There is nothing like a hearty road trip for a football team to find out exactly what it has.
UC Davis, fresh off a rousing 41-13 home rout of Lehigh, will find out fast. Say hello to 15-time national champion North Dakota State of Fargo. The Bison are the top-ranked team in the FCS and the two-time defending national champion, with seven titles this decade.
It’s a wildly intriguing match up of top-five FCS programs and perhaps the biggest game in the 101-year history of UCD football, according to longtime Davis Enterprise columnist Bob Dunning. Or at least the most anticipated.
Dunning might know. He has watched the Aggies since 1951.
“It’ll be fun, and this is what it’s all about,” said UCD coach Dan Hawkins, whose team is 2-1, with a 27-13 loss at Cal. “I remember playing against the Bison when I was a player here (in the early 1980s) and coaching against them (when he started his career as an assistant at UCD). It’s a great challenge.”
Sacramento State, fresh off a 50-0 demolition of Northern Colorado, buses to the center of the San Joaquin Valley on Saturday to take on FBS member Fresno State. The Bulldogs are coming off seasons of 10-4 and 12-2 but they are 0-2 this season, with close losses to USC and Minnesota.
Sac State is 2-1, falling at Arizona State 19-7. The Fresno State and ASU games will net the Sac State athletic department some $1 million, but no one is talking about buyouts this week.
“We like our chances, and I know we’ll compete,” Sac State first-year coach Troy Taylor said.
Sac State dazzled in rolling Northern Colorado in front a home crowd that included family and former players of late Hornets coach Ray Clemons, who coached the program to championships in the 1960s. The Hornets had a 99-yard drive, 614 yards of offense under quarteback Kevin Thomson and allowed no sacks.
Sac State defensive back Dariyn Choates was selected as the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week after posting six tackles, 3.5 for loss, and forcing two fumbles.
Sac State’s 134 points through three games, including 77 in an opening win over Southern Oregon, are the most for an opening three-game stretch in program history, dating back to when the school started football in 1954. The 38 points allowed through three weeks is the fifth-lowest in school history, a credit to first-year defensive coordinator Andy Thompson and his attacking unit.
Sac State has allowed just 1.8 yards per rush, 59.3 rushing per game and 12.7 points.
Taylor has known Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford for years, dating back to when Taylor did color commentary on Cal games when Tedford was the Bears’ head coach in the 2000s. And Taylor’s team has Tedford’s attention.
“Against (Sac State), if you can make 3 yards a run that’s positive,” Tedford said. “To have the patience to be able to do that is key, because they do a really good job. They’re a little unconventional, they played really hard and they’re really well-coached.
“As in any game, the line of scrimmage is really important and Sac State has won the line of scrimmage battle in all three games they’ve played so far this year.”
Tedford stressed Fresno State cannot afford to overlook anyone while seeking its first victory. Fresno State is 9-0 against FCS competition this decade, winning by an average of 32.2 points, including beating Sac State 31-3 in 2016.
Fresno State is favored on the betting lines by 21. ASU was favored by 36 over Sac State and led only 12-7 with four minutes remaining in Tempe.
“Without a doubt, the message has been loud and clear about who we’re playing,” Tedford said. “I don’t care what the name is, I don’t care what conference they play in. All you have to do is put on the tape to know they’re an excellent football team.”
North Dakota State won’t take UCD lightly because it takes no one lightly, especially given that UCD has had success against the Bison before. The Bison are 169-35 since moving up to Division I in 2004 and they are 115-8 since 2011. The program has had just three losing seasons since 1964.
The Bison will have to deal with Jake Maier, UCD’s sterling third-year starter, who passed for 389 yards and four touchdowns against Lehigh in front of former Aggies from the 1960s who were on hand to honor their late coach, Will Lotter.
It’s the 17th time Maier has eclipsed the 300-yard mark, tying him for most all time in program history with J.T. O’Sullivan (1998-2001).
UCD also allowed just 58 net yards rushing against Lehigh under coordinator Robert Tucker, the fewest it has allowed since 2013, and recorded seven sacks, the most for the Aggies in 12 years.
North Dakota State (3-0) is riding a 24-game winning streak, the third-longest in FCS history. The teams split in the Division II playoffs in the early 1980s, and the Bison ended Sac State’s finest season, in the 1988 playoffs.