Posted: Aug 26, 2018
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Seeking to quickly erase the memory of a 1-10 campaign in 2017, Cal Poly (0-0, 0-0 Big Sky) opens the 2018 season Saturday afternoon by visiting top-ranked and six-time NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision national champion North Dakota State (0-0, 0-0 MVFC) on Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome (cap.: 18,700) in one of eight Big Sky-Missouri Valley Challenge Series games this season.
Kickoff in Fargo, N.D., is set for 12:34 p.m. PDT and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 1280 AM and 101.7 FM with Chris Sylvester (play-by-play) and Alex Clupper (analyst). Pregame show starts at 12 noon. The game also will be broadcast on ESPN+ ($4.99 monthly subscription) with Brian Shawn (play-by-play), Lee Timmerman (analyst) and Ryan Gellner (sidelines). Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available on the football schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.
After capturing its fourth FCS playoff berth in 2016 and finishing 7-5 overall and tied for fourth place in the Big Sky Conference, Cal Poly slipped to 1-10 and 12th place in 2017. As many as eight starters missed games due to injuries, including quarterback Khaleel Jenkins and fullback Joe Protheroe. Four of the six team captains suffered season-ending injuries.
Jenkins, Protheroe, offensive linemen Harry Whitson, Zach Shallcross and Sam Ogee and defensive backs Dominic Frasch, Aaron Johnson and Carter Nichols all return this fall, bolstering hopes for a turnaround from the team that tied the school record for losses in a season.
Bison Facts and Figures
North Dakota State posted a 14-1 mark, losing only to South Dakota State, claimed its seventh straight Missouri Valley Football Conference title and captured the 2017 FCS title with a 17-13 victory over James Madison at Frisco, Texas.
Thirteen Bison starters return — six on offense and seven on defense — and also welcome back two seniors injured in the 2017 season, defensive end Greg Menard and running back Lance Dunn. Senior quarterback Easton Stick returns as a fourth-year starter with a 34-3 win-loss record as the starting signal caller and is third on the NDSU career charts for pass attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns.
Dunn leads a solid group of six running backs, but three of the Bison's top four receivers of a year ago are gone. Three starters return on the offensive line, seven regulars man the defensive front, three senior linebackers need to be replaced and the secondary returns three starters from a group that finished third in the FCS in passing yards allowed (147.9) and interceptions (22) in 2017.
Menard and Bison safety Robbie Grimsley are on the preseason Buck Buchanan watch list while Stick and running back Bruce Anderson landed on the Walter Payton watch list. Three others earned preseason All-American honors, a total of 11 Bison landed on the preseason All-Missouri Valley Football Conference squad, North Dakota State is ranked No. 1 in all preseason FCS polls and the Bison have been picked unanimously to capture another MVFC title.
Mustangs Return 13 Starters
Protheroe headlines another strong group of Mustang ball carriers in Cal Poly's Spread Triple Option. Granted a medical redshirt after playing less than six quarters a year ago, Protheroe enters his final collegiate campaign No. 5 on the Mustangs' career rushing chart with 2,164 yards. In becoming Cal Poly's 20th 1,000-yard rusher in 2016, Protheroe amassed 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. He rushed for 779 yards as a sophomore in 2015 and, with 139 yards on a career-high 39 carries against Colgate in the 2017 opener, enters the 2018 season with 14 career 100-yard games.
Quarterback Khaleel Jenkins passed for 597 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 377 yards and four more scores in five starts before suffering a season-ending injury in late September. He completed nine of 16 passes for 238 yards and four touchdowns against Northern Iowa, the most passing yards by a Mustang quarterback since Tony Smith threw for 407 yards and six touchdowns against South Dakota in 2009.
Joining Protheroe among the corps of ball carriers this fall are sophomores Broc Mortensen (206 yards as a true freshman in 2017) and Chuby Dunu (215 yards), junior Trey Nahhas, senior Malcolm Davis (99 yards) and redshirt freshman Duy Tran-Sampson.
The Mustangs' wide receiving corps is led by juniors J.J. Koski (team-leading 28 catches in 2017) and Jake Smeltzer (six) along with sophomore Ryan McNab (two).
Whitson, who played at left guard during his first three seasons as a Mustang, moves to center to replace Joey Kuperman this fall. Whitson is one of five offensive linemen who started at least four games a year ago. The others are tackles Ogee (six starts) and Shallcross (eight starts) and guards Tyler Whisenhunt 11 starts) and Paul Trujillo-Langdon (four starts).
