Unfortunately, the last thing left to play for as Idaho State closes its football season Saturday is the same thing the Bengals had left at this time last year: a win. ISU tries to avoid an o-fer with a victory over Portland State Saturday in Holt Arena, the second straight year the Bengals have gone into the season finale winless. Fortunately, they've drawn in the Vikings probably the only team that comes close to the Bengals in futility.
When Portland State splashed to a 28-10 loss to Montana State on Saturday (isn't that a great photo above, by the way?), PSU ended its home season at 1-5, their only home win over D-II Southern Oregon. The Vikings did get a road win this year, at Northern Colorado, and stand 1-6 in Big Sky play. Since Jerry Glanville was hired as PSU's head coach, he's gone 9-23 overall, 7-16 in conference play.
Granted, all of those numbers are still better than Idaho State Coach John Zambelin's. But at least the Vikings' misery index is in the same neighborhood as the Bengals'. When you look at what I call "the first page" of the Big Sky Conference statistics (scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense, total defense, etc.), both ISU and PSU rank in the bottom seven in eight of the ten categories. The Bengals rank higher than last in only two: pass defense (fourth) and pass defense efficiency (fifth). PSU ranks higher than seventh in only pass offense (fifth) and rushing defense (fourth).
The PSU-ISU series has been a remarkably balanced one over the seasons -- the home team has won nine straight times in the series, and Zamberlin's second Big Sky win two seasons ago came against the Vikings in Holt. The two programs have matched up so well over the seasons, even that horrible 1998 ISU team got a road win over the Vikings, 43-41, on DeRonn Finley's dramatic kick-off return for a touchdown.
These are two programs clearly trying to discern a logical path forward, not just a feel-good win to end two long and painful seasons. Idaho State has extended Zamberlin's contract for two years and the Bengals almost put together a win for the ages over Montana last week, but the coaching staff knows they have a lot of long-term issues that are going to have to be addressed sooner, rather than later.
The Vikings' Glanville experiment hasn't exactly been a hit, either. Attendance is down by about 20 percent this year for a team that just doesn't seem to be making any serious headway in becoming a contender on the field, or a football program taken with any seriousness in the PAC 10-dominated Portland sports scene. As talk about the future of the Montana schools and the Big Sky Conference gets serious over the next two years, neither PSU nor ISU look to be in particularly envious positions.
No sense worrying about the future, though. As the Bengals showed when they scared the crap out of Montana on Saturday, if you live in the moment good things can happen. If ISU's coaching staff can recapture some of that lighting they bottled with their play-calling and game-planning last week, the Bengals could escape the clutches of an 0-11 season yet again. That won't make everything magically better all of a sudden, but it's sure preferrable to the alternative.
Sacramento State at Montana State: I'll cut to the chase and tell you right up front that I'm going with the Bobcats, but I sure don't feel good about it. This infernal quarterback switching between Iddins and Kempf drives me crazy and I don't even life in Bozeman. I can't imagine what it's doing to the Bobcats. And the Hornets are playing good football -- they'll finish with at least a .500 conference record for the first time since 2006. But they also gave up 35 points to Northern Colorado, and I have to think the Bobcat running game will get it done on Saturday and keep MSU's playoff hopes alive.
Northern Arizona at Weber State: This is a tantalizing one, the game of the day in the Big Sky matching two teams who are about as close as you can get statistically -- and with high stakes -- the loser is effectively out of the playoff hunt. I pored over the stats looking for a discriminator and I really couldn't find one. Home field? Well, NAU won in Ogden the last time the Axers were here. It's really pick your poison, but I'm going with the Wildcats because I think Cameron Higgins is too proud to let this one get away. He's got to still be stinging after his poor performance in Missoula last week and he had a week off to think about it.
Eastern Washington at Southern Utah: With their arms still firmly wrapped around their playoff hopes, Cedar City, Utah is really the last place the Eagles want to be travelling this weekend. A non-conference road game in the middle of nowhere against a team that has put up 33 points a game against a pretty good schedule? Nah, pass. But that's exactly where the Eagles find themselves. The Thunderbirds' defense may not be the greatest in the world, but their high-powered passing game will force Eastern to try to outscore them. EWU's Taiwan Jones should be the difference maker in this one, but you know, I'd pay to watch these offenses go at it. Just not in Cedar City....
Basketball's early signing period starts tomorrow (11/11), and both ISU's men's and women's teams expect to sign recruits during the one-week period. Bengal men's coach Joe O'Brien told me last night he expects to sign at least one player this week, and he's holding out hope for a second. Bengal women's coach Seton Sobolewski told me last week he's got commitments from three players, including a point guard from southeastern Idaho. He also said he was undecided about taking a fourth player in the early period.
And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it always easy, but it's always fun.