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UND football playoff picture starting to take shape

GRAND FORKS -- Down the stretch run of the 2014 University of North Dakota football season, coach Bubba Schweigert preached the importance of playing good football late in the year.

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GRAND FORKS - Down the stretch run of the 2014 University of North Dakota football season, coach Bubba Schweigert preached the importance of playing good football late in the year.

The Fighting Hawks were out of the playoff hunt that year, but Schweigert - in his first season of a rebuilding project - wanted his team to learn how to finish a season strong. He wanted those lessons to pay off down the road.

UND finished 2014 with two-straight wins to finish the year 5-7, pointing the program in the right direction.

With three games left in the 2016 regular season, Schweigert is once again focused on playing well in late October and November.

This time, though, the games carry a lot more meaning.

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UND faces Weber State at noon Saturday at the Alerus Center in a showdown of two of the three unbeaten teams in the Big Sky Conference.

At his weekly press conference Monday, Schweigert was asked if it was fun to be playing meaningful football at this time of year.

"That's the expectation," he said.

UND enters the game on a six-game winning streak. The Fighting Hawks have also won eight-straight Big Sky Conference matchups, winning the final three in 2015 and the first five in 2016.

The matchup with Weber could go a long way for UND's playoff hopes. The Fighting Hawks sit at 6-2 with three games remaining.

With UND not making the 24-team FCS playoff field with a 7-4 record in 2015, it's possible UND can only afford one loss the rest of the season.

And if UND is to win a Big Sky Conference title, it might have to run the table.

UND finishes the year against Weber State, Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona.

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Weber State finishes against UND, Northern Arizona, Cal Poly and Idaho State.

Eastern Washington, the other undefeated team at the top of the Big Sky standings, finishes against Montana, Cal Poly, Idaho State and Portland State.

With the Big Sky featuring 13 teams and an unbalanced schedule, it's possible EWU and either UND or Weber could finish the year undefeated in league play.

If that were to happen, the two teams would be declared co-champions. The team with the higher rating in the Sagarin ratings would receive the league's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.

UND is currently ranked No. 137 in the Sagarin ratings, while Eastern Washington is No. 83.

The Fighting Hawks will likely be doing plenty of scoreboard watching the final week of the regular season as that is when UND's bye week lands (Nov. 19).

Schweigert was asked if the bye week at the end of the year is helpful or a hinderance. On one hand, UND has some momentum on its side and if it makes the playoffs will have a breather before the postseason. On the other hand, a bye week in the middle of the season can help heal up a banged-up team.

"I don't know if there's a right answer," Schweigert said. "There's no perfect way to set this up, but we're just going to deal with the way we have the schedule set up this time. We play the games when they're scheduled and we have to deal with what's in front of us."

Related Topics: UND SPORTSFOOTBALL
Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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