Week two (Sept. 8) on the football schedule offers the University of North Dakota its first taste of the Big Sky Conference. (Sort of.)
Portland State — a Big Sky member since 1996 — will visit the Alerus Center for a non-conference tilt between the two teams. Even though it won't count in the conference standings, this early-season game might prove to be very important in the long run of the national picture.
How did this game come about? After the conference schedules were announced, both teams had an open date and needed a non-conference game to fill out the schedule.
Playing a conference opponent in a
non-conference matchup will not be entirely unusual for UND as it
transitions to the Big Sky. In 2013, Montana will visit the Alerus
Center for a non-conference game as well.
The Vikings should provide a decent indicator as to what UND can expect in its new league after third-year coach Nigel Burton led his PSU squad to one of the top turnarounds in the FCS in 2011. The Vikings finished 7-4 overall after going just 2-9 in 2010. They were tabbed to finish seventh in the Big Sky preseason coaches' poll, but managed a tie for third place with a 5-3 league mark.
Burton will have some holes to fill in 2012, however, as the
Vikings' offense needs to replace their top quarterback, running back
and wide receiver. Senior signal caller Connor Kavanaugh set a new PSU
and Big Sky record for single-season rushing yards by a quarterback
(1,060) in 2011.
Kavanaugh also threw for more than 1,600 yards and nine touchdowns, guiding a unit that averaged 32.3 ppg. Senior running back Cory McAffery did enough damage in five games to garner first team All-Big Sky honors. He averaged 146.2 ypg and rushed for 13 touchdowns before an injury derailed his campaign. The Vikings were the top rushing attack in the BSC at 247.8 ypg.
Fellow senior Justin Monahan had more than twice as many receptions as his next closest teammate, hauling in 52 passes for 707 yards and six scores in his final collegiate season.
In all, PSU had four players earn first team All-Big Sky Conference (McCaffrey, JR K Zach Brown, JR ST Nevin Lewis, SR SS DeShawn Shead) and three players earn second team accolades (SR OL Dustin Waldron, SR DT Myles Wade, JR LB Ian Sluss).
Sophomore Shaquille Richard is the team's top ground gainer after rushing for 384 yards and four scores as a freshman.
Linebacker Ian Sluss will anchor Burton's defense in 2012. Sluss is the team's top returning tackler after registering 55 take downs a year ago, including 13.5 tackles for a loss. He also added 3.5 sacks, which is also tops among returners. The Vikings yielded 28.0 ppg, which was right in the middle of the Big Sky's nine football-playing schools in 2011.
Did You Know?
- Current head coach Nigel Burton replaced Jerry Glanville as the Vikings' head coach. Glanville, who was a head coach for the NFL's Houston Oilers (1986-89) and Atlanta Falcons (1990-93), went just 9-24 in three seasons at Portland State.
- The Vikings won eight Big Sky Conference Player of the Week Awards. Only one time has PSU won more Big Sky Player of the Week honors in a single season (9, 2000).
- PSU led the Big Sky Conference and finished eighth in the nation in rushing with 247.8 yards per game. The Vikings set a new school record for total rushing yards (2,726).
- PSU tied for second nationally with nine blocked kicks in 2011. UND was the only team to block more as the Green and White batted away 10 kicks.
- The Vikings have yet to win a Big Sky Conference football title since moving up to the FCS level and joining the league in 1996.
- PSU reached the FCS Playoffs for the first time in 2000, losing to Delaware in the first round. The Vikings twice played in the Division II National Championship Game in Florence, Ala. (1987 and 1988).
- These two teams faced off in the 1980 (PSU 28, UND 14) and 1981 (UND 17, PSU 10) season-openers for both squads with each team winning on its home field.