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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Column: The Big Sky is the limit

On the surface, UC Davis’ 20-6 loss to Weber State is just another game. The Aggies came up short, failing to find the end zone despite a couple strong drives.

Under the surface, however, something else might be brewing.

UC Davis recently announced that in 2012, the football team will be joining the Big Sky conference as a football affiliate in what is the biggest event to happen to Aggie football since the move to Division I.

The Big Sky is arguably the most competitive Division I-AA conference in the west. Big Sky football powerhouse Montana has reached the Division I Football Championship Subdivision title game in each of the last two years.

Joining UC Davis in the move is fellow Great West Conference member and rival Cal Poly. With the addition of a 12th team, the new Big Sky will be split into two six-team divisions.

The jump in conferences is a tremendous move for UC Davis football for numerous reasons. For starters, the Aggies will be in a much better position to qualify for the NCAA FCS playoffs.

While there will be just one automatic bid coming from the future 12-team Big Sky conference, the sheer competition in the Big Sky should be enough to propel more than one team to the playoffs.

I’m not the only one who agrees. Take it away coach Bob Biggs.

“This will give us more credibility in the playoffs,” Biggs said. “Obviously the winner of each division will get into the playoffs too. To possibly get up to three teams into a 16 team playoff really shows the strength of the conference.”

The new conference will help UC Davis to the playoffs. Awesome. But who will play for these future-playoff Aggies? The answer – recruits.

The Big Sky is a well known football conference that will look attractive to incoming recruits. There’s more national exposure coming from the Big Sky than there was in the Great West. Therefore all those curious high school seniors and transfer students will see the Big Sky listed next to UC Davis and be more inclined to choose the Aggies for their next two-to-four years.

“The Big Sky is a reputable conference and arguably the strongest FCS conference west of the Mississippi,” Biggs said. “So it helps in terms of familiarity with the conference.”

The Big Sky jump will bring good fortune to the players, obviously. But what about the fans? The new conference will give the Aggie Pack even more to cheer about.

Playing in a conference with just four other teams means the Aggies would have to play at least seven different teams from across the nation. Therefore the UC Davis fans would never really get an opportunity to understand the squads they play.

In the 12-team Big Sky, the Aggies will play five games against fellow division teams and three against Big Sky teams in the other division. The Aggie Pack will have the opportunity to create some long-lasting chants that can be used for years to come.

“The beauty of playing in a conference like the Big Sky is over time they get familiar with the players and coaches on the other team and traditions and history of some of the other programs in the conference,” Biggs said.

All those Causeway Classics will have a lot more meaning as well. Sacramento State, a current Big Sky member, typically matches up against the Aggies in the last week of the regular season. So all those intense Causeway Classics could have bearing on which team qualifies for the playoffs, and which has to settle for watching from the couch.

The Big Sky jump will help the Aggie football program on multiple levels. With stronger, more athletic recruits come stronger, more athletic teams. Better teams translates to better recruits coming to the UC Davis program and hence an even better Aggie squad. It’s the circle of recruitment, get to know it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Aggies don’t even join the conference for another two years so this cycle of new players could be 10 to 15 years away. UC Davis needs to take care of its business now and get ready for the heavy competition in the Big Sky. The Aggies are 0-3 in their last three games against Big Sky opponents, dating back to last season. Nonetheless, UC Davis has a huge opportunity to be successful in the new conference.

“Just to have the opportunity to be in the conference like the Big Sky will really give us an opportunity to grow as a program,” Biggs said. “And if we continue to get stronger and stronger and we can become one of the better teams in the Big Sky year in and year out it will open some opportunities in the future. When and where I have no idea.”

JASON ALPERT can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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