It's been a while since the Causeway Classic meant more than just the annual rivalry game between Sacramento State and UC Davis.
A possible playoff berth is on the line for the Hornets, and the host Aggies will say goodbye to coach Bob Biggs, who steps down as the program's second-winningest coach.
With a win in today's 59th Causeway Classic, Sacramento State (6-4, 4-3 Big Sky Conference) could receive an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth. It would be the Hornets' first postseason game since 1988.
Ironically, that last playoff run featured a matchup against the Aggies in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs. Sac State won 35-14 but lost in the semifinals two weeks later to eventual champion North Dakota State.
Sac State won the Causeway Classic earlier that year 31-28, ending an 18-game losing streak to UC Davis.
A win for the Aggies (3-7, 2-5 Big Sky) not only would ruin their rival's postseason plans but give Biggs his 144th career win, second only to Jim Sochor's 156 victories. It's also the last game for 22 UCD seniors.
"I never think that way (of spoiling Sac State's playoff chances)," Biggs said. "It really never crosses my mind. More important to me is how we play and getting a win for the seniors.
"Other than the second half against Portland State, we've played really hard this season and have been in every game. I expect us to play well again (today)."
Take away a 45-13 loss to San Jose State of the Football Bowl Subdivision and a 49-21 loss to Portland State in an uncharacteristic poor showing at home Oct. 27, and the Aggies' average losing margin is just five points. They played the ninth-toughest schedule in the FCS.
UC Davis also is trying to avoid losing four games in a row in one season for the first time since 1969, when the Aggies had a small quarterback with a huge arm named Bob Biggs.
Sac State lost to Big Sky heavyweights Eastern Washington and Montana State by three points each.
"The records go out the window when it's Causeway Classic time," Sac State coach Marshall Sperbeck said. "It's always a backyard brawl, and this game shouldn't be any different."
HORNETS' OFFENSE VS. AGGIES' DEFENSE
Hornets running back Ezekiel Graham is averaging 75.3 yards a game and 4.9 yards a carry. Wide receiver Morris Norrise leads the team with 54 catches and seven touchdowns. He's the favorite target of sophomore quarterback Garrett Safron, who already ranks third in school history in completions with 209. He's fifth in attempts (316), tied for second in touchdown passes (20) and seventh in yards (2,216), and he likely will set the school record for completion percentage. He also averages nearly 40 rushing yards a game. Linebackers Jordan Glass and Byron Gruendl lead UCD in tackles with 71 and 70, respectively. They each have two interceptions and will be key in trying to limit Sac State's balanced offense.
AGGIES' OFFENSE VS. HORNETS' DEFENSE
The Aggies have rushed for at least 100 yards in five straight games, their longest such streak since 2002, and their 1,360 rushing yards are UCD's second-most since 2004. Junior quarterback Randy Wright has been solid, averaging 222.9 passing yards a game, fifth-best in the Big Sky. Five Aggies have caught at least 20 passes, led by Corey Galindo's 31 with three touchdowns. Among the Hornets who will try to say hello to Wright, repeatedly, is senior linebacker and captain Jeff Badger. He and Wright were teammates at Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa. Fourteen Hornets have recorded a sack, including nine with two or more. "Sac State's defense relies on pressure and stopping offenses with schemes because they are not a down-four-intensive team they're about schemes and blitzes," Aggies coach Bob Biggs said. "The challenge for us will be to recognize what they are doing and then counter quickly."
The Hornets have a weapon in kicker Edgar Castaneda, who has made 11 of 13 field-goal attempts this season. But if Castaneda is a weapon, Aggies punter Colton Schmidt is an arsenal. Field position is always key, and having a punter who averages 44.1 yards (sixth-best in the FCS) is nice. Schmidt uncorked a 62-yarder against Eastern Washington, the 16th time he has exceeded 50 yards this season. Nearly a third of his punts have gone at least half a football field.
Edge: UC Davis
Both coaches are master motivators, albeit not overly demonstrative. Both are unafraid to keep their offenses on the field on fourth and short or to call a trick play. Both played quarterback in college and see the game through that lens. Some have said Sac State coach Marshall Sperbeck is a younger version of Biggs, and that's quite a compliment.
Game-time weather forecasts call for a 100 percent chance of rain. Aggie Stadium has all-weather, synthetic turf, so footing shouldn't be an issue. Neither team has played in inclement weather this season, but both played well in losses in bitter cold at Eastern Washington. Coming off a bye, UC Davis unleashed two trick plays at Eastern Washington and nearly pulled off an upset victory that would have damaged the Eagles' playoff seeding. Sperbeck said teams typically work on trick plays during bye weeks and might as well use them in the first game back. Sac State had its bye last week. UC Davis, which has been eliminated from playoff contention, has little to lose with a fake punt, so Biggs is more likely to call one. With a possible playoff berth on the line for Sac State, Sperbeck's play-calling likely will be much more conservative. Playing at home is always a huge plus.