The talk of the Big Sky Conference this year is UC Davis. And deservedly so. The Aggies are 8-1 overall with the one loss coming to Stanford and are ranked in the Top 5 nationally. This comes after a 5-6 season.
There's another team in the Big Sky, though, who has made drastic improvements off a 4-7 season and who was UC Davis' closest battle so far this year.
But they're not getting much attention.
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Idaho State is 6-3 overall, which doesn't look spectacular on the surface. But two of those losses were 45-23 to Cal and 48-41 to Liberty, both FBS opponents. The Bengals also have a win against a non-counter opponent, Western State Colorado.
So all three nonconference games can be thrown out the window. The record that stands out is 5-1 against Big Sky opponents (including UND). The lone loss is a 44-37 overtime game at UC Davis, which the Bengals held a 37-22 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Yet the nation seems to be a bit "whatever" about this team. The Bengals are ranked No. 25 in the Coaches Poll and No. 24 in the STATS Media Poll.
You mean to tell me if Montana or Montana State was 5-1 against FCS opponents and almost knocked off a Top 10 team in overtime, they wouldn't be ranked 15th or higher?
Yes, Idaho State's wins aren't overly impressive as far as opponents, although some of them have been dominating performances.
- 25-21 @ UND
- 56-42 vs. NAU
- 62-28 vs. Idaho
- 24-17 vs. Montana State
- 48-45 @ Portland State
But who has UC Davis beaten in conference play besides the Bengals that sticks out? Idaho (44-21), Northern Colorado (49-36), Cal Poly (52-10), Montana (49-21) and NAU (42-20) don't scream wow.
Who has Eastern Washington, ranked in the Top 5 in both national polls, beaten that's so impressive? Cal Poly (70-17), Montana State (34-17), Southern Utah (55-17), Idaho (38-14) and UNC (48-13) doesn't blow anyone away.
Does UC Davis, EWU and Weber, who is also a Top 5 team and has a win over EWU, deserve to be ranked ahead of Idaho State? Of course.
But to have the Bengals barely sniffing a No. 25 ranking is absurd. If you want proof of name recognition being a factor in voting, just look at the Bengals.
No question the voters on the East Coast or down south see 6-3 next to Idaho State and move on to the next team. Meanwhile, a 6-3 record next to Montana would probably make a voter dive into the schedule to see where at in the Top 25 the Griz deserve to be.
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The Bengals are legit, especially offensively. They are balanced with James Madison and Ty Flanagan combining for 1,568 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. Quarterback Tanner Gueller has thrown for 2,634 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His brother Mitch is a top target with 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns while Michael Dean has 810 yards and nine touchdowns.
Their 40.1 points per game is 8th in the FCS and the 523.8 total yards per game is third. If there's one weakness to point out and balance this column, it's the defense allowing 33.3 points per game.
They'll have an opportunity to prove something by hosting Weber in the regular-season finale. Unfortunately, a loss could very well eliminate them from the playoffs because of owning just six Division I wins.
But up to this point, it's borderline insanity how little credit Idaho State is getting. Almost wins don't count, but there's a strong argument that the Bengals should have beaten UC Davis. If that happened, we're talking about Idaho State as a Top 10 team and one of the best stories in the FCS.
But now? A 5-1 team in the Big Sky tied for second with EWU and Weber is barely ranked? That's just wrong.