Thursday, November 5, 2009

On the Road with ISU Soccer: Prepartion for the Big Sky Tournament

The Bengal soccer team will play in its sixth Big Sky Conference tournament this Friday, November 6 at the PCC-Rock Creek at 2:30 pm MT. Idaho State left for the tournament on Wednesday morning. For fans who don't want to miss a minute of the action here is a recap of what the Bengals have been up to since they left Pocatello.

Idaho State pulled out of the Davis Field parking lot at 9:30 a.m on Wednesday and headed West to Boise. The Bengals pulled into Meridian High School in the afternoon and held practice on their field. It was a special treat for Alishia Cairl because she is a graduate of Meridian High and was able to partake in a little bit of a homecoming. The field was also a nice advantage for all the Bengals as Meridian High houses an artificial turf similar what the Bengals will be playing on in the Big Sky tournament.

It was a good practice as the Bengals are ready to fight for the championship. Everyone was in high spirits. After a quick lunch from Subway ISU hit the road again with Pendleton, Oregon as the destination (the hometown of ISU's graduate assistant Jaime Schroeder. Who is extremely jealous that she could not make the trip. The Bengals rolled into town with enough time to grab dinner at Shari's before heading to bed.

ISU hit the road again in the morning on Thursday arriving in Portland around noon. The girls grabbed lunch in town before heading to the Portland State football/soccer practice field. The Bengals had a light practice, but it was full of intensity. I heard several players comment about how they couldn't wait to play Eastern Washington or how the players wanted to get redemption from their previous loss to the Eagles in a 1-0 matchup in Cheney, Wash.

Junior Lauren Hough seemed especially fired up about the game and showed it by being able to "write" ISU in the practice field turf when she drew the letters with her foot on the artificial field. I was able to take several photos of ISU's practice at Portland State today so fans could follow along which are scattered throughout this blog post. Fans can also follow the Bengals progress during the semifinals of the Big Sky tournament on Portland State's live stats.

During the practice I was able to talk to Matt Scheerer, the Portland State Sports Information Director (SID) and was assured that he will do all he can to get game photos as soon as the matches are over. Thought Matt is able to provide live stats, he will be the only one with Internet capability as he will be directly connected, while I on the other hand will be forced to wait until we return to the hotel to post my story.

Currently the Bengals are tucked in their beds as they attempt to get a good night's rest before the semifinal game. Surely the Bengals will be having sweet dreams of victory that will pump them up for tomorrow's match.

--Katie Zigars
ISU Assistant SID

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

It's Been a While....

First off, sorry I have not blogged much at all, but I'm trying to get this basketball media guide off my plate, which I've almost done. Speaking of basketball, my long strange journey ended last night, but not without a scare.

For those that care of such things, I write the stories for softball, football, and men's basketball ... well, it has been 192 days since the last win I got to write about, and that was on April 25 when the softball team came from behind to score a run in the bottom of the seventh and defeat Utah Valley 9-8. To put it in other terms, I hadn't had the cake from my 39th birthday yet (I had it that night).

Obviously I haven't written a winning story for football, and so I enjoyed last night, even if the team gave me a heart attack first.

The positives from last night's basketball game? The offense. True, they had overtime, but the team still scored 75 points in regulation. ISU moved the ball around a bit, and the combination of Gilchrest and Morgan driving to the basket looks unstoppable at times. Gilchrest can finish at the rim much like Marquis Poole did for the Bengals in the early 2000s, but he is probably a better long range shooter as well, as evidenced by how calmly he hit the tying three with 12.0 left.

Other positives...Deividas Busma with a double-double. Now granted, he should get some rebounds being 7-0, but his 15 points were crucial. Also, Sherrod Baldwin looks like he has made the leap from freshman to sophomore, not unlike Morgan did a few years ago.

That brings me to another point....seriously, how good is Joe O'Brien, and Geoff Alexander in recruiting? All nine guys that played last night can absolutely play, and they were missing Demetrius Monroe (injury) and Eric Segert (suspension). They have rarely missed in their time here at ISU.

Last overtime win. Yeah, yeah, it's an exhibition game, but remember ISU played three OT games in a row last year in games 2, 3, and 4, and lost them all. Don't discount getting the chance to practice that situation for real yesterday.

The negatives...hmmmm, the olay defense at times in the post was not comforting. UCCS scored 40 points in the paint, and that's just too many, but that will get corrected. As will Gilchrest dunking in pregame warmups and earning a technical before the game ever started. That will not fly in the regular season, but again, it'll be taken care of.

