This one's going to be big.
When sixth-ranked Eastern Washington invades Bobcat Stadium to take on No. 2 Montana State on Saturday, much will be on the line. The winner will gain a big measure of momentum in the race for the Big Sky Conference title, not to mention the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Here's how it sets up: MSU brings a 6-0 record into the game, while Eastern Washington is 4-1. But both teams are 3-0 in the conference. The Bobcats have won two straight over EWU, but the Eagles won the seven previous meetings.
The teams shared the 2010 Big Sky championship, the year the Eagles went on to win the national title. MSU is 17-2 in conference games since the start of that year, while EWU is 15-4 in the league and 25-6 overall in that span.
For the Bobcats, the question is this -- How do you contain Eagles QB Vernon Adams? Adams, a redshirt freshman, has taken the league by storm since he was inserted into the starting role a few weeks back. A dual-threat player, Adams has a league-best efficiency rating of 167.3 and is completing 64.7 percent of his passes with seven TDs and only one interception.
But the Eagles are trying to find a way to slow MSU's offense, led by QB DeNarius McGhee. The Bobcats lead the Big Sky in scoring (37.2) and are especially dominant offensively at Bobcat Stadium. MSU averages 418.7 yards and 32.2 points per game in the last four seasons on its home turf. Beyond that, the Cats lead the league in third down conversions (56.2%).
Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin, whose team is coming off a 55-17 dismantling of North Dakota, said the following about the upcoming showdown with MSU:
“This game is huge -- I can’t wait. I love these big games, and our players do too. We’ll enjoy the North Dakota win for a day, but believe me, I’m already thinking about Montana State because they are the real deal. They are a great team and we know that, but it’s going to be an exciting opportunity for our program.”
I'll talk to Bobcats coach Rob Ash later this week, and I'm sure his sentiments will be the same. If you want to win the conference title, these are the games you have to get.
If MSU is looking for positive trends, there's this: The Bobcats have lost just one home game to a Big Sky opponent since the start of the 2010 season.