Weber State vs. N. Colorado 12 stock

Weber State defeated Northern Colorado on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

Weber State is scheduled to play 12 regular-season games and will host a rare six home games at Stewart Stadium for the 2019 football season.

The schedule consists of four non-conference games and eight Big Sky Conference matchups.

The Wildcats have scheduled well — a tough slate that can reward WSU with a high playoff seed if wins are in store like they've been in the last two seasons. Weber State will take on two FBS schools in San Diego State and Nevada, as well as 10 FCS schools and zero non-Division I opponents.

AUG. 31: at SAN DIEGO STATE

San Diego State logo

All-Time: SDSU 2-0

Last: SDSU 58-12 (1967 at SDSU)

Weber State hasn't faced the Aztecs in more than 50 years. Those meetings came before SDSU was classified in what is now called FBS and was when SDSU was in one of its rare buzzsaw eras under coach Don "Air" Coryell, facing the Aztecs in 1966-67 when SDSU went a combined 21-1. The visiting Aztecs won 38-34 in Ogden before hosting the Wildcats the next year for a 58-12 blowout win.

San Diego State is expected to be a main contender, with Fresno State, for the Mountain West's West Division title and always trots out a potent run game. It also will sport Rocky Long's 3-3-5 defense, or its current iteration, which focuses on confusion, creating turnovers and putting the top defensive playmaker in positions to make plays.

With some questions at offensive line for SDSU, the run-game matchup is sure to bring intrigue as Weber State's defensive line — Adam Rodriguez, Jonah Williams, Kalisi Moli, Jayden Palauni, McKade Mitton, Kawika Tupuola and Jared Schiess — represents what could be the best, deepest D-line in FCS football.

As solid as SDSU has become, it has some recent history of struggling with FCS opponents. The Aztecs beat Sacramento State only 28-14 last season and got worked by Jimmy Garoppolo-led Eastern Illinois, 40-19, in 2013.

But when you're playing the Aztecs, expect to face talented running backs. Both of last year's top two leading rushers — Juwan Washington (999 yards, 10 TDs) and Chase Jasmin (592 yards, five TDs) — return in 2019, as does now-senior quarterback Ryan Agnew (1,651 yards, 10 TDs, 51.6% completion).

SDSU will be testing its new spread offense, switching after years of a pro-style attack that produced a prolific run game.

SEPT. 7: CAL POLY

Cal Poly logo

All-Time: WSU 8-6

Last: WSU 24-17 (2018 at CP)

For the second straight season, Weber State will face Big Sky foe Cal Poly in a scheduled non-conference game in the second week of the season, this time as the home opener.

The Mustangs are usually tough and hard-nosed, necessary attributes for a team that runs the triple option. After going 5-6 last year and 4-4 in conference play, finishing seventh, both media and coaches preseason polls have tabbed Cal Poly at ninth going into this season.

That's largely due to several missing pieces from the last few years of option offense, namely, tailback Joe Protheroe. The now-graduated Protheroe ran for 1,810 yards and 13 touchdowns last season and 4,271 yards and 35 TDs in his career.

Cal Poly also loses quarterback Khaleel Jenkins, last year's second-leading rusher with 664 yards, as well as 777 passing yards with nine TDs and no interceptions. Senior receiver J.J. Koski returns, possibly the most underrated receiver in the conference, after pulling down exactly two-thirds (666 of 999) of the team's receiving yards last season.

The Mustangs had zero players named to the preseason all-conference team.

SEPT. 14: at NEVADA

Nevada Wolf Pack logo

Nevada Wolf Pack logo

All-Time: Nevada 9-6

Last: WSU 47-30 (1993 at Nevada)

Is this game ever packed with history. Weber State travels to play former Big Sky foe Nevada for the first time in 26 years.

The last three times the Wildcats met the Wolf Pack were in Reno and those games have their own stories.

First, in 1991: Weber State built a 49-14 lead against the 8-0 Pack before Nevada rallied for the biggest comeback in college football history, winning 55-49. Nevada finished 11-0 and won a first-round playoff game before losing in the I-AA quarterfinals.

That was the last year Nevada was in the Big Sky as the Pack then moved up to college football's top classification — but Nevada scheduled Weber for home games in the next two seasons.

