Big Sky Conference

Fifth-seeded ‘Cats, No. 6 Griz among four seeded Big Sky teams in FCS playoffs


For the first time ever, the Big Sky Conference received four seeds in the 24-team FCS Playoff field.

Weber State, Sacramento State, Montana State and Montana will receive first-round byes in the FCS Playoffs.

Weber State and Sacramento State posted 7-1 records in league play, sharing the conference championship. The Wildcats have now won or shared the last three Big Sky titles. WSU takes a 9-3 record, including 8-1 against FCS opponents, into the playoffs as the No. 3 seed. This is the fourth straight postseason appearance and the sixth in school history.

Sac State’s lone league loss came at the hands of the Wildcats. The Hornets went 9-3 overall, including 8-1 against FCS opponents. Sac will be the No. 4 seed. The Hornets earned their first FCS playoff berth and first league title in school history by defeating Eastern Washington, Montana State and Montana in consecutive weeks to begin league play.

Montana State sent shockwaves through the FCS with a 48-14 domination of No. 3 Montana on Saturday. That rivalry game win, MSU’s fourth straight over the Griz, gives MSU a 6-2 record in league play and a 9-3 mark overall that includes nine wins over FCS teams. The Bobcats take the No. 5 seed into the playoffs, the first time the Bobcats have earned a playoff seed since 2012. The playoff appearance is the 11th in school history.

“You get on one side of the bracket or you get on the other side of the bracket. With four seeded teams from the Big Sky Conference, in a quarterfinal matchup there’s  the potential for all four of us to play one another,” MSU fourth-year head coach Jeff Choate said.

“We’re going to play (one of) a couple of teams from the East Coast (Central Connecticut  State and Albany in the second round) so weather isn’t as big of a factor (for the opponent). They’re going to have some weather they have to contend with, but they do have to travel a good ways. We’ll start digging in on those two and see what we can find out about them.”

Montana State wide receiver Kevin Kassis (85) scores a -yard touchdown/by Jason Bacaj

The Griz destroyed Weber State two weeks ago in Missoula, building a 35-3 lead before cruising to a 35-16 victory. Seven days later, the Griz got taken apart by the Bobcats. But a resume that includes nine FCS wins and only FCS losses to the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds still earned the Grizzlies the No. 6 seed. The playoff bid is the 24th all-time for Montana and snaps a three-game absence.

All four Big Sky teams posted 9-3 records this season. Sac State played Arizona State and Fresno State of the FBS. Weber State pushed San Diego State and Nevada to the brink. Montana State opened its season at Texas Tech and Montana was surprisingly competitive with Oregon.

The only loss of the four that did not come against one another or an FBS came when Montana State fell 16-12 at North Dakota. UND, playing its second and final season as an FCS independent, made the playoffs as an at-large team with a 7-4 record.

“They mentioned it a couple of times, they talked about three-loss teams,” Choate said. “Two of the losses Weber has are to FBS opponents, one of Montana’s losses is to an FBS opponent, one of our losses is to an FBS opponent. (Sacramento State also lost to two FBS opponents.) We beat each other up a little bit, but I think the committee recognized the quality of the league overall and rewarded us with those seeds.”

North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman/by Jason Bacaj

North Dakota State brings a 25-game home winning streak, a 33-game winning streak overall into an FCS-best 10th straight playoff appearance. The Bison (12-0) are the No. 1 seed for the fifth time in the last nine years. NDSU is chasing its eighth championship in the last nine seasons. The Bison are 133-13 this decade, including 124-8 since the first championship season in 2011.

James Madison is into the playoffs for the sixth year in a row and the 16th time overall, the fourth-most of any team in the field. The second-seeded Dukes are the only team other than NDSU to win a national championship over the last eight years. JMU beat NDSU 27-17 in Fargo in the semifinals before besting Youngstown State 28-14 in 2016. James Madison lost 17-13 to North Dakota State in the 2017 championship game.

South Dakota State is the No. 7 seed despite falling 24-21 to South Dakota. SDSU lost three of its last five and take an 8-4 record into its eighth straight postseason. SDSU’s 38-7 win over No. 6 Northern Iowa two weeks ago forced the Panthers out of a playoff seed. The Panthers will host San Diego with a chance to play SDSU for the second time in a month. UNI has made the playoffs 21 times, second only to Montana all-time.

Central Arkansas is the No. 8 seed and one of three Southland Conference teams in the bracket. UCA has wins over FBS Western Kentucky and No. 18 Austin Peay early in the season. The 9-3 Bears also lost to Southeastern Louisiana and No. 19 Nicholls.

Nicholls hosts UND with the winner playing at NDSU. No. 12 Southeast Missouri State (9-3), who lost 38-17 to MSU in Bozeman, will host No. 13 Illinois State (8-4). The winner will play at Central Arkansas.

Montana running back Marcus Knight tackled by Montana State safety Brayden Konkol (41)/by Brooks Nuanez

Montana State will host the winner of No. 17 Central Connecticut State (11-1) and No. 25 Albany (8-4). No. 16 Furman (8-4) plays at No. 18 Austin Peay (9-3) with the winner playing at Sacramento State. Furman has made the playoffs 18 times.

No. 11 Wofford (8-3) hosts No. 15 Kennesaw State (10-2) with the winner heading to Ogden, Utah to play Weber State. Southeastern Louisiana hosts No. 8 Villanova (9-3) with the winner heading to Missoula. Nova has made the playoffs 13 times, fifth-most in the field.

No. 14 Monmouth (10-2),a team that has won eight straight games since losing 47-27 to Montana in Missoula, will host Holy Cross. The winner will play at James Madison.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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