In the FCS Huddle: Big Sky gets look at future this weekend

It doesn't mean anything for the Big Sky standings this season, but anyone interested in the future of the conference should pay close attention this weekend.

Cal Poly, Southern Utah and UC Davis all enter Big Sky country on Saturday and it's not a one-time visit, as all three - along with North Dakota - will leave the Great West Football Conference and join the conference named after the open air in Montana next season.

Needless to say, these are more than just any other non-conference tilts.

"It does make a difference with them about to join the league," Montana State coach Rob Ash said. "I'm sure both teams would like to establish bragging rights for next season."

Those teams leaving the soon-to-be-defunct Great West are joining a conference that has impressed recently. The Big Sky won a national championship when Eastern Washington defeated Delaware back in January and opened this season by bagging one of the two FCS-over-FBS upsets, when Sacramento State pulled off an overtime stunner against Oregon State.

Sacramento State, which rose up to No. 12 in The Sports Network/ FCS Top 25, will get a first look at Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen, who will play only one season in the Big Sky, but could be a candidate for offensive player of the year honors in his new conference.

The Great West Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, Sorensen passed for 346 yards in a loss to South Dakota State in Week 1. His head-to-head match-up with Sacramento State quarterback Jeff Fleming will be his first look of many at Big Sky competition.

"Their quarterback is one heck of a player," Sacramento State coach Marshall Sperbeck said. "I also think Jeff has proven to be a good quarterback in his own right. It'll be two good quarterbacks out there battling it out."

In addition to hosting the Hornets this weekend, Southern Utah will visit Weber State and Northern Arizona this season.

While rivalries are likely to be further developed once the transition turns the Big Sky into a 13-team conference, there already is past history between many of the schools, as the two conferences have met 74 times in the past. The Big Sky holds a 40-34 advantage.

The Montana-Cal Poly rivalry could be ratcheted up a notch Saturday, as the teams will meet for the fourth straight season, a meeting that ended poorly for the Grizzlies last September when they were unseated as the then-top- ranked team in the FCS a year ago.

"We have some put some focus on that (game)," Montana coach Robin Pflugrad said. "That was our first road game as a new team and as a new staff, I hope and pray we've grown since then. Cal Poly is an outstanding football team."

It was the first shortcoming in a difficult season for the Grizzlies as they missed the playoffs for the first time after 17 years.

Montana State, a team that made the playoffs last season, will host UC Davis. The visiting Aggies, along with the rest of their former Great West counterparts, are expected to provide some added depth to the Big Sky both on the field and in the classroom.

"I certainly feel that way with Cal Poly and UC Davis, those are tremendous schools, first academically and then on the field," Pflugrad said. "The two California schools make it that much more credible of league academically ... it was a real plus to add those two."

And while official affiliation is a year away, you can mark Saturday as one of the final steps in the transition as Great West teams will be looking to prove they belong in the Big Sky.