On defense, the entire front three and half of the four linebackers need to be replaced. Seniors Anders Turner (32 tackles in 2016) and Jayson Lee (60 tackles in 2017) anchor the linebacking corps. The secondary is the most experienced group, led by six veterans, the return of Nichols from injury and the addition of transfer Kevin Howell from Nevada.
Casey Sublette, who handled all kicking duties in 2017, returns, backed up by Alex Vega. Both are seniors. Vega kicked a 49-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in a 20-19 win over Montana in the 2015 opener.
2018 -- A Season of Milestones
Coached by Tim Walsh (51-52, UC Riverside '77), Cal Poly's football program celebrates a trio of milestones this fall. The Mustangs are playing their 100th season on the gridiron and 25th at the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) level. In addition, Walsh is in his 10th season at the helm of the Cal Poly football program.
Cal Poly was No. 1 in the FCS in rushing offense (309.1) in 2013, duplicated the feat in 2014 by averaging 351.8 yards on the ground, broke school and Big Sky records by averaging 387.3 rushing yards per game in 2015 and topped all 121 FCS teams during the regular season again in 2016 with a 343.5-yard average. The four-year run atop the FCS in team rushing ended last fall as the Mustangs averaged just 231.7 yards per contest on the ground.
Cal Poly and North Dakota State are meeting for the eighth time in football this weekend and the Bison own a 4-3 advantage in the series. North Dakota State won the last meeting between the two schools, posting a come-from-behind 31-28 victory in 2007 inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
The Bison scored three touchdowns in the final 10 minutes to turn a 28-9 deficit into the Great West Football Conference victory before 10,899 Homecoming fans. Cal Poly built the 19-point lead on two touchdown passes from Jonathan Dally to Jon Hall, a 10-yard pass from Dally to Ramses Barden and David Fullerton's interception of a Bison pass in the end zone with 10:02 remaining in the game. Dally ran for 122 yards and completed 14 of 23 passes for 181 yards.
Tim Walsh, 5-4 in seasons openers at Cal Poly, is 0-0 against North Dakota State while Chris Klieman is 0-0 versus Cal Poly.
North Dakota State Dominant Over Last Seven Years
Klieman is in his fifth season as head coach of the Bison and owns a 54-6 record. He also compiled a 3-7 mark in one season as head coach at Division III Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Under contract with NDSU through the 2023 season, Klieman has guided the Bison to 7-1 marks in the Missouri Valley Football Conference each of his four previous years. Klieman came to NDSU following a nine-year stay at Northern Iowa where he was the defensive coordinator, co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach from 2006-10 under head coach Mark Farley and 1991-93 under head coach Terry Allen.
Klieman was a three-time All-Gateway Conference defensive back at Northern Iowa and a four-year letterwinner from 1986-90. He graduated from UNI in 1990 with a bachelor's degree in health education and earned a master's degree in physical education from UNI in 1992. He also had assistant coaching stints at Western Illinois (1994-96), Kansas (1997), Missouri State (1999) and Loras (2002-04).
The Bison are 58-5 over the last seven years in the Fargodome and have won 59 of their last 61 non-conference games at home. NDSU has drawn over 18,000 fans in 54 straight home games from 2011-17.
Cal Poly, which captured the 2012 Big Sky title in its first year in the conference, was picked this summer to finish 10th (coaches) and 11th (media) in the 13-team Big Sky this fall. Eastern Washington was selected to claim the Big Sky crown in 2018. Southern Utah and Weber State shared the conference title in 2017 with 7-1 marks.
The Big Sky loses North Dakota in its lineup this fall, though the Fighting Hawks will continue to play a Big Sky schedule for two more years. Idaho returns to the Big Sky this fall after an 18-year run in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The Mustangs claimed four Great West Conference titles in the eight-year history of the league (2004, 2005, 2008, 2011) before moving to the Big Sky in 2012 and have earned NCAA Division I FCS playoff berths in 2005, 2008, 2012 and 2016.
The Mustangs have won 61 of their last 83 home contests (73 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 99 of its last 172 games (58 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 20 of its last 47 and 39 of 85 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 17 years.
Next week, Cal Poly plays the first of two consecutive home games, hosting Weber State for a non-conference game on Saturday, Sept. 8. Kickoff is set for 6:05 p.m. The Mustangs also entertain Ivy League member Brown on Friday, Sept. 14, at 7:05 p.m.