UND’s schedule gets gruelingGRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota football team is already dealing with the program’s first go-around in the Big Sky Conference, feeling its way through an established league after a handful of years in the smaller Great West Conference.
By: Tom Miller, Forum Communications
GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota football team is already dealing with the program’s first go-around in the Big Sky Conference, feeling its way through an established league after a handful of years in the smaller Great West Conference.
As it turns out, North Dakota’s opening slate is developing into one of the country’s most difficult schedules.
The Big Sky Conference is one of the top leagues in the country, but UND’s portion of the 13-team league schedule is turning into a brutal run of quality programs — one that is far from over after Saturday’s 45-38 loss to Northern Arizona.
After knocking off UND in its homecoming game, No. 18 Northern Arizona is off to its best conference start since 2008 with a 3-0 record.
Meanwhile, previous opponent No. 7 Eastern Washington, which beat North Dakota 55-17 two weeks ago, beat No. 2 Montana State this weekend and future opponent Southern Utah beat perennial power Montana, which UND will draw next.
With No. 1 North Dakota State falling to Indiana State this weekend, Eastern Washington could rise to the top of the nation’s poll.
No. 15 Cal Poly, which UND lost to 35-17 three weeks ago, will also challenge for the top 10 in the country next week after a lopsided victory over Northern Colorado.
Even UND’s most convincing victory, a 35-13 win over Sacramento State, is beginning to look more impressive. After a win over Weber State, Sac State has won three straight road games (Colorado, Idaho State, Southern Utah) for the first time since 1991.
Also, UND’s tight 49-41 loss to San Diego State is looking better.
After Saturday, SDSU is now coming off blowout wins over Hawaii and Colorado State.
UND players understand the constant grind of the schedule.
“It’s all about Montana; we have our hands full,” UND quarterback Braden Hanson said after the loss to Northern Arizona.
UND’s gauntlet schedule has no breaks.
North Dakota’s game against Montana this weekend was expected to be a conference showdown. Instead, it will feature two teams desperate for a league win.
Montana lost to Southern Utah on Saturday in front of 25,000-plus Griz fans. It was a landmark loss for Montana, which hadn’t dropped two straight home games since its stadium opened in 1986.
It was also a historic day for the conference as both Montana schools lost at home for the first time since 1985. And now, through the first seven games of the season for the Griz, it’s the most losses for Montana since 1992.
UND wide receiver Greg Hardin tried to summarize the team’s feeling after the game.
“It’s tough losing a close game we feel like we could have won,” Hardin said. “But we’ll watch film (Sunday) and we can’t linger on this.”