Ryan Chartrand

The Cal Poly football team expects to play five home games and six on the road in 2007, although the program is still struggling to finalize its schedule, Cal Poly athletics director Alison Cone and head coach Rich Ellerson confirmed Monday.

Neither Cone nor Ellerson named specific opponents, but both confirmed in separate interviews that Sacramento State has backed out of the series, meaning that Cal Poly and Sacramento State will not play each other for the first time since 1982.

“The thing that’s made it most difficult is losing the Sacramento State game,” Ellerson said. “That threw things into a tizzy.”

Two of the five Great West Football Conference schools – UC Davis and South Dakota State – have already announced their respective schedules for 2007. Cal Poly is somewhat behind in finalizing its schedule, Cone said, because schools are becoming more reluctant to play in San Luis Obispo, where the Mustangs are 19-3 over the past four years.

“In football, when you’re losing a lot, it’s really easy to get games because everybody wants to play you,” Cone said. “This year’s just been a bigger challenge than most and I expect that will continue. But we will play five home games. We’re very excited about them.”

Cone said she hoped that Cal Poly’s schedule would be announced “within the next couple of weeks.”

“It’s close,” she said. “There have certainly been obstacles. As the program has received such national attention, we’re kind of perceived by a lot of people to be a loss. As people are looking to schedule, everybody’s kind of scheduling strategically. People don’t want to play us.”

Although the all-time series between Cal Poly and Sacramento State – which dates back to 1967 – is tied at 15-15, Cal Poly has won the last four games by a combined score of 143-53.

“I would characterize it as a surprise,” Cone said of Sacramento State not playing Cal Poly. “They had a number of factors. Their (Big Sky) conference added Northern Colorado, they then had eight conference games. (UC) Davis because Davis is right across. They play Davis and they needed to play two (Division) I-A money games.”

Ellerson added: “I don’t think that will stay that way. It’s crazy that they’re not on our schedule. At the end of the day, we need each other.”

Sacramento State athletics director Terry Wanless said in a phone interview Monday that the Hornets had little choice in the matter.

“We ran out of dates,” Wanless said. “It had nothing to do with Cal Poly. I have great respect for Cal Poly. I know they’re struggling to get games.”

Wanless said part of the problem is that I-AA programs are not allowed to play 12 games like their I-A counterparts, something he hoped would change with proposed NCAA legislation which eventually failed.

Asked whether the series could resume in the future, Wanless was doubtful because of the current configuration of the Big Sky Conference and the limitations placed on I-AA schools.

“You never say never,” he said. “I really don’t have an answer to that question. The probability in the near future isn’t great.”

Although the Hornets are yet to announce their schedule, Wanless said the team’s two I-A opponents are New Mexico and Fresno State. Sacramento State will open the season at Fresno State on Sept. 1.

Cal Poly played two I-A opponents last season, losing 17-7 at eventual New Mexico Bowl champion San Jose State before winning 16-14 at San Diego State.

“There are a lot more at our level playing I-A teams,” Ellerson said. “What that means is there are fewer I-AA games out there for us.”

The lone Great West team Cal Poly will play at home in 2007 is North Dakota State, which essentially ended Cal Poly’s postseason hopes with a 51-14 rout of the Mustangs in Fargo, N.D., last November. Cal Poly’s three other Great West games last season were at home.

“It’s especially difficult, the way our conference’s schedule’s set up,” Ellerson said. “It’s 1-3 as opposed to 2-2. Next year we have three conference games away and one at home. We’re going to try to fix that in the near future. It’s hard enough to find home games.”

Ellerson said he hopes Cal Poly can establish contracts with other schools in the future that will make it harder financially for schools to back out.

“On the future schedules, we’re trying to make buyouts not an option for people,” Ellerson said.

Ellerson said that the prior contract Cal Poly had signed with Sacramento State was established before his arrival in 2001. Cone was named interim athletics director in February 2004 before becoming full-fledged athletics director in January 2005.

“There will always be a challenge, it’s inevitable,” Ellerson said of scheduling. “This year was especially difficult. When somebody drops us or changes conferences, those are things that kind of snowball on you.”