Life does go on here in the athletic department, and we are busy...Katie is off with the soccer team to head to Portland for the conference tournament, so let's give some kudos to Allison Gibson, who rebounded from a 3-12-4 year with a 90-7 campaign that isn't done yet. The team gets to face Eastern Washington in the surprise conference tournament matchup of possibly all-time (ISU was picked seventh in the preseason one slot ahead of Eastern, who was slated for last...that's the 2-3 game!). Should ISU get past Eastern, they would face either Northern Arizona or host Portland State in the finals. No radio coverage, but Portland State's website has the livestats going.

One of the things I get to do is vote for the nation poll in the FCS, and if you saw this week's poll, the fourth place team, Villanova, got one first place first place vote, despite a 28-024 loss to New Hampshire like three weeks ago. Why am I not voting for Richmond or Montana number one? there is just something about Villanova this year...I think that loss to New Hampshire was so close, and at the time I had New Hampshire #1 and Villanova #2, so I didn't move them out of the two slot because of that loss. New Hampshire dropped when I thought they had a bad loss losing 23-17 to a UMass team that is 1-3 in their last four...that one being that win. So Villanova has the top spot in my poll, which looks like this...




4.William & Mary

5.Southern Illinois


7.New Hampshire

8.South Carolina St.

9.Appalachian St.

10.South Dakota St.

11.McNeese St.

12.Eastern Washington


14.Northern Iowa

15.Eastern Illinois

16.Holy Cross

17.Montana St.


19.Stephen F. Austin

20.Weber St.

21.Central Arkansas

22.Florida A&M


24.Southern Utah

25.Eastern Kentucky

(Afternoon edit): Just a little late edit here, but I'd also like to point out that I got slightly ridiculed on e-griz for this (I guess because I have Montana third...), but Villanova is #1 in the Sagarin ratings, so I'm not that off base. Also, for those e-grizzers that wander over here...I'm not Bengal, I'm ISUSID, and Brad Bugger our color guy for radio wrote the Griz posting ... he gets those kudos, not me.

Jared Allen is in town this week, guaranteeing that a few more fans will show up, and a few more people will want his autograph (I'm getting calls and requests about it left and right). The bottom line is this cool is it that the NFL leader is sacks is an Idaho State guy?

OK, good luck with soccer....back to the guide!

-Frank Mercogliano
(seeking to serve, not just survive)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How Many More Times Will Griz Visit?

No Big Sky Conference athletic program program benefitted more from the departures of the University of Nevada, Boise State University and the University of Idaho in the 1990s than did the Montana Grizzlies. And no Big Sky athletic department has suffered more from their departures than has Idaho State's.

As I noted in this blog space last summer, until last season, Nevada (71 percent), Boise State (65 percent) and Idaho (63 percent) had the all-time winningest records in Big Sky football competition. The Griz, who come lumbering into Holt Arena in search of a 12th consecutive conference championship on Saturday afternoon, edged pass the Vandals with a 7-1 mark last fall, which put them at a 64 percent winning clip coming into this season. Prior to 1996, when BSU and Idaho left the league (Nevada had departed a few years earlier), Montana had compiled a 52 percent winning percentage in Big Sky play. With their 5-0 mark this year, the Griz have gone 91-13 in the league since 1996 -- 87.5 percent.

The Griz have steadfastly built on a foundation that was already in place -- whether by good planning, happy coincidence or both -- when the Big Sky's Big Three departed. That foundation included a new stadium, a progressive coach with a wide-open offensive philosophy, a tremendous, home-grown quarterback and a recruiting and fan base both ready to explode. And explode the Griz did -- to bigger and better facilities, larger and more fanatic crowds, and consistently talented and productive football teams. As befitting their mascot, the Griz took their place atop the Big Sky Conference food chain, at least when it came to the bellweather sport of football.

Idaho State, meanwhile, has lost its two natural rivals and a good Nevada program, all of whom attracted local crowds and brought fans of their own. It's no coincidence that Idaho State's all-time largest crowd for football came against BSU, and it's largest regular-season basketball home gathering was for the Vandals. The Big Sky has replaced these teams that were guaranteed draws no matter how bad the Bengals might be in a particular year with Sacramento State, Portland State and Northern Colorado -- three teams no one in southeastern Idaho cares about, and who bring no fans of their own. In basketball, meanwhile, BSU and Idaho games that used to draw 5,000 or more per game as conference affairs are just like most other non-conference games these days, with the Broncos and Vandals attracting fewer than 3,000 during recent visits to Pocatello.

