There are almost too many connections to name.
The first Big Sky Conference meeting between the Cal Poly and Portland State football teams is rife with affiliations that weave between both programs.
There’s also a potential that the similarities between the No. 14 Mustangs (6-0, 4-0 Big Sky) and the unranked Vikings (2-4, 1-2) could extend to the final score.
“They’re probably in the top three most athletic teams in the conference,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “They already know they can score 40 points per game.”
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When the two teams meet at Alex G. Spanos Stadium tonight at 6, there very well could be a shootout — adding even more spice to an already intriguing matchup.
Not only is Walsh facing a program he formerly head coached for 14 years and guided through the transition to Division I competition.
Not only is Cal Poly quarterback Andre Broadous facing his hometown team, one he followed growing up while Walsh was the coach and one he spurned to come to San Luis Obispo.
Not only did three Mustangs assistant coaches have standout college careers as Vikings and a fourth ran to a legendary prep career at a Portland high school.
The Vikings have some of their own Central Coast ties.
Cal Poly’s homecoming game is also a return to the county’s borders for Portland State starting right tackle Mitchell Van Dyk, a former Tribune All-County performer at Paso Robles High.
A 6-foot-9, 290-pound junior, Van Dyk assumed a starting role with the Vikings as a sophomore after redshirting in 2009 and playing sparingly in 2010.
One of the backs Van Dyk blocks for is Shaquille Richard, the team’s second-leading rusher with 43.4 yards per game.
Locals may remember Richard as the star running back on the Gardena Serra High team that beat Arroyo Grande in the 2010 CIF-Central Section divisional championships.
Richard was also recruited by Cal Poly before signing with Portland State.
Both teams have some extra incentive to win, but the victory would still mean more to the Mustangs, who could match their two best Division I starts with a victory.
Cal Poly won its first seven games under Rich Ellerson in 2004 en route to a 9-2 season. Larry Welsh guided the Mustangs to a 10-1 season in 1997, winning his first seven games in his debut season as head coach.
Another shared similarity between those two seasons is that Cal Poly was not selected to participate in the FCS playoffs.
With a victory over Portland State tonight, this year’s Mustangs would satisfy the minimum requirement for Division I victories recommended for consideration for an at-large berth by the NCAA.
And Cal Poly would continue on a path that increasingly looks like the program is headed for its first postseason appearance since 2008. That year, the Ramses Barden-led Mustangs also played in their first home playoff game in program history as a Division I school.
If Cal Poly wants another Thanksgiving weekend appearance at Spanos, the Mustangs are going to have to beat Portland State. To do that, they’re going to have to continue to score.
Cal Poly ranks 10th in the FCS and atop the Big Sky with 38.2 points per game. The Vikings, two weeks removed from a 77-10 victory over Idaho State, are second in the conference and 12th in the country with 36.2 points per game.
Portland State has been on the wrong side of high-scoring shootouts with North Dakota and Southern Utah, but even so, the Mustangs know they can score in bunches.
The Vikings have also had a bye week to prepare for Cal Poly’s triple option, an offense that shares principles with Portland State’s pistol offense.
The Vikings also seem to be getting better defensively under head coach Nigel Burton, who dismissed defensive coordinator Eric Jackson after just the second game of the season and took over coaching the defense himself.
After allowing 41.5 points on average through its first four games, Portland State gave up 24 to Northern Arizona three weeks ago before the blowout victory over Idaho State.
Both the Mustangs’ and the Vikings’ offenses rely on running the ball. Whichever one is able to affect the running game of the other could end up on top.
“Both teams,” Walsh said, “if neither team can stop the run, it will be a long night for one of us. The defense that shows up and plays is going to be the team that wins.”