Regardless of who Cal Poly’s home opponents are in 2007, Cone and Ellerson said they are excited to play a full home season in Alex G. Spanos Stadium, which had its seating capacity elevated from roughly 8,400 last season to 12,000 via renovations throughout the year which were not completed until the regular-season finale Nov. 18.

“I think it’s going to be great,” Ellerson said. “I think the thing that made a real impact on our football team’s psyche is the students were there. It was obvious we had a lot of student interest. It was a shame that there were a couple weeks we had to turn students away. We hope we’re never in that situation again.”

Pro day in the works

Ellerson said that a pro day for scouts to visit Cal Poly and watch senior players such as linebacker Kyle Shotwell, cornerback Courtney Brown, nose tackle Chris White and free safety Kenny Chicoine run through drills is still being scheduled.

“Their agents, they’ll set those things up,” Ellerson said. “Then we’ll have a junior day in April.”

The highest-profile NFL Draft prospect for Cal Poly is Shotwell, who led all players in the East-West Shrine Game with seven tackles (five solo) on Jan. 20 despite being one of only four players in the 82nd annual all-star game from a non-I-A school. He won the Buck Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in I-AA after racking up 122 tackles and seven sacks this past season.

In addition to the noteworthy performance at the East-West Shrine Game, Shotwell was voted by the game’s coaches – including Don Shula, Dan Reeves and Mike Singletary – and selection committee as the Pat Tillman Award winner. The honor is given to the player who best exhibits character and work ethic.

“He really did a nice job for himself,” Ellerson said of the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Shotwell. “He really represented himself well. I haven’t had a chance to talk to anybody who was there. Winning the Tillman Award, he helped his cause.

“I think what will be really important for him is how he tests. Like a lot of our guys, he’s an extraordinary player but a tweener from a size standpoint. They really test the heck out of those guys physically. They’re always going to question the level of competition week in, week out. You mitigate that with your testing.”

Although it is unclear where Shotwell is projected to be chosen in the April 28 to 29 draft, it can’t hurt getting some national publicity.

In his “East-West Shrine report” published Jan. 23, Yahoo! Sports columnist John Murphy wrote of Shotwell: “The Buck Buchanan Award winner was worked hard by coach Mike Singletary during positional drills but then drew praise from the Hall of Fame linebacker, who said Shotwell was one of the hardest working kids he has seen the past few years.”

Cone takes pride in the fact that players from Cal Poly – including linebacker Jordan Beck (2004) and defensive end Chris Gocong (2005) – have appeared in the East-West Shrine Game for three consecutive years. Prior to 2004, the last time the Mustangs had a player in the East-West Shrine Game was center-linebacker Stan Sheriff in 1951.

“I’m really proud of them,” Cone said. “The program has done so much to put a positive Cal Poly name forward. A lot of Cal Poly students and alums are very excited about the image that we’ve obtained from the exposure that the program has generated.”

High school signing day approaches

The deadline for high school seniors to sign national letters of intent to play collegiate football is Feb. 7.

Ellerson could not comment on specific individuals, but said the program hopes to sign about 15 players.

“It’s gone well again,” Ellerson said. “I try to be patient in the process. We’ve still got recruiting going on. It’s been another remarkable year. We think we’ve identified some extraordinary people. Everybody we’ve brought on campus has committed to us. We’re doing a good job of identifying the right guys. Some of the guys are getting recruited quite heavily.”

One newcomer the Mustangs know they will have the services of is Allan Hancock College transfer Jonathan Dally, a quarterback whom Cal Poly announced Dec. 20 had signed a national letter of intent.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Dally, a former standout at Righetti High in Santa Maria, threw for 2,229 yards and 24 touchdowns in his two seasons at Allan Hancock.

Dally completed 71 of 122 passes (58.2 percent) for 1,050 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 310 yards and seven scores as a sophomore. He was a two-time All-Western State Conference selection.

“We have Jonathan enrolled, he’s doing a nice job,” Ellerson said.

The incumbent starter is Matt Brennan, who completed 45 percent of his passes for 1,208 yards and 10 touchdowns with seven interceptions and ran for 344 yards and two scores as a sophomore in 2006.

Asked whether the position will be open come the start of spring practice Feb. 21, Ellerson said, “I hope it’ll be open. Hopefully it’ll help Matt. It’ll be very competitive. That’s good for everybody.”

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