Oct. 27—The Big Sky Conference is still one of the best in the Football Championship Subdivision.
In this week's Stats Perform FCS Top 25 poll, five teams from the conference were represented, including four in the top 10.
Here's what to know about the Big Sky heading into this weekend:
One is not like the other
Montana State stands alone as the top team in the Big Sky at 4-0 in conference play.
The Bobcats can further solidify their status as the best team in the league with a win against Idaho (3-1) on Saturday at the P1FCU Kibbie Dome.
A win for Montana State will put it closer to clinching a regular-season conference title.
The two teams closest to the Bobcats in terms of conference record are the aforementioned Vandals, Montana and Idaho State.
All of the Bengals wins so far have come against conference foes and they've looked good doing it.
Idaho State's lone conference loss was a 28-20 decision against Montana on Sept. 30. Since then, the Bengals (3-4, 3-1) have been able to rattle off two consecutive conference victories against Eastern Washington and Portland State. ISU also notched a 35-21 victory over Northern Colorado to open its conference slate on Sept. 23.
While the Bengals seem to be in some sort of renaissance under first-year coach Cody Hawkins, they might be in for a reality check this week against No. 6 Sacramento State.
Idaho State is seemingly heading in the right direction. But its three conference wins came against basement dwellers, and its one loss was to an actual postseason contender. This might've been something that stuck out to the FCS playoff committee, as ISU didn't receive a single vote in the Top-25 poll.
This end-of-season stretch for the Bengals will be their hardest yet, having to play Sac State, Idaho and UC Davis in three of their final four games.
What's up with the Grizzlies and Vandals?
Idaho and Montana battled to an instant classic two weeks ago, with the Grizzlies etching out a 23-21 win over the Vandals.
That result greatly benefited Montana in its race for a possible conference title.
For Idaho, the loss hurt. But the path to the postseason is still wide open for both squads.
The Vandals' chances of winning the Big Sky championship seem bleak following the Montana loss. But an upset win against Montana State on Saturday will do wonders for their chances. It'll need some help from Montana's opponents in the meantime.
A win for Idaho and a win for Montana this week (which plays winless Northern Colorado) will make things a three-way tie for the top of the conference between Montana, Idaho and Montana State, given that Sac State takes care of business against ISU this week as well.
The Griz would technically, at that point, have the tiebreakers to be considered the top team. But it'll have the most daunting schedule yet to come, with the Hornets and Bobcats still to be played.
Idaho, on the other hand, has a pretty easy stretch to close the year, playing Northern Colorado, Weber State and Idaho State.
So, in essence, a win against the Bobcats could put the Vandals in the driver's seat for an opportunity at a Big Sky title. But a loss probably doesn't hurt their postseason chances.
The middle of the pack
As for the teams that are currently sporting a 2-2 conference record, the road to the playoffs is a little more difficult.
The two squads that seemingly have the best chances are Sac State (5-2, 2-2) and No. 25 UC Davis (4-3, 2-2).
The Hornets own a 30-23 Football Bowl Subdivision win over Stanford on Sept. 16, which will carry some weight. But they've also fallen to Idaho (36-27; Sept. 23) and Montana State (42-30; Oct. 21). With four games left in the season, Sac State really only needs to collect two more wins to make it to the dance, and with Idaho State, Montana, Cal Poly and UC Davis on the docket, it's definitely possible.
UC Davis' climb might seem a bit more uphill, but its schedule, in comparison to Sac State, is a little easier.
The big thing for the Aggies is finding some sort of consistency, especially this late in the season.
UC Davis will play Northern Arizona, Portland State and Idaho State, which will become must-win games if it wants to stay in the postseason race.
The Aggies' season will end Nov. 18 at home against Sac State, which might end up being for the final playoff berth out of the Big Sky Conference.
Pixley may be contacted at (208) 848-2290, email@example.com or on Twitter @TreebTalks.