The football rivalry between Cal Poly and Sacramento State makes almost too much sense.
Of the 125 teams in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA), each is one of just four in California.
Both are available Oct. 11.
The only California State Universities left in the FCS played each other about evenly once a season for 20 years in a row beginning in 1983.
Things changed after Cal Poly won four straight starting in 2003 – 31-17, 58-13, 37-13 and 17-10 – twice in San Luis Obispo and twice in Sacramento.
After 24 consecutive seasons of meeting, the Hornets walked away from the Mustangs in 2006. This season, despite the coinciding open dates, the teams again won’t face each other.
“They’re trying to right their ship so they can start playing us (again),” says Cal Poly athletics director Alison Cone. “Right now, they feel it’s not in their best interest to play us.”
According to Sacramento State athletics director Terry Wanless, Northern Colorado’s 2006 entry into the Big Sky Conference effectually suspended the series (tied at 15-15 all-time) because the Hornets then had to account for eight conference games instead of seven.
“If there’s a date both of us are still unfilled on, it would just be a coincidence,” Wanless says.
Wanless explains the program’s non-conference scheduling approach as one including, by default, a Causeway Classic installment with nearby UC Davis (giving Sacramento State nine total dates) and a Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) or “money” game (10 dates) balanced with a non-Division I game, usually at the Division II level (11 dates).
All that checks out with the Hornets’ 2008 slate.
For the 12th game, however, Sacramento State looked outside all of Divisions I, II and III, and arranged a Sept. 13 welcome of Southern Oregon, an NAIA independent that went 5-4 last season.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had to make some choices in the best interest of our program, and things dictated to us by the expansion of our league led us down this path,” Wanless says.
While the Hornets host the Ashland, Ore. school of fewer than 5,000 – with an official Web site listing the location of a 2007 season finale simply as “Unknown” – Cal Poly will be visiting FCS McNeese State, a conference champion in 2007 that entered the postseason undefeated before being upset in the first round.
It will be the first of two consecutive weeks the Mustangs will spend in Louisiana before later making trips to South Dakota State and Wisconsin.
“What’s left are the other teams that nobody else wants to play,” Cal Poly head coach Rich Ellerson says.
The Hornets, meanwhile, won’t travel east of Colorado.
Although they’ll have played 12 games, Cal Poly almost surely will finish with only 11, jeopardizing a seven-win mark necessary to earn at-large consideration for the playoffs.
“I thought we’d still be playing them when I came here,” says Mustangs senior-to-be running back Ryan Mole, who transferred following the 2005 season from Sacramento State, where he rushed for a total of 1,626 yards. “I was excited about playing my old teammates. I don’t know why we dropped them or they dropped us; I guess people just don’t want to put us on the schedule.”
While the rivalry may not be as historic as UC Davis’ with both, it still had special meaning, Mole says.
“It actually is pretty intense, that whole week, for both teams, with everybody screaming out their name at practice and stuff,” he says. “It’s not like Davis, but it’s still the second-biggest rivalry. It brings everyone together and is always a physical game.”
Andrew Gardner, Cal Poly’s junior-to-be kicker and a Davis native, agreed about the rivalry’s place.
“Whenever you play a team also on your level, another CSU school, a lot of guys here were also recruited by Sac State,” he says. “So there’s going to be a lot of competition there. I would think both teams would want to play each other because travel costs can be so much more than just driving up the I-5 to get to the game.”
Cone says based on conversations with the Hornets’ administration and coaching staff, in the long term, Sacramento State “absolutely” is interested in playing Cal Poly.
“I think it should be soon,” Cone says. “I anticipate it’ll be a year or two and they’ll play us again. There are so few of us out West, we really need to play each other.”
Donovan Aird is a journalism senior and a Mustang Daily sports editor and columnist.