The 2017 football season is nearing the midpoint and some Frontier teams are rolling, some are foundering and some are looking for an opportunity to prove themselves. Here are five questions to ponder this week:
Can Rocky Mountain contend with a Top 10 team?
Rocky Mountain College will enter Saturday’s game against undefeated No. 9 Southern Oregon with a 3-2 record — the same mark they held at this point last year before stumbling down the stretch and finishing the 2016 season with a 4-7 record.
The Battlin' Bears are looking for a different outcome this time around.
“We were at this same spot a year ago, and we’re looking to avoid those same mistakes,” said Rocky Mountain head coach Jason Petrino, whose team is coming off a 31-7 thrashing of College of Idaho. “We’re still very youthful and we understand that's what happens when you play eight true freshmen. We just hope the effort is there."
After their clash with the SOU Raiders, Rocky will have a bye week and then head into its rematches against MSU Northern and Carroll College, both of whom the Battlin' Bears defeated earlier in the season.
Petrino knows that his team's upcoming slate of games will be critical in determining whether they have turned the corner on last year's late-season struggles.
"With every game in the Frontier, you'd better be geared up to win, and Southern Oregon is playing great football." Petrino said. " And these next three or four weeks will be critical for us. We still don't know where we're at and there's still some uncertainty."
Petrino said a renewed effort to run the ball and run it often is an important offensive mindset he's stressing.
"We need to get back to what we’ve done traditionally which is running the ball early," he said. "We need to have an answer for what teams are doing."
Can anyone slow down Montana Tech?
It would be easy to look at Montana Tech's perfect record and No. 5 ranking and be content.
But for Oredigger coach Chuck Morrell, there's always opportunity to improve.
"We went back and looked at the first part of the season and a number of areas we want to focus on and fix," said Morrell. "There's times during early games where we didn't perform as well as we needed to, so it's a good time for us to go back and evaluate and make some changes."
The 4-0 'Diggers completed a total dismantling of Eastern Oregon last Saturday en route to a 62-14 win in which Tech piled up 647 yards of offense to the Mountaineers 234.
The rout dropped EOU from the NAIA Coaches' Poll and earned Tech quarterback Quinn McQueery — who has strung together four 300-yard passing games — his second NAIA Offensive Player of the Week honor.
The blowout also begged the question: Can Montana Tech be stopped as it charges towards a third straight Frontier Conference Title?
Tech and McQueary aren't ready to think that far ahead.
"Right now we're just trying to stay focused and take it one week at time," said McQueary. "We're just trying to fix little things up and perfect everything."
Now on a bye week, Tech will return to action when it travels to Dillon on Oct. 7 to take on 2-3 Montana Western.
McQueary has dialed up 21 touchdown plays this season while running back Jed Fike has piled up 643 yards on the ground. For Morrell, Tech's potent offense is being sparked by a formidable offensive line.
"It all start up front," said Morrell. "With our offensive line there's certainly a very physical style of play that's happening."
Will Carroll College break out of its slump?
The 1-3 Saints' lone win of the 2017 season was a Week 3, 34-3 thumping over struggling MSU-Northern. They followed that victory with a 35-14 loss to Southern Oregon.
With a game against a 1-4 College of Idaho squad looming after the bye week on Oct. 7, Carroll will have an opportunity to right the ship before heading into its rematches with Tech, MSU Northern and Rocky Mountain.
Against Southern Oregon, now ranked at No. 9, the Saints trailed 35-0 at the half and allowed Raider quarterback Tanner Trosin to throw for over 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
One bright spot for Carroll was the running game where the Saints outpaced SOU 144 yards to 136. The Saints were led by the tandem of Ryan Walsh with 52 yards and Major Ali with 50 yards.
Will MSU Northern's woes continue?
It's been over a year since the 0-4 Northern Lights pulled out a victory, and Saturday's non-conference game against winless Mayville State University may be Northern's best shot at notching its first mark in the win column this season.
Outside of a tight 32-25 season-opening loss to Rocky Mountain College, all of Northern's losses have come packaged in a rout.
Mayville State's last games have ended in runaway wins for the opposing team — a 48-16 loss to Dakota State University in Week 3 and a 49-7 defeat to visiting Dickinson State University in Week 4.
Can Western deliver back-to-back wins?
The Bulldogs have a bye week to savor their second win of the season — a 61-7 thumping of MSU Northern.
Things will get a bit more challenging next week as Western hosts No. 5 Montana Tech. Still, Western's blowout win provided its offense a chance to stretch its legs as it rolled up 581 total yards.
Quarterback Bennett Gibson tossed three scoring throws and ran for two touchdowns with zero turnovers against the Northern Lights.
The Bulldogs' defense also sharpened it's teeth as it produced six turnovers, including five interceptions.