I have always felt that when UC Davis moved its entire athletic program up to Division I it should have moved its football program all the way to the top level as well. Maybe one day it will, but it doesn’t appear to be on the radar at this point.
While the basketball team, when and if it qualifies for the NCAA tournament, participates at the very highest collegiate level of the sport, the football team competes one rung down in the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision), still known by many as Division I-AA.
The big boys like Cal, Stanford, Notre Dame and Alabama knock heads in the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision), although they occasionally drop down to the FCS in search of an easy win to pad their win-loss record.
The Aggies currently compete in the Big Sky Conference, which recently expanded to an unwieldy 13 teams, without divisions. As things sit now, each school plays nine conference opponents, leaving two or three Saturdays a season for nonconference games.
However, for a variety of reasons, the Aggies have elected to play two of their nonconference games this season against Big Sky foes, with the understanding that the results of those games will not count in the conference standings.
Turns out to have been a brilliant decision by the Aggie brass, given that the Aggies lost both “nonconference” games to Big Sky opponents Northern Arizona and Portland State, but now share the league lead with two others after hammering Idaho State and Southern Utah on consecutive Saturdays.
Interestingly, Portland State, which ran all over the Aggies, 41-10, several weeks ago, is now in a four-way tie for last place with an 0-2 mark.
Are the Aggies truly the best team in this difficult conference? Not likely. But they’ll get a great test of that at home Saturday when perennial FCS power Montana comes to town.
The Griz have several national championships under their belt and regularly lead the nation’s FCS schools in attendance at 25,000-seat Washington-Grizzly Stadium. In their season opener this fall they set a school record by jamming 26,293 fans into their sparkling facility for a game against Appalachian State. If you’ve never seen a Griz game at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, put it on your bucket list.
Montana will be a heavy favorite in Saturday’s game at Aggie Stadium, given that the Griz just whipped Portland State, 55-27, a team that beat the Aggies by 31 points. Put those two scores together and the Griz are 59 points better than the local heroes.
Clearly, that’s not how it works, but if the oddsmakers in Reno were to put a line on this game, they’d take Montana by three touchdowns.
Montana is one of those schools that thought long and hard several years ago about leaving I-AA football for the big time. It even had a conference or two pursuing them and their rabid fan base. But for now, at least, they’ve decided to stay put. Years and years ago, some may remember, Montana was a card-carrying member of the old Pacific Coast Conference, the forerunner of the current Pac-12.
Somewhere down the road, the Pac-12 would seem to be an ideal fit for UC Davis. If competitive programs can be put together in Eugene, Corvallis and Pullman, one can certainly be put together at a world-class institution like UC Davis.
A number of former Aggie opponents from their long-ago Division II glory days have successfully made the transition, the most prominent being Boise State, now coached by former Aggie quarterback Chris Petersen.
Other familiar names that made the switch are Fresno State, San Diego State and University of Nevada, all public institutions like Boise State, but none with the alumni base, resources, prestige or prime location of a UC Davis.
Hopefully, one day we’ll be hosting Stanford and Cal and Boise State at an expanded Aggie Stadium. Until then, the Griz are coming to town.
— Reach Bob Dunning at firstname.lastname@example.org