Wildcats remain team to beat in a loaded Big Sky Conference

Weber State Wildcats defensive end George Tarlas (44) celebrates his interception at the end of the game with Weber State Wildcats linebacker Auston Tesch (53) during the FCS quarterfinals at Stewart Stadium in Ogden on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.

Weber State Wildcats defensive end George Tarlas (44) celebrates his interception at the end of the game with Weber State Wildcats linebacker Auston Tesch (53) during the FCS quarterfinals at Stewart Stadium in Ogden on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

OGDEN — Forget the 40-17 loss suffered to Utah in the season opener, or the heartbreaking 37-24 loss to James Madison in the home opener. And forget about falling out of the Stats Perform FCS top 10 for the first time since October 2018.

Nothing from the preseason derails the Wildcats from what they have their eyes set on: defending the Big Sky Title.

"Our mentality is just we are 0-0," junior captain and wide receiver Ty MacPherson said. "Big Sky Conference play starts this week; so Game 1, this is the beginning of our season. That's how we're approaching it."

But every week will be a challenge for Weber State. There's not going to be an easy week or any guaranteed wins because of the high-level talent the conference has this season.

The Big Sky during the first few weeks of college football have been perpetrators of shocking upset performances against FBS foes: UC Davis outlasted Tulsa of the AAC 19-17 and Eastern Washington survived UNLV of the Mountain West 35-33 in a double-overtime thriller.

It's surprising how big of a mess the Pac-12 has been thus far, and part of that is because of how they've fared against Big Sky opponents.

In Week 1, Montana stunned the nation by beating then-No. 20 Washington 13-7, marking the first FCS win against a ranked FBS team since 2016 and only the fifth win since the FBS and FCS split in 1978. Last weekend, Northern Arizona traveled to Tucson to face Arizona and narrowly won 21-19, handing the Wildcats their 15th-straight loss.

"I've said it all along: from top to bottom, it's the best conference in the country, for sure," Weber State head coach Jay Hill said. "There's no patsies in this league; you better be ready to play every week because anybody can get you."

In the most current FCS standings, the Big Sky has five teams ranked: Montana, Eastern Washington, UC Davis, Montana State and Weber State. Montana is ranked No. 4 and is currently the only team in the top 10, but Hill believes "the top six teams are all legit top 10 teams in the country."

Although Weber State is ranked the lowest of the five, no bigger target could be placed on them this season being winners of four-straight conference championships — only the second team in conference history to do so — and being voted as preseason favorites to win the conference by both the media and coaches.

For the Wildcats, the target, predictions and expectations placed on the team is what MacPherson says is used as "motivation" to win another conference title.

"That's one of our biggest team goals is one win at home every game, and then Big Sky Championship; and then make the playoffs, playoff wins; and then win a national championship."

Lucky or not, Weber State doesn't have Montana in their conference schedule this season, but they do have to face UC Davis in the first conference matchup, and Montana State and Eastern Washington later in the season.

So as great as the goals are to have, the Wildcats are focused on their week-by-week preparation and taking the hefty conference schedule game-by-game.

"A Big Sky Championship the last four years has meant so much to us, and obviously that's what we're striving for this year, too," MacPherson said. "But along with that, we want to do whatever we can to take one game at a time."

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