WSU won both of those contests against Nevada teams that finished with winning records: 23-21 in 1992 and 47-30 in 1993. The final win came one week after Nevada beat Utah State 48-44 in Logan.

It was also Weber's last win against a I-A/FBS opponent. SDSU and Nevada present tough challenges, but Nevada is perhaps Weber's best shot at such a win in about 10 years (though the shoulda-coulda 2017 game at Cal ended up being a surprising, almost-won upset).

Nevada finished 8-5 last season and returns its top two rushers in Toa Taua (872 yards, six touchdowns) and Kelton Moore (433 yards, four touchdowns). The Pack needs a new starting quarterback after the graduation of Ty Gangi (3,331 yards, 24 TD), who threw 91% of passes thrown by Nevada QBs last season.

SEPT. 28: NORTHERN IOWA

Northern Iowa logo

All-Time: UNI 2-1

Last: UNI 38-21 (1991 at UNI)

Last season, Northern Iowa grinded its way into one of the final playoff spots, then won a first-round game against Lamar (16-13) before giving UC Davis a scare but losing 23-16.

The Panthers had two strong backs last year in Marcus Weymiller (964 yards) and Trevor Allen (611 yards) but only Allen returns this season. UNI is also looking for a quarterback after Eli Dunne (2,584 yards, 18 TDs) graduated.

In fact, Justin Roper, the former Oregon and Montana player who is UNI's new QB coach, only has one quarterback who threw a pass last season, and that's sophomore Jacob Keller who was 1 for 1 for 18 yards. Their other options will be a redshirt freshman and two incoming true freshmen.

The Panthers, from the Missouri Valley Football Conference, will face three Big Sky opponents this season, hosting Idaho State and Southern Utah in weeks prior to making the trip to Ogden.

The last time the two teams met was in the 1991 playoffs, which was WSU's second-ever appearance in the postseason and their last until 2008.

WSU was ranked No. 13 and Jamie Martin threw for 312 yards but it wasn't enough as Northern Iowa won 38-21 to knock the Wildcats out in the first round. UNI had a running back aptly named Tank Conner who ran for 137 yards.

OCT. 5: at IDAHO

University of Idaho Vandals logo

All-Time: Idaho 19-13-1

Last: WSU 25-19 (1995 at WSU)

Like many matchups this season, there's history in WSU's previous games with Idaho before the series went dark. Like Nevada, Idaho is a former Big Sky foe. Unlike Nevada, Idaho is now back in the Big Sky.

The last meeting was Idaho's final year in I-AA/FCS before it moved up a classification and into the Big West which, yes, did once sponsor football. WSU won that game at home, 25-19.

Weber's last trip to the Kibbie Dome was 25 years ago in a 1994 game Idaho won 79-30.

Now, Idaho is in its second season back in the Big Sky. The Vandals were 4-7 last season, including a 3-5 mark in conference play.

The Vandals seem to be picking up some steam on the recruiting trail but both coaches and media picked Idaho to finish eighth this season.

Mason Petrino returns at quarterback. The senior, and son of head coach Paul Petrino, has appeared in 27 games at Idaho, starting 13. He threw 199 of 333 (59.8%) for 1,933 yards (175 per game) and 15 touchdowns to eight interceptions last season.

The Vandals are replacing last year's leading rusher, Isaiah Saunders, who rushed for 911 yards.

Offensive guard Noah Johnson and punter Cade Coffey were named to the preseason all-conference team.

OCT. 12: SOUTHERN UTAH

Southern Utah University logo

All-Time: WSU 18-8

Last: WSU 31-18 (2018 at SUU)

The last time Weber State hosted Southern Utah in an October Homecoming game, the T-Birds halted WSU's march to an unbeaten Big Sky run by knocking quarterback Stefan Cantwell out of the game and grabbing a 32-16 win. Weber got revenge later that year in the playoffs with a 30-13 win in Cedar City, then went back to SUU last year for a 31-18 win.

The Thunderbirds are looking for answers in 2019 after finishing 1-10 last season, including 1-7 in Big Sky play.

