Historically, Portland State has not been an annual participant in the FCS playoffs, so head coach Bruce Barnum hopes his talented Vikings catch some people by surprise.
The Vikings host Northern Iowa Saturday at Providence Park (7 p.m. PT, ESPN3) in the last of eight quarterfinal matchups in the FCS playoffs. As one of eight national seeds, PSU received a bye last weekend.
Portland State will make just its second appearance in the FCS playoffs while hosting a playoff game for the first time.
The Vikings and Panthers have never met on the gridiron.
“Our guys know what’s at stake,” Barnum said Monday on Rip City Radio. “They have a chance to win the national championship and the first step is Northern Iowa. It will be a test. I’m glad they’re coming here. We’ll have the team ready. I have a good staff. Our players care and don’t give up. They are fun to watch.”
It’s a classic Big Sky vs. Missouri Valley Conference matchup – the FCS party crasher from the Pacific Northwest against the hotshot MVC team that beat four-time defending champion North Dakota State during the 2014 regular season and nearly knocked off the Bison this season.
“Sixteen teams are left. All of a sudden we’re with the big boys,” Barnum said recently. “The good thing is I don’t think they know who Portland State is or who the student-athletes are on our team. We’ll see if we can make a run. We’re playing teams that have been there. We’re playing a team that has beaten teams in our conference.
Since they had a bye, Portland State practiced a couple of times last week before scattering for Thanksgiving break. They returned to campus in time for practice on Monday and the ‘Vik Bowl,’ essentially a scrimmage for young players redshirting this season or those who have not played much in 2015.
Barnum described the ‘Vik Bowl’ as a celebration
“It was one of the best football games I have seen in a long time,” Barnum said. “It was a lot of fun. It kicked off our second season I have never seen a group of 89 student-athletes have more fun than they had this morning. They’ll stay loose. I like where we’re at and how they approach football games. The weekend off and seeing their families at Thanksgiving settled them. They realized what they have and the opportunity ahead of them.”
— Portland State FB (@viks_football) December 1, 2015
— Senior safety Patrick Onwuasor has been named a finalist for the STATS FCS National Defensive Player of the Year. He leads the nation in interceptions with nine, and also has 75 tackles and two tackles for loss. Onwuasor tied a PSU school record with three interceptions in one game and earned Big Sky Conference Player of the Week on Oct. 31. The other two finalists for National Defensive Player of the Year are also from the Big Sky Conference – Defensive ends James Cowser and Tyrone Holmes of Southern Utah and Montana, respectively.
— Redshirt linebacker A.J. Schlatter, a Canby (Ore.) High product, went from obscure walk-on to Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week. “He showed up in camp and he’s long and looks the part,” Barnum said. “But nobody gave him a chance. He’s grateful, he was humble for the opportunity to be a part of this football team. He did everything right off the field as well as one it. He made plays.” Schlatter was awarded a scholarship at the beginning of the fall term.
— Barnum described Northern Iowa as a physical and very talented team defensively, while the offense is built on speed. “It will be a challenge because we’re talking about the last 16 FCS teams in the country,” Barnum said. “Everybody is good. Everybody can win on Saturday.” UNI blasted Eastern Illinois in a first round game and have won six games in a row.
— Saturday night marks Northern Iowa’s third game against a Big Sky opponent this season. UNI won, 38-35, at home against Eastern Washington on Sept. 12 before defeating Cal Poly on the road, 34-20, on Sept. 19.
— The game will be available on ESPN3 (www.espn3.com and WatchESPN) and air locally on 1190 KEX in Portland and www.1190kex.com. The pre-game show airs at 6 p.m. Live stats can be found at ViksLive.com.
SECOND ROUND GAMES (Dec. 5)
The Citadel at #8 Charleston Southern, 10 a.m.
Colgate at #5 James Madison, 10 a.m.
William & Mary at #7 Richmond. 9 a.m.
Chattanooga at #1 Jacksonville St., 11 a.m.
Western Illinois at #2 Illinois St., 11 a.m.
Montana at #3 North Dakota St., 12:30 p.m.
Sam Houston State at #4 McNeese St., 4 p.m.
Northern Iowa at #6 Portland St., 7 p.m.
(All Times Pacific)
— Big Sky FB WarZone (@BigSkyFBWarZone) November 29, 2015