In the wake of its 29-28 loss to still unranked South Dakota State on Saturday, the Cal Poly football team dropped from No. 4 to 9 in The Sports Network’s Division I-AA poll Monday.
The Sports Network conducts I-AA’s most widely recognized media poll, which is part of I-AA.org’s Gridiron Power Index rankings. The GPI is a simulation of the formula used by the NCAA playoff selection committee to determine which teams are bound for the postseason.
Sixteen teams reach the I-AA playoffs.
The Mustangs fell to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the Great West Football Conference after watching South Dakota State (4-3, 1-0) erase a 28-6 deficit in the final 8 minutes.
After the Homecoming loss, Cal Poly senior cornerback Courtney Brown said he was not concerned over whether the Mustangs would reach the postseason like they did last year for the first time since moving to the I-AA level in 1994.
“We’ve got some good games coming up right now,” Brown said. “We’ve got a I-A (San Diego State), North Dakota State and Montana. If we come out and play like we mean against them, playoffs I’m not even worried about.”
Entering the weekend, Cal Poly was No. 7 in the GPI, which will release a new list Wednesday.
Despite entering the weekend ranked No. 1 among 16 I-AA conferences in both the GPI and USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin ratings, the Great West does not receive an automatic bid to the postseason because it is only in its third year of existence.
South Dakota State quarterback Andy Kardoes agreed with the conference rankings.
“I don’t play in the other conferences, but I can’t imagine a conference that week in, week out you’ve got to play teams in the top 10 in the nation,” he said.
After losing 10-9 to Minnesota, Great West member North Dakota State moved from No. 9 to 6 in The Sports Network poll. The Bison received three first-place votes.
The third and final Great West member in the Top 25 is UC Davis, which rose from No. 18 to 16.
Cal Poly allowed its most points in a quarter Saturday – 23 in the fourth – since giving up 28 in the second quarter to I-A Akron in a 45-14 loss Oct. 11, 2003.
“We had a lot of flaws defensively,” Brown said. “They moved the ball on us way too much. Just little things – missed assignments, not working in the right technique – it just came all together and they took advantage of it.”
Cal Poly head coach Rich Ellerson said matchups might have been a factor.
“They were able to max-protect and play some one-on-one, two-on-two,” he said.
The Mustangs were also penalized 10 times for 76 yards. It was the most times they had been flagged since drawing 11 penalties for 106 yards in a season-opening 44-0 rout of Division II Fort Lewis on Sept. 2.
“It kind of seems like we turned the off switch,” Cal Poly sophomore quarterback Matt Brennan said. “We got outplayed very badly in the fourth quarter.”
Noble rolling toward another 1,000-yard season
Cal Poly sophomore tailback James Noble might not eclipse his school-record totals of 1,578 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns from last year, but he is nearing another 1,000-yard season.
The Walter Payton Award candidate carried 26 times for 168 yards and two scores Saturday. Both the yards and touchdowns were season highs.
Despite missing a 17-7 loss at I-A San Jose State on Sept. 23 with a sprained left ankle, Noble has still rushed this season for 675 yards and five scores on 118 attempts, averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
Shotwell maintains tackles lead in Great West
With 10 total tackles at halftime, it seemed as if Cal Poly senior middle linebacker and Buck Buchanan Award candidate Kyle Shotwell might make a run at Jordan Beck’s school record for total tackles in a game (23), which was set in a 13-10 loss at Montana in 2003.
Shotwell finished with 11 tackles. His career high was 20 in a 14-7 quarterfinal playoff loss at Texas State last year.
On the season, Shotwell’s 74 total tackles lead the Great West. He is 18 ahead of Southern Utah’s La’Var Porter, who is second.
More players getting involved on offense
A variety of players who had not made a significant impact since the Sept. 2 opener against Fort Lewis were more productive Saturday.
Slot back Ernie Cooper ran for a 5-yard touchdown in the second quarter, H-back Jon Hall caught two passes for 34 yards and backup tailback Fred Hives II powered his way for 32 rushing yards on five carries.
Hives II, who was playing for just the second time since Sept. 2 because of a broken left toe, rushed for a 1-yard score late in the third quarter that put Cal Poly up 28-6 before South Dakota State came roaring back to win.
The Mustangs had their best offensive showing in seven weeks, scoring three or more offensive touchdowns against a I-AA opponent for the first time all season.
Last season, Cal Poly’s 354 points scored was its most since 1997. The Mustangs put up 31-plus points seven times last year.