Offensively, SUU returns three of the four quarterbacks who split snaps last season: sophomore Chris Helbig (1,011 yards), Roy High alum Tyler Skidmore (797 yards) and sophomore Austin Ewing (66 passing yards, 254 rushing). Skidmore is a redshirt freshman after appearing in four games last season, which, under new rules, allows him to retain a year of eligibility.

Senior center Zach Larsen, the team's lone preseason all-conference selection, returns to lead the offensive line. Leading rushers Jay Green (829 yards) and James Felila (260) also return, along with dangerous return specialist Judd Cockett (30.1 yards per kick return, two TDs).

OCT. 19: NORTHERN ARIZONA

Northern Arizona University logo

All-Time: 26-26

Last: NAU 28-24 (2018 at NAU)

Weber State and Northern Arizona tend to lock horns in close battle more often than not, and, over the course of the two teams' histories, have split their all-time series 26-26.

Whatever happens this season, both teams are sure to want to avoid last year's circus, which NAU won 28-24. Both teams ended several drives in the red zone without points, NAU threw an interception into the end zone that Marque Collins would have returned 100 yards for a score but an inadvertent whistle blew the play dead, and the teams combined for 11 turnovers.

The Lumberjacks and their fans are excited for the return of quarterback Case Cookus for a fifth year of eligibility after the talented gunslinger missed basically all of the 2018 season with a broken collarbone.

Cookus is a former two-time selection to the All-Big Sky first team and was the national freshman of the year in 2015. In his most recent healthy season, 2017, he threw for 3,413 yards and 22 touchdowns to only six interceptions.

NAU was picked sixth in both Big Sky preseason polls. It also brings back senior defensive playmakers in tackle Jalen Goss and cornerback Khalil Dorsey, both of whom were selected to this year's preseason all-conference team.

OCT. 26: at UC DAVIS

UC Davis logo

All-Time: WSU 4-2

Last: WSU 41-3 (2017 at WSU)

One of the reasons the Big Sky had its championship shared three ways last season is that Weber State and UC Davis did not play each other.

And Davis might've been the Big Sky team to advance to the national title game if not for meeting Eastern Washington in last year's quarterfinals. The Aggies were voted No. 2 in both conference preseason polls and enter 2019 as a top-10 team nationally.

That's largely due to head coach Dan Hawkins calling the offense with senior Jake Maier at quarterback. Maier is the reigning Big Sky offensive MVP and was voted to repeat that this season. Why? He's only thrown for 7,600 yards and 60 touchdowns in the last two seasons.

While he loses star receiver Keelan Doss (1,334 yards last season, competing to make the Oakland Raiders), Jared Harrell (896 yards) steps in and may come close to filling Doss' shoes.

It also helps that top leading rushers Ulonzo Gilliam (976 yards, 13 TDs) and Tehran Thomas (686 yards, 6 TDs) both return.

The Big Sky is very good at the top and this will be Weber State's toughest game of the conference schedule.

NOV. 2: at SACRAMENTO STATE

Sacramento State logo

All-Time: WSU 15-8

Last: WSU 26-14 (2018 at WSU)

The 2018 season was a disappointment for Sacramento State. The Hornets went 7-4 in 2017 and, if not for a non-conference loss to Weber State, might've qualified for the playoffs with a 6-2 conference record.

But no team was hit harder by injury than Sac State in 2018 and the Hornets slogged through a 2-8 season with an 0-7 conference mark. WSU led Sac State 26-7 last year until the Hornets punched in a TD against WSU's third-string defense with less than one minute left in the game.

Head coach Jody Sears, formerly WSU's head coach, was fired after five seasons and Sac State plucked offensive coordinator Troy Taylor away from Utah as its next leader.

Taylor, a California native with ties throughout the state, played quarterback at Cal and later coached quarterbacks there. He coached at several high schools, including one in Sacramento, before becoming Eastern Washington's co-offensive coordinator in 2016. Utah then hired him as offensive coordinator, where he worked from 2017-18.

Sac State doesn't have much of a football history but the feeling is that if anyone can create something there, it would be Taylor. What remains to be seen is if any of that translates in Year 1.

