T-Birds to settle Big Sky title battle at Eccles again

Trends come and trends go in life, even on the football field. For the second straight time, Southern Utah and Northern Arizona will meet on the turf at Eccles Coliseum to continue to add to a rivalry that’s seen a lot of emotion, heartache and amazing moments.

On Saturday afternoon, the Thunderbirds will face the Lumberjacks with the winner earning the right to hold the Big Sky championship trophy. When the two teams last converged with similar stakes on Nov. 21, 2015, SUU came away with a heart-stopping 49-41 victory and its first conference crown in just its fourth year as a league member.

As was the case on that chilly night before more than 9,000 fans, SUU can win its second Big Sky title in the last three seasons with a victory over NAU.

Unlike in 2015, the T-Birds won’t automatically have the crown all to itself. As we discussed in this space last week, as long as they beat the Lumberjacks, they’ll share the crown with Weber State if the Wildcats beat Idaho State at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

Even if that happens – and it’s about an 8.5 likelihood on the 10-point scale – SUU still wins the automatic qualifier for the FCS playoffs because they beat Weber State in the head-to-head meeting Oct. 14.

Should NAU come away with the victory, they share the crown if Weber State beats the Bengals. Because those two teams didn’t face each other in the regular season, it’s still to be determined who would get the Big Sky’s AQ playoff bid.

The FCS playoff bracket – which gets unveiled Sunday morning on ESPNU – is the one hurdle all three teams have zero control over. When SUU won the title two years ago in what turned out to be Ed Lamb’s final season in Cedar City, they weren’t chosen among the top eight national seeds, which would have meant a home game and first-round bye.

Because Portland State beat the T-Birds head-to-head and had eight Division I wins, they earned the No. 6 national seed despite finishing tied with Montana for second in the Big Sky.

Right now, SUU has matched the eight-win Division I threshold, so their fate is in their hands. A win over NAU likely means a top-eight national seed and Thanksgiving Week off before starting its third FCS playoff run with a second-round home game.

-Another basketball season has begun at Southern Utah, and the script started out the same for the women’s team. The T-Birds had BYU on the ropes late, but dropped a 75-67 decision to the Cougars in overtime at the Marriott Center in Provo on Nov. 10.

SUU led 61-51 with 3 minutes, 36 seconds left in regulation, but BYU went on a 24-6 run the rest of the way to steal the opening-night win.

The T-Birds moved on to a road game at San Diego – a West Coast Conference school – on Tuesday. They’ll play their home opener against Binghamton on Saturday at the America First Event Center in a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.

-Local football update: I’ve missed the mention here over the last few weeks, but Cedar High alum John Ursua was lost for the season when he suffered a torn ACL in Hawaii’s 37-26 home victory over San Jose State on Oct. 14. The redshirt sophomore was sixth in Division I with an average of 111.2 receiving yards per game when he was sidelined.

Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter @TommyZee81 or email tominator19@yahoo.com.


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