OGDEN, Utah — Even with Montana's loss to Weber State on Saturday, the Grizzlies' playoff hopes are still alive, though it's going to be much more difficult to get there now.
The conference standings after Week 9 games are as follows:
1. Northern Arizona — 5-0
T-2. Southern Utah — 4-1
T-2. Weber State — 4-1
T-2. Eastern Washington — 4-1
5. Montana State — 4-2
T-6. Montana — 3-2
T-6. Sacramento State — 3-2
8. UC Davis — 2-3
T-9. Idaho State — 2-4
T-9. North Dakota — 2-4
11. Northern Colorado — 1-4
T-12. Cal Poly — 0-5
T-12. Portland State — 0-5
Even after last weekend's games, there's still a traffic jam at the top of the standings. Next week should give a clearer picture and unclog the traffic, because there are two games between teams in the top half of the league.
Those two games are Weber State at Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona at Montana.
Montana's game against Northern Arizona isn't going to be easy. The Lumberjacks are undefeated in league play and are on a six-game win streak, in part due to quarterback Case Cookus' success in the pocket.
After that, Montana plays host to Northern Colorado and then has the Brawl of the Wild in Bozeman against Montana State.
Unfortunately, there is no magic number of wins that gets a team in the playoffs. But looking at history can help.
Since the playoff field expanded from 20 to 24 teams in 2013, the Big Sky Conference has had at least three teams make the field. In 2013 and 2016, the league had four teams make the playoffs.
One conference has had five teams make the playoffs in a single year — the Missouri Valley conference in 2014. Those five teams — North Dakota State, Illinois State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State, Indiana State — were all ranked in the top 20 by season's end.
So banking on five teams isn't a solid bet, but four teams, based on history, isn't out of the question.
How can Montana make the playoffs? It's way too early to run every possible scenario across the league, but here are possibilities as to what could happen the next three weeks:
Win out — 8-3, BSC 6-2
The best chance is to win out. If the Grizzlies win out, they will have an 8-3 overall record and a 6-2 conference record.
In the history of the 24-team playoff, very few teams that posted 8-3 records have been left out. (Though Idaho State, in 2014, posted a similar, but not the same, record of 8-4 and didn't qualify.) No Big Sky teams with three losses have been left out since 2013's expansion.
If Montana wins out and gets some mathematically possible (but improbable) help from a doomsday scenario at the top, Montana could theoretically still win the conference with this record.
On the flip side, if the other teams at the top finish strong too, Montana could finish tied for second in the conference with two other teams and potentially be left out.
Drop one — 7-4, BSC 5-3
A 7-4 record is another story.
Over the past three years, many teams — including some Big Sky teams — failed to qualify for the playoffs after having either a 7-4 or 7-5 overall record or a 5-3 record in league play.
In 2013, Montana State went 5-3 in the conference and was ranked No. 20, but didn't get an at-large bid. In 2014, Cal Poly, Northern Arizona and Sacramento State each had 7-5 records and 5-3 conference ledgers. None of them received at-large bids. In 2015, North Dakota and Northern Arizona went 7-4 and didn't get in.
In 2016, Weber State and Cal Poly both had 7-5 records and 5-3 conference records and both schools advanced to the playoffs.
But the 2016 scenario is unlikely to be replicated this season, based on how many other teams are at the top of the conference.
In 2016, both Eastern Washington and North Dakota went undefeated in conference play, while Weber State and Cal Poly finished third and fourth, respectively.
With three games left to play this season, seven teams have two or fewer league losses.
If Montana were to have a 7-4 record, it would need a lot of help from other schools.
It is impossible for every team above Montana in the conference standings to lose out due to scheduling overlap. It's mathematically possible, if Montana's one game it loses is against Northern Colorado, for the Griz to finish in a five-way tie for first, but that's a long shot.
Drop two or three — 6-5, BSC 3-4 or 5-6, BSC 3-5
If Montana happens to drop two of its last three games, let alone all of them, it's safe to say Thanksgiving weekend football is out of the question.