When Southern Utah came through with a victory over Eastern Washington – who was ranked No. 8 in the country in FCS football at the time – my thoughts immediately turned to the regular-season finale and the showdown game with Northern Arizona.
The victory over the Eagles on Oct. 21 was the spark that lit the flame. With the Lumberjacks’ loss at Montana on Nov. 4, SUU joined the fray once again in the race for its second Big Sky football crown in the last three seasons.
All things are clicking right now for the T-Birds, who beat North Dakota for a fifth straight win last weekend. Quarterback Patrick Tyler completed passes to 11 different receivers – nine who finished with two or more catches – and his roommate, Alex Croyle, made sure he could get home safely following the 47-21 victory.
“I told him if I got five targets, you could have a ride home,” said Croyle, who caught four passes for 83 yards with two touchdowns in the win over the Hawks.
With only UC Davis standing in the way of the showdown with NAU on Nov. 18 and a shot at the big trophy, the T-Birds are tied with the Lumberjacks and Weber State at 5-1 in Big Sky play. It doesn’t necessarily mean the regular-season finale will give the winner the championship trophy. Head coach Demario Warren is well aware what happened the last time SUU went to California – a 54-27 loss at Sacramento State.
“The last time we went there, it wasn’t so good for us,” said Warren, who is returning to his alma mater this weekend. “It’s an opportunity to get better and learn from our mistakes.”
Should everything go according to form, it’s likely we’ll have a second championship showdown in the last three seasons between SUU and Northern Arizona a week from Saturday. The Lumberjacks still have to get by Montana State at home beforehand, but they’ll have sophomore Case Cookus back at quarterback after he was ejected for targeting in last week’s 17-15 loss at Montana.
You read that right. A quarterback was kicked out of a game because of the NCAA’s targeting rule. And adding even more to the developing drama, Weber State could swoop in and steal everyone’s thunder. The Wildcats play at winless Portland State this week, then close with Idaho State at home in Ogden.
With that said, here are your potential championship scenarios:
-If all three teams win this week, that means SUU wins the crown – and the automatic qualifier for the FCS playoffs – with a win over NAU. The T-Birds own the tiebreaker over Weber State by virtue of their 32-16 victory at Stewart Stadium on Oct. 14.
-The Lumberjacks win the Big Sky title for themselves with a win over the T-Birds and a loss by the Wildcats in either of the final two games. Since NAU didn’t play Weber State in the regular season, it’s still unclear how a tiebreaker between those teams would be settled.
-Weber State wins the Big Sky crown outright only if they beat the Vikings and Bengals combined with a Lumberjacks loss to the Bobcats and victory over SUU.
Got all that? Things may change radically by the time next week’s column rolls around.
-If you think coaches have an easy job, SUU physical education professor Dr. Steve Lunt has written a book called “So You Want to Be a Coach?” that’s available on Amazon.com for $7 in paperback.
From Lunt’s liner notes, here’s the best description around of the most common misconception people have about leading a team at any level.
“Many people see coaching as a high-profile, glamorous position. The part of coaching most noticeable is about 10 percent of their job: showtime and game time. What is not seen or known is the remaining 90 percent, where all of the preparations and many problems occur.”
Lunt related to me that Richfield athletic director Richard Barton bought 25 copies of the book – one for each coach at the school. In this day and age, a book like this written by someone who has more than a half-century of experience has lessons everyone can learn from.
Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter @TommyZee81 or email email@example.com.