The forecast for Greeley, Colo. where the Bengals and Northern Colorado kick off at 1:37 p.m. Saturday is a high of 49 degrees, a 40 percent chance of rain or snow, and 10 to 15 MPH winds out of the north. Now that's football weather. Oh yeah, the Bears play outside, my friend.
Who is better equipped to handle a muddy field? Tough to say, neither one of these teams has been very successful running the football, which is typically what you expect teams to do when the ball is too slippery to throw accurately. The Bengals are 7th in the Big Sky in running per game, the Bears eighth. On the flip side, neither team has been too good in stopping the run, either, with the Bengals dead last in run defense, NCU No. 7. ISU's run defense has improved in the last two weeks, however, with the Bengals reducing their opponents' average rushing by almost 40 yards per game.
The other wild card, of course, is who the Bengals will line up on defense. The rash of injuries, particularly on the defensive line, means we will likely see some new names in new places on Saturday.
Speaking of being ill prepared for bad weather, Portland State's run-and-shoot offense is averaging a whopping 21.6 rushing yards per game this year. (Of course, when you put up 623 passing yards in one game, rushing becomes such a little thing.) The good news is PSU won't have to worry about bad weather this week, as the Vikings play inside the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff. The bad news is they are taking on a Northern Arizona team that is giving up only 11.4 rushing yards per game. The PSU running game vs. the Axer run defense is something akin to matching up the immovable object and the wet noodle. Run, schmun. I expect Viking QB Drew Hubel to put it up 70 times against the Axers on Saturday.
Before the season, most folks pointed to this weekend's matchup between Montana and EWU in Cheney as the game of the year in the Big Sky. After last week's upsets, though, it's not even the game of the week. That honor belongs to the Weber State at Montana State game, where two of the three remaining unbeatens in the Big Sky matchup. Ordinarily, I'd say inclement weather and poor field conditions would give the Bobcats an edge, but the Wildcats proved they were excellent mudders in beating Montana in the slop in Ogden last week. WSU also has the incomparable Trevyn Smith, a true workhorse in the backfield. In the battle of Cats, I think Smith tips the scales to the Wilds over the Bobs.
And what to make of that Montana-EWU game? Wow, two teams really hurting on defense recently (Montana has given up 80 points in the last two weeks, EWU 88). I tell you, the Big Sky is not for the feint of heart this year. This is a return to the "good old days" of the late 1990s and early 2000s, when high-scoring shootouts were the norm. I love Eastern QB Matt Nichols, so I'm going to go with the Eagles in this one, 45-38.
And back to NAU for just a moment. In a year when no one in the Big Sky is seemingly playing defense, the Axers are playing it terrifically. In addition to leading the nation in rushing defense, NAU is No. 11 in scoring D and 15th in total defense. NAU hired Jerome Souers away from Montana a decade ago with the idea that stealing the Griz's D coordinator would tip the scales in the offensively-obsessed BSC. Could this finally be the year that Souers takes the crown away from his former employer? The stage certainly seems set for SOMEONE to step up and win a crown other than Montana for the first time in a decade. Why not the Axers?
And thanks for being a Bengal fan. It ain't always easy, but it's always fun.
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