For the first time since 1998, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks will open outside their home state as they face the San Diego State Aztecs in San Diego today at 4 p.m.
It’s also the first time since 2001 that Northern Arizona will not face one of the two in-state schools, Arizona or Arizona State. However, San Diego State stands as a useful fill-in, with four straight bowl appearances and four straight seasons with at least eight wins in the FBS. Though it was blown out at Arizona last year, Northern Arizona is just two years removed from its last FBS win, a 17-14 upset at UNLV in 2012 that was the first win of its kind since 1987.
San Diego State is not far removed from its most recent upset by an FCS school, as now-Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo led Eastern Illinois to a 40-19 victory in San Diego to start last season.
With a whole new defense and some new weapons on offense, head coach Jerome Souers said he looks at the game as a no-risk opportunity to see what the team can do.
“They have a strong tradition of winning over there, they have really got things turned around. We have an excellent opponent,” Souers said. “We are going to have four non-conference games that allow us an opportunity to define what kind of a team we can be.”
For the players, it’s a chance to see how well they compare to those on an FBS roster.
Souers said his team enjoys the games against schools in the higher division as it gives them a chance to see how well they can match up with players who were more highly recruited than they were.
With nothing to lose and a roster filled with untested players, Souers knew one thing for sure.
“I can assure you we are going to do some things well and I’m sure we are going to have some things we need to improve on,” he said. “This is a process. We have 46 new players on our roster.”
In last season’s game at Arizona, quarterback Kyren Poe started of his passing career with 10 straight completions before things turned sour as the game wore on.
“I had no idea I was 10 for 10, I was just playing the game and doing what I was supposed to do,” Poe said. “The O-line was giving me time in the first half and we had some success early on.”
Now with a full season of starting behind him, Poe said his comfort level has risen with the speed of the game and vision of the field. He also admitted the next step was making sure to take better care of the ball, after throwing 10 interceptions and losing three fumbles in his first year.
“I know what to expect; I know how to be successful,” Poe said. “I just need to clean up a little bit of my decision-making and take care of the ball a little bit more than last year.”
Of those 10 interceptions, three came in the opener against Arizona and another three came in the playoff game against South Dakota State.
Today’s game can be heard on 106.1 FM and will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.