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Trip to Eastern Washington on in a string of difficult games for UND

GRAND FORKS -- Cal Poly came into the Alerus Center ranked No. 23 in the FCS national top 25 poll. The Mustangs, after storming past the University of North Dakota 35-17, left little doubt they were better than their ranking.

If the Sagarin Ratings are any indication as to a team's strength, Cal Poly is one of the top FCS teams in the country -- much better than its No. 23 ranking in the national polls.

This week in the Sagarin, Cal Poly is ranked No. 3 among FCS programs in the country and No. 83 among all Division I teams. The Mustangs still haven't climbed that high in the TSN or FCS coaches' poll.

The good news for UND is that the Green and White are done with Cal Poly. But the news really isn't all that good, considering UND's next four games come against teams ranked in the top 21 of this week's Sagarin Ratings, the widely accepted ratings system used in college football.

UND resumes its gauntlet Saturday at Eastern Washington, a Big Sky Conference team ranked No. 7 in the TSN and FCS coaches' poll and No. 10 in the Sagarin Ratings.

That game is followed by games against Northern Arizona (No. 18, Sagarin), Montana (No. 19, Sagarin) and Montana State (No. 21, Sagarin).

"The big thing is that we have to get a little bit of our swagger back and get over Cal Poly," UND coach Chris Mussman said.

A little swagger may come in handy in light of UND's next four games.

"Every week will be a battle and every week we're going to face a good team," Mussman said. "Eastern is a national title contender. We're in the thick of it right now."

If UND wants to stay in the thick of it, the Green and White somehow has to find a way to slow down Eastern's offense led by redshirt freshman quarterback Vernon Adams, who has taken the starting job from SMU transfer Kyle Padron.

Adams ranks No. 2 in Big Sky passing efficiency (143.1). UND's Marcus Hendrickson is No. 1 at 158.9.

Both have been major surprises this season in leading high-profile offenses.

Defensively, UND has had moments of strong play the last three weeks; just not enough of them. In total defense, UND ranks ninth in the Big Sky while Eastern Washington is eighth.

"We have to learn how to finish," said UND senior nose guard Devin Benjamin. "We have hard games the rest of our schedule. All we can do is go back to the drawing board and get better."

UND's loss to Cal Poly was disappointing in the fact that the Green and White had a lead in the fourth quarter and let it slip away.

"Our goals are still achievable," said UND safety Erik Mersereau. "You never want to lose early in the (conference) season. We know what's on the line. We know the pressure is on."