Chris Brown is getting national recognition for his play. The Cal Poly football team as a whole has yet to garner the same respect.
After a 41-21 victory over nationally ranked Montana on Saturday after which quarterback Brown was named national and conference co-offensive player of the week, the Mustangs (5-3, 4-1 Big Sky Conference) remain unranked in both major FCS top-25 polls despite an identical record to the Grizzlies, which fell to No. 12 in The Sports Network media poll.
Montana entered the game ranked seventh by The Sports Network and sixth in the coaches’ poll, and Cal Poly gave the Grizzlies their worst Big Sky loss in 20 years and the most lopsided loss to an FCS opponent in 16 seasons. Montana hadn’t been trounced by 20 or more points since a 42-16 loss to Tennessee in 2011.
Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh was hardly up in arms over the polls heading into this Saturday’s home game against Big Sky frontrunner Montana State (6-2, 4-0 Big Sky), and indicated he wouldn’t be all that surprised if the Mustangs topple the No. 8 Bobcats and still fail to be considered one of the nation’s elite.
“I’ve been around the FCS long enough to understand if you play well for 12 weeks, you’re going to get your reward,” said Walsh, who’s in his sixth year guiding Cal Poly and spent a 14-year stint as head coach at Portland State. “Right now, we’re playing well enough. If we keep doing that, we’ll get our reward.
“If we’re ranked right now, and we don’t play well against Montana State on Saturday, then those people were probably right. … If we do win that, I’d be shocked if we beat No. 6 and No. 9 in back-to-back weeks and not be ranked, but I’ve seen that happen before, too. We’ll worry about that later on.”
Brown shared the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week award with Southern Utah quarterback Ammon Olson, who nearly broke the Big Sky passing efficiency record while throwing for 320 yards and scoring five total touchdowns. For the national award chosen by The Sports Network, Brown shared honors with Chattanooga quarterback Jacob Huesman, who had 458 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.
Brown, meanwhile, ran for 226 yards to set a single-game Cal Poly quarterback rushing record.
It was his sixth career 100-yard rushing game and the 19th 200-yard game in Mustangs history, ranking 13th on the program’s all-time single-game list. Former slotback Mark Rodgers, who had 235 yards against South Dakota in 2010, was the most recent Cal Poly player to rush for 200-plus yards.
Brown didn’t seem bothered at all to share either player of the week award. It was the first time he was recognized for either award.
“Just to be mentioned in that, to have that accolade to my name, is actually amazing,” Brown said. “It’s just a blessing to be a part of that mention.”
Also going 9-of-17 passing for 107 yards and a touchdown, Brown accounted for three scores and upped his team-leading rushing total to 856 yards, which is on pace to break the Big Sky quarterback rushing record, set by Portland State’s Connor Kavanagh with 1,060 yards in 2011.
Brown also seemed unconcerned about the Mustangs’ ranking in the national polls.
The players, he said, are much more interested in Saturday’s matchup, where first place in the conference is on the line. If Cal Poly wins, the Mustangs will be tied for the top spot, and as many as six one-loss teams could also be left standing by the end of the weekend.
“We don’t pay attention to,” the polls, too much, Brown said. “That’s not our job. We just try to get ready for the next game and Montana State. That’s going to be just as big a game as we played against Montana.
“It’s amazing, actually, to be in this situation, and our guys realize that. That we actually have a chance to, one, compete for a Big Sky title and also be able to make it to the playoffs. We try not to focus on it too much because the minute we focus on that, we lose focus on the game we have to win.”
• In the victory over Montana, Cal Poly wore decals on their helmet to support former Mustangs safety and linebacker Dale Barthel, who was diagnosed with ALS 2 ½ years ago.
It was initially thought Cal Poly would only keep the No. 17 helmet decals for a single-game tribute, but Walsh said they would remain for the rest of the season.
“Those stay on the helmets because Dale is a guy that played here,” Walsh said, “and one of the things we try to teach is the brotherhood of Cal Poly football. Supporting each other is something we always want to remember.”
• Walsh said senior Chris Nicholls is day-to-day with the injury he sustained at Sacramento State two weeks ago. Nicholls, a starting slotback who also plays receiver, is still tied for third on the team with 10 receptions and fourth with 239 rushing yards despite missing the entire Montana game and the second half against the Hornets.
Walsh said Nicholls could have played hurt against the Grizzlies but Walsh preferred Nicholls return only when 100 percent.
That could make Nicholls a game-time decision this week.