Portland State football was the toast of the Big Sky Conference last season.
The Vikings upset Washington State, made the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the first time since 2000 and finished a school-best 9-3 in Division I, a reversal of its 3-9 effort in 2014.
First-year coach Bruce Barnum was named the Big Sky and FCS National Coach of the Year and received a five-year contract extension.
But the Vikings are exhibit A of how difficult it is for programs to sustain excellence in the deep, 13-team conference dominated by perennial powers Eastern Washington, Montana and, until the past couple of years, Montana State. The Vikings come to Davis on Saturday with the same 2-6 overall record and 1-4 Big Sky mark as the Aggies.
After falling to 56-49 in overtime to Northern Colorado last week, the Vikings have the same goal as UCD: Finish strong in the final three games.
“Rebuilding. Didn’t want to admit it, but we are,” Barnum said. “I lost a heck of group on defense. They played violent and they played tough.”
This season, Portland State ranks 117th in the FCS in points allowed (40.4) and 118th in yards allowed (486.5) per game among the FCS’ 122 teams.
The Vikings can still put up points, averaging 31.4 per game behind quarterback Alex Kuresa, the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year in 2015. Portland State’s rushing attack (233.3 yards per game) ranks No. 2 in the conference and 12th in the FCS, which should be another test for UCD’s improving defense.
The Aggies ranked second-to-last in the FCS through the first five games in allowing 547.8 yards per game. But they have chopped nearly 100 yards off that average (454.0) in the past three games, losses at Southern Utah and Cal Poly sandwiched around a win at home against Northern Colorado.
UCD, which had a bye last week, seeks its third home win of the season and first back-to-back home wins since the 2012 season. UCD hasn’t beaten Portland State since 2009.
Hornets on break – After falling 59-47 to No. 14 Cal Poly last Saturday, Sacramento State has a bye this week.
Several players will use the time to try to heal from injuries. Among them is linebacker Manoah Pearson, who didn’t play against Cal Poly because of a concussion suffered the week before against Northern Colorado.
The sophomore was the Hornets’ leading tackler with 69 but fell to No. 3 after sophomore Manny Scott-Anderson and junior Tyler Meteer had a busy night against Cal Poly’s run-dominated triple-option offense. Scott-Anderson had 16 tackles and Meteer 14. Both linebackers, Scott-Anderson has 84 tackles on the season; Meteer has 81.
Sac State will host Portland State on Nov. 12.
Trading places – Former Sac State basketball star Mikh McKinney was drafted in the second round by the Northern Arizona Suns, an NBA Development League affiliate of the Phoenix Suns that begins play later this month.
McKinney played last season for the Port of Antwerp Giants of Belguim’s First Division. The 6-foot-1 guard was the Big Sky Player of the Year in 2014-15.
While McKinney returns to the United States, former UC Davis star Corey Hawkins is now in Europe. The 2014-15 Big West Conference Player of the Year is playing for The Flexx Pistoria in the Italian Serie A, Italy’s top basketball league.
The 6-3 Hawkins played last season for the D-League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce and Idaho Stampede. He played for the Golden State Warriors during the NBA summer league.
Basketball exhibitions – The UC Davis women’s basketball team will play host to Stanislaus State on Friday at 7 p.m. in a preseason exhibition, and the Sac State women will play San Francisco State in an exhibition Sunday at 2 p.m. at home. Both teams begin regular-season play Nov. 11.