Enterprise staff writer
Watching a league foe pick up a big nonconference win Ñ such as Great West Football Conference member South Dakota beating Minnesota or Cal Poly downing Montana Ñ naturally brings mixed emotion for a team.
So while UC Davis head coach Bob Biggs or North DakotaÕs Chris Mussman are happy because those victories help boost the profile of the Great West, they also realize they still have to face the Coyotes and the Mustangs later in the season.
ÒI think itÕs awesome,Ó Biggs said during MondayÕs Great West teleconference. ÒAnytime you can beat a Big 10 team, thatÕs a tremendous accomplishment, and to beat Montana, thatÕs a great accomplishment. But on the flip side, you realize youÕre going to have to play those guys, too.Ó
Only three weeks into the year, the Great West already has no shortage of huge victories. The most impressive came when South Dakota traveled east and took down the Football Bowl Subdivision Golden Gophers, 41-38. The victory vaulted the Coyotes into the rankings for the first time and they currently sit at No. 21.
Cal Poly completed what it failed to do in 2009, defeating Montana Ñ which was the top-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision at the time Ñ 35-33 in San Luis Obispo.
ÒI was catching the South Dakota highlights against Minnesota on ESPN and was really impressed with the energy South Dakota played with, their tenacity and their quarterback play,Ó said Southern Utah head coach Ed Lamb, whose team looked pretty strong itself in a 32-3 win over San Diego. ÒI think they and Cal Poly have really sent messages about how good their football team is. For us, itÕs a real eye-opener to see that going on.Ó
But itÕs not just the wins that are impressive for the Great West. Southern Utah lost its two games against FBS competition by a combined 13 points.
The Thunderbirds made a valiant effort at a comeback against Wyoming Ñ a bowl team a year ago Ñ before succumbing, and San Jose State needed a touchdown in the last two minutes to prevent a SUU upset on Saturday.
Meanwhile, North Dakota lost to Northern Illinois, another FBS team, by just six points and had a couple of shots at the end zone from the opposing 27-yard line in the waning seconds.
Lamb said that one Great West team showing well doesnÕt just help that squad, but the conference as a whole.
ÒIf weÕre going to gain … national respect and be able to attract recruits, we have to show that we are a good team in a good conference that has access to the playoffs,Ó Lamb said. ÒIÕm glad those teams have got the signature wins that they have. I think all the teams in our conference have shown really well and are growing in national reputation.Ó
Some of the enthusiasm the Great West coaches have for their conference mates picking up impressive victories seems to be because of a perceived lack of national exposure Ñ outside of Cal Poly Ð that the league gets.
Of the five teams in the conference, South and North Dakota are both in the middle of a transition to Division I, while the Aggies are in just their fourth year as an FCS member. Southern Utah is only three years removed from an 0-11 season and went a combined 8-35 from 2005 to 2008.
ÒI think sometimes the Great West probably doesnÕt get the credit that it really deserves,Ó Biggs said. ÒWithin our conference and the teams that we play, people know that itÕs a solid conference from top to bottom.Ó
But the coaches know that while these games are good for the Great West now, itÕs only going to make conference play that much tougher. So far it looks like there will be no easy opponents on the league schedule.
ÒWeÕve got some good football teams in this league up and down,Ó Mussman said. ÒItÕs going to be a slugfest here as we get into conference play.Ó
Ñ Reach Conor Tekautz at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 747-8049. Comment on this story or check out The Enterprise sports blog at www.davisenterprise.com. To view photo galleries and purchase prints of UCD football visit http://photos.davisenterprise.com