Taylor will have Elijah Dotson to tote the rock. The preseason all-conference selection rushed for 1,154 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

NOV. 9: NORTH DAKOTA

University of North Dakota logo

All-Time: WSU 3-1

Last: WSU 35-30 (2018 at UND)

Yes, it's confusing when Weber State plays conference opponents in non-conference games (Cal Poly) and non-conference opponents in conference games (North Dakota).

For the second and last time, Weber will play North Dakota as a non-conference opponent in a conference game as the Big Sky looped UND into league scheduling to help the Hawks fill a schedule as a temporary independent.

North Dakota will enter the Missouri Valley next year. In the meantime, the Hawks will travel to Ogden after nearly putting together a playoff season as an independent last year before losing at Northern Arizona in the final game of the season, finishing 6-5.

UND returns top performers at key offensive positions in senior quarterback Nate Ketteringham (1,835 yards, 16 TDs), senior receiver Noah Wanzek and senior running back James Johanneson, though it loses now-CFL players Brady Oliveira and John Santiago from the backfield. 

NOV. 16: at MONTANA

University of Montana Griz logo

All-Time: Montana 40-15

Last: WSU 41-27 (2017 at WSU)

Because everybody in the Big Sky throws a fit if they don't play Montana enough, matchups against the Griz are not a yearly affair for Weber State. But despite the incredibly lopsided series history, WSU is a on a two-game winning streak.

In the last matchup in 2017, Weber State blew Montana out in the first half, leading 34-6 at halftime, on the way to a 41-27 win in Ogden.

The first came in 2015 when Weber State upset No. 12 Montana 24-21 in overtime for their first win in Missoula since 1987. So WSU will be looking to repeat some history at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in front of some of the best fans in FCS football.

The 2019 Griz hope to take the next step in the second era of head coach Bobby Hauck, who once took UM to the highest heights. But in 2018, Montana went 6-5 and lost what essentially became a playoff play-in game against Montana State when the Bobcats punched in a last-second touchdown to take the rivalry in dramatic fashion.

That razor-thin disparity between the Montana squads came back this year when coaches voted Montana No. 4 and MSU No. 5 in preseason polling but media switched the two and put MSU at No. 4.

The biggest star for Montana is linebacker Dante Olson, who led FCS with 151 tackles last season and is this year's Big Sky preseason defensive MVP. He's also the only FCS player on the watch list for the The Butkus Award, given to the country's top linebacker.

Receiver Samuel Akem was also named to the preseason all-conference team after catching 879 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2018. Dalton Sneed returns at QB for his senior season. The junior college transfer threw for 2,723 yards and 22 TDs, adding 675 yards and six more scores on the ground last year.

NOV. 23: IDAHO STATE

idaho state new logo 2019

All-Time: WSU 43-15

Last: WSU 26-13 (2018 at ISU)

The only thing worse for Idaho State than how historically lopsided this series has been is the last three seasons when the Bengals were stuck looking up at Weber State and could not stand in the way of their history on the final week of the schedule.

In 2016, WSU took a 34-28 win in Pocatello to finish a season good enough to end a playoff drought. Then in 2017 and 2018, ISU took losses of 35-7 and 26-13 and saw their rivals celebrate with the conference championship trophy afterward.

That has to wear on the Bengals, as does playing a schedule that makes a playoff berth nearly impossible despite being a playoff-caliber team. For the second straight year, ISU is playing two FBS opponents and a non-Division I team in non-conference play. The former are expected losses while the latter hurts the playoff resume.

ISU enters 2019 with a hole at quarterback and may go into the season without a clear starter. Out is Tanner Gueller, a three-year starter who threw for 282 yards per game last year and has steadied the Bengals for several seasons. In are Gunnar Amos and Matt Struck. ISU head coach Rob Phenicie said the Bengals may use both all season, if necessary.

Whoever gets the job will have the luxury of throwing to Mitch Gueller, who averaged 115 receiving yards per game last year and is a preseason all-conference selection. So is stud linebacker Kody Graves, who battled injury to post 83 tackles and two interceptions last season.

Contact Brett Hein at bhein@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @bhein3/@WeberHQ and at facebook.com/WeberStateSports.

Brett Hein is the sports editor and covers Weber State sports for the Standard-Examiner.

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