GREELEY, Colo. – Cal Poly wraps up a disappointing 2017 season Saturday morning with a 10:35 a.m. PST kickoff against Northern Colorado.
Unlike last year, neither team has playoff aspirations as the Mustangs are 1-9 overall and the Bears 2-7. Northern Colorado is playing only 10 games this year as the Sept. 9 game at Florida was canceled due to Hurricane Irma.
Northern Colorado was supposed to earn $625,000 for playing the Gators. The Bears collected $350,000 for playing at Colorado the following week.
Cal Poly and Northern Colorado share 11th place in the 13-team Big Sky Conference with 1-6 marks. Saturday's winner would move into ninth place with Idaho State should the Bengals lose at Weber State.
Weber State is tied with Southern Utah and Northern Arizona atop the standings, all 6-1. Should Weber State win, the Wildcats will share first place with the Northern Arizona-Southern Utah winner. If the Wildcats fall, the Northern Arizona-Southern Utah winner will be the champion and automatic qualifier for the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Playoff pairings will be announced Sunday at 8 a.m. PST on ESPNU and ESPN's Watch Plan.
ESPN Radio 1280 will broadcast Saturday's game live beginning with a pregame show at 10 a.m. Chris Sylvester (play-by-play) and Alex Clupper (analyst) will provide the commentary. Saturday's game also will be video streamed on Pluto TV. Links for the video stream as well as an audio stream and live stats can be found on the football schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.
Weather is expected to be in the mid-40s at kickoff with no precipitation. Temperatures have been in the low 70s in recent days, including Friday's walk-through on a practice field in the shadows of Nottingham Field (pictured above), but light rain is expected to move through Friday night, dropping temperatures as much as 25 degrees.
Joining the Mustangs on Friday for lunch was Jordan Beck (pictured above in inset with strength and conditioning coach Chris Holder), Cal Poly's first of three Buck Buchanan Award winners as a linebacker back in 2004. Beck, who lives in Eaton, just north of Greeley, with his wife and six children, works in real estate and property management.
Beck, who led Cal Poly in tackles each of his four seasons as a Mustang and played in the 2005 East-West Shrine Game, was drafted in the third round by the Atlanta Falcons in 2005 and also played for the Denver Broncos before he was released after the 2008 preseason.
Cal Poly's other two Buck Buchanan Award winners watched the Mustangs play earlier this season – Kyle Shotwell (2006) at UC Davis and Chris Gocong (2005) at home against Weber State.
Cal Poly, which earned its lone win two weeks ago at home against Portland State, 35-28, is 0-5 on the road. The 1998 and 2009 Mustangs finished the year with 0-6 marks away from Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
It will be the 13th meeting between the Mustangs and Bears. Cal Poly owns a 10-2 advantage, winning the last six contests in the series. The series started in 1958 and, with both teams harboring playoff hopes with 6-4 marks, closed out the 2016 regular season in Spanos Stadium, with Cal Poly outscoring Northern Colorado 55-48 to clinch a playoff berth and deny the Bears their first Division I postseason bid. Quarterback Dano Graves, now Cal Poly's quarterbacks coach, had a near-perfect game, completing 14 of 15 passes for 191 yards and rushing for 147 more yards. He threw two touchdown passes and ran for one more score.
Last time Cal Poly played in Greeley was in 2013, a 42-14 Mustang triumph highlighted by fullback Akaninyene Umoh's three touchdowns and Alex Hubbard's 94-yard kickoff rerturn for another score, Cal Poly's only kickoff return for a touchdown in the last 15 years.
Cal Poly is 6-0 against Northern Colorado since moving to Division I in 1994 and head coach Tim Walsh is 5-0 against the Bears, including a 2-0 mark while he coached at Portland State. Last Bears win over the Mustangs was in 1982, a 14-13 decision in San Luis Obispo.
In both 2007 and 2012, Cal Poly scored 14 points in each quarter against Northern Colorado.
Cal Poly will try to avoid its first 10-loss season since the 1964 squad went 0-10. The Mustangs have struggled since losing quarterback Khaleel Jenkins, fullback Joe Protheroe, offensive linemen Colin Goebel and Zach Shallcross, linebackers Charlie Davis and R.J. Mazolewski and defensive backs Dominic Frasch, Carter Nichols and Aaron Johnson to injuries.
Davis, Johnson and Mazolewski made the trip to Greeley and could return to the lineup Saturday.
Northern Colorado fell 44-14 at Montana last week, suffering its sixth straight loss after a 2-1 start. The Bears turned the ball over seven times – five interceptions and two fumbles – and also had a punt blocked by the Grizzlies.
The Bears have compiled 66 plays of 20 or more yards offensively this season. By contrast, Cal Poly has only 32. Northern Colorado is No. 17 in the FCS in passing offense, averaging 279 yards per contest, while Cal Poly is No. 12 in rushing offense, collecting 239 yards a game.
With Protheroe out since the third week of the season, senior fullback Jared Mohamed (pictured above, left) has made the most of his opportunities, becoming the 21st Mustang in program history to join the 1,000-yard mark in single-season rushing.
Cal Poly has produced a 1,000-yard rusher each of the last seven seasons. Joining Mohamed (2017) are Protheroe (2016), Chris Brown (2015 and 2014), Kori Garcia (2014), Kristaan Ivory (2013), Deonte Williams (2012) and Jake Romanelli (2011).
Mohamed, No. 1 in the Big Sky in rushing the last three weeks, enters Saturday's game with 1,065 rushing yards, six 100-yard games this season (including the last three contests) and seven for his career.
Walsh is 5-3 in regular-season finales.