Cal Poly

Cal Poly set to begin stretch football run

Mark Rodgers and Cal Poly’s football team host Central Oklahoma today at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
Mark Rodgers and Cal Poly’s football team host Central Oklahoma today at Alex G. Spanos Stadium. jmellom@thetribunenews.com

Mark Rodgers and Andre Broadous were part of a caravan that tripped down to Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Scott Winnewisser spent his Saturday working security at the Fight for Wrestling mixed martial arts event at the Madonna Expo Center.

Asa Jackson took the opportunity to return home to Sacramento and hang out with a few friends he hadn’t seen in a while.

Tim Walsh and Bryan Cook took in a local high school game, and Pat Johnston witnessed the birth of daughter Scarlett.

During last weekend’s bye, many Cal Poly football players and coaches turned their attention away from the field in order to help refocus for today’s game against visiting Division II Central Oklahoma (1-4).

The Mustangs are just 1-3, but their season goals — a conference title and a playoff berth — are still attainable.

Jackson appreciated “being able to just take a step back and see that everything’s good,” the senior cornerback said.

“Sometimes you have to just look at the grand scheme of things, but then it also made me miss it a little bit and made me want to come back and get back into it.”

Blowout losses to FCS opponents Northern Illinois and San Diego State had to be put in perspective.

Cal Poly received guarantees totaling $460,000 to play the two games — both against bowl-bound teams featuring plenty of NFL prospects. There was no outside expectation of victory.

A loss at Montana where the Mustangs led for much of the game is the lone disappointment on the schedule and what’s holding their record below .500.

After the bye, Cal Poly figures to face more even matchups. Aside from today’s game against the Bronchos, at least, the Mustangs will be on an even playing field.

The final seven games feature four Great West Conference games and two nonconference matchups against FCS opponents Eastern Washington and South Alabama.

There’s a better chance Cal Poly can make a run of victories through the home stretch than there was that the Mustangs would go into hostile road environments and beat their arguably three toughest opponents of the season in the first four weeks.

“It’s a seven-game season for us from now on,” Jackson said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to go undefeated, and if we do, we should be able to make some noise in the playoffs as well, and if we win our next seven games, we win our conference, which is one of our goals.”

After a brutal five-game road trip last year, Cal Poly won four of five games heading into the season finale against UC Davis and was lined up for the program’s first playoff berth since 2008 before a second-half swoon doomed them in a 22-21 loss to the rival Aggies.

The lesson: This season is far from over.

“They totally get it,” said head coach Walsh, who was spotted in the stands at San Luis Obispo High last Friday night. “They know we played a tough first half of our schedule. And nobody’s happy that we’re 1 and 3, and we all understand that we are 1 and 3. I think it’s an opportunity to take it right now as we’re 0-0, and we need to be 1-0 (today).”

The Mustangs still have to get their minimum seven victories against Division I opposition to qualify for a playoff spot, and today’s game against Central Oklahoma will not qualify.

A loss, however, would certainly be the end of any optimism.

As a former Division II coach at Sonoma State who coached pros such as Larry Allen, Walsh knows how dangerous teams from that level can be.

Central Oklahoma ended a 10-game losing streak with last week’s 41-21 victory over East Central, but the Cal Poly coach is quick to point out that Bronchos’ opponents this season have a combined 17-6 record.

“This team has Division I transfers,” Walsh said. “They have junior college guys that couldn’t go to Division I schools that are Division I athletes, and they’ve got two of the best states to recruit from in Texas and Oklahoma.

“They’ll be really skilled. They’ll be as athletic if not more athletic at the skill positions as we are and we’re going to have to play our tails off to beat this team.”

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