I bring all of this up because, with Montana's crushing of wanna-be contender Weber State on Saturday, the inevitable subject of how long the Grizzlies are willing to continue to put up with their inferior conference brethern has arisen once more. Bill Speltz of the Missoulian wrote a column Sunday with the headline, "Griz have what it takes to start thinking bigger." The upshot of the column was that it's time for Montana to start preparing to move to the Western Athletic Conference when the NCAA moratorium on such moves ends in August of 2011. UM Athletic Director Jim O'Day was quoted as saying the Griz weren't actively making such plans, but added, "...You always have to keep your options open."

Now, if you want to generate a viral food-fight in Griz Nation, just get on their message board and type in the words, "It's time to move up to Division I." Really, that's all it takes to generate 150 responses, both pro and con, and you can do it just about any day you're really bored. To say the subject has been hashed and rehashed is like suggesting Idaho State's football team has a few problems on offense. Conference and ISU administrators have heard so much speculation about whether Montana and its sister institution, Montana State, might head for the WAC they have grown immune to it. But I'm here to suggest that those people, particularly at Idaho State, ought to start taking that possibility seriously.

There are some folks in Missoula who will tell you the die is already cast. They believe the joint proposal by the UM and the community to host the 2010 FCS National Championship game in Missoula (in January 2011) is a thinly veiled attempt to begin the upgrades to the press box, visiting lockerrooms and other facilities that will be necessary if Montana moves up to the WAC. They believe that a number of traditional FCS powers are already making plans to jump once the moratorium expires and the Griz do not want to be left without options if their national "peers" take the plunge. O'Day seems to be alluding to that possibility when he tells the Missoulian, "When it ends, you're going to see a lot of movement. I think you have a lot of teams, even in the FCS, who are in the stage of study and are starting to look at what they should do."

Then, in the next breath, O'Day says the Grizzlies are not one of them. Do you believe him? It doesn't really matter if you do, prudence suggests that Idaho State officials should begin seriously considering what a future would look like without Montana -- and very likely, Montana State -- on the schedule. The two Montana schools are really the glue to the Big Sky, and some folks envision the league shattering in so many parts if they go. Would current Big Sky schools start looking for better geographical fits? Would some suggest dropping football? What would supply the attracting force to pull the remaining schools together?

Unfortunately for Idaho State and the rest of the left-behinds, a future Big Sky without the two Montana schools is not very appealing. Sure, you could start adding new members -- Southern Utah, the Dakota schools, Dixie State, Utah Valley, etc. But the basic fabric of the conference -- heck, the "Big Sky" state itself -- would be gone. You'd be losing two more of the original rivals that are guaranteed to attract local fans and bring fans of their own, and replacing them with more schools no one cares about, and who won't bring any fans to speak of.

I don't think there is an obvious or easy path for ISU and the rest of the league should one or both of the Montanas eventually leave the conference. But I do know that ISU's response the last time the league suffered a large defection -- essentially, do nothing and plod on -- would be unacceptable this time around. I would strongly suggest that some deep strategic thinking needs to be done, and not just based on whether or not the Montanas stay. As I mentioned in a previous blog, ISU needs to develop a sustained identity for its athletic programs, in particular the football program. It needs to identify what makes ISU's programs distinctive and how they can be best positioned for the long haul -- in or/out of the Big Sky, with or/without the two Montanas.

The timing for such a study couldn't be better. John Zamberlin has been given two years to figure out how to revive the Idaho State football program. And the NCAA has given the Big Sky two years to plan how to hold onto the Montanas -- or how to survive without them.

Shots in the Dark
The playoff hopes of two Big Sky teams took near-fatal plunges last week: Northern Arizona, who lost to Sac State, and Weber State, who fell at Montana. I picked the later, missed on the former, and finished 3-1 overall. This week, Montana State tries to keep its playoff hopes alive and NAU, well hopefully they stay in Memphis and get a chance to see Graceland, like we ISU fans did when we visited Ole Miss in 1996. Here are this week's shots in the dark:
Sacramento State at Northern Colorado: Both schools got big home wins last week. The Bears, at 3-6, just might save Scott Downing's job with a fourth win. But I'm picking the Hornets to run their record to 4-0 against UNC, even on the road. Sac just has too many offensive weapons, even against a pretty good Bear defense.
Montana State at Portland State: The Bobcats kept their playoff hopes alive with a win over the Bengals last week, now they get another conference bottom feeder. Even though this is on the road, MSU will win its fourth straight over the Vikings.
Northern Arizona at Mississippi: When the Bengals played Ole Miss 13 years ago, the Rebels were coming off probation and were in rebuilding mode. Ole Miss still dominated the game. This year's version of the Rebels is a more legitimate SEC complement. They'll win handily.
--Brad B.
And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.