If Montana head coach Bobby Hauck needs any reminder just how hard it’s been to sustain success in the Big Sky Conference since his first seven-year stint in the league, he need look no further than his opponent last week and this week.
Cal Poly shared the league title in 2012, its first year in the league. The Mustangs pushed for playoff spots in 2014 and 2015 before qualifying for the FCS playoffs in 2016. But since a 35-14 home loss to San Diego in the first round of the postseason two years ago, the Mustangs have not been able to find any sort of competitive consistency. Last season, Cal Poly won one game, beating a Portland State team that went winless. The Mustangs were on the wrong end of a 48-28 drubbing from Hauck’s Griz last week.
Meanwhile, Portland State had a major breakthrough in Bruce Barnum’s first season at the helm in 2015. The Vikings won nine games that season, beating five ranked FCS opponents and two FBS squads on the way to earning the No. 5 seed in the FCS playoffs. A 3-8 season, a 2-9 campaign and last season’s 0-11 nightmare followed.
Hauck dominated the Big Sky Conference, winning seven straight league titles and posting a 47-6 record against the rest of the league. Since he left following the 2009 season, Eastern Washington has won or shared five league titles. But a good portion of the rest of the league has also has risen to success, only to fall back to the pack. Montana State won or shared three straight league titles between 2010 and 2012. Since the league absorbed the Great West in 2012, Southern Utah has shared a league title, as has North Dakota. Weber State got in the mix last season. And Montana shared the 2011 title with the Bobcats only to have the banner negated because of NCAA violations.
The point is that no one has dominated the league like the Grizzlies did in Hauck’s first tenure since Hauck left for UNLV. Montana hosts Portland State on Saturday in UM’s homecoming game and the fourth of six home games on the schedule for the Griz. UM is looking for its fifth win in six outings including its third straight to begin Hauck’s second tenure in the league. Portland State is looking for its first conference victory since a 51-29 win over UC Davis on November 5 of 2016. That win also marks PSU’s last against a Division I opponent. The Vikings’ only win this season is a 63-14 win over the College of Idaho, an NAIA school from the Frontier Conference.
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