AA’s best defense units against a pass-happy Aggies squad that is in the final year of transition from Division II but already looks like a playoff-caliber program.
Cal Poly’s defense is ranked third in the division in yards allowed and ranked No. 1 against the pass and No. 1 in points allowed.
UC Davis, which isn’t officially included in the Division I-AA statistical categories until next season, would rank fourth in passing, 12th in total offense and No. 21 in scoring if included.
Winner goes home with the Golden Horseshoe.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Hall of Fame weekend to remember

Hall of Fame weekend came to a close Saturday night with the Cal Poly football team pulling out a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Southern Utah, 18-14, at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
It was an exciting ending to an emotional couple of days of tributes for the 1960 Cal Poly football team, which had its season cut short by a tragic plane crash that killed 16 players, a student manager and a booster after a loss at Bowling Green.
At halftime of Saturday’s game, survivors and hundreds of friends and family members of the victims met at midfield for the Mustang Memorial Field dedication.
It was a moving tribute that even got announcer Mike Moreno a little choked up.
A day earlier, Mustang Memorial Plaza — located at the new entrance to the stadium — was unveiled shortly before the 1960 team was inducted into the Cal Poly Athletic Hall of Fame.
The general feeling from the few survivors, friends and family members I was able to speak with over the weekend was that the various tributes honoring the team were fitting and greatly appreciated … even if they were a bit overdue in some eyes.

I’d be interested to see what some of our readers thought about the ceremonies …

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

These Mustangs play like the big boys

Ramses Barden, Kenny Chicoine, Kyle Shotwell and Ryan Shotwell.
What do those four Cal Poly football players have in common? Well, in Saturday¹s 17-10 loss to San Jose State, the Cal Poly foursome looked like it belonged at the Division I-A level.
Barden, a 6-foot-6 receiver, made up most of the Mustangs¹ offense in catching seven balls for 110 yards half of Cal Poly¹s 220 yards of offense. He helped the Mustangs avoid a shutout with a 20-yard touchdown catch in the final minute.
Chicoine, a safety who pointed in the direction of his old defensive coordinator David Fipp (San Jose State¹s linebackers coach) after a big fourth-down tackle that ended one Spartans¹ drive, made his 16th career interception one shy of the school record. He also had a team-high 12 tackles
The Shotwell brothers also had big games for the Cal Poly defense. Ryan Shotwell, a freshman defensive end, had a pair of quarterback hurries, two sacks and six total tackles.
Kyle Shotwell, a senior linebacker, had a forced fumble and pass breakup and seven solo tackles (11 total).