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).

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