Despite losing 17 seniors who combined for 350 starts, Eagles gain respect of media and coaches in preseason polls
Heading on a collision course for a Sept. 18 showdown between Eastern Washington University and Montana, the Eagles have been picked to finish second behind the 12-time defending league champion Grizzlies in the Big Sky Conference preseason football polls released Tuesday (July 20).
Montana is heavily favored to win a 13th straight Big Sky Conference football championship under first-year head coach Robin Pflugrad. The Grizzlies received eight first-place votes and 64 total points. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team. In the media poll, 40 of the 42 voters penciled Montana at the top of the ballot. The Grizzlies received 356 total points.
Eastern, which has 44 letter winners back but lost 17 seniors who combined for 350 starts, earned one first-place vote in the media poll and 280 total points. In the coaches’ poll, the Eagles earned 51 points. The Eagles and Grizzlies meet in Cheney, Wash., on Sept. 18 at 4:05 p.m. Pacific time in the league opener for both schools on the new red turf at Roos Field (formerly named Woodward Field).
The coaches and media picked all nine teams in the same order, with spots two through five very tight. Montana State was tabbed third, getting 279 points from the media and 48 from the coaches. Weber State, a playoff qualifier in 2008 and 2009, was picked fourth. Northern Arizona earned one first-place vote from the coaches and one from the media, but was picked to finish fifth by both entities, with 41 points from the coaches and 240 from the media.
Sacramento State, Northern Colorado, Portland State and Idaho State rounded out the polls. Portland State is the other team in the league with a new coach. Nigel Burton, the Nevada defensive coordinator the past two seasons, takes over for Jerry Glanville.
The 2010 season begins on Thursday, Sept. 2 with Eastern Washington (versus Nevada) and Northern Arizona (versus Western New Mexico) in action. The seven other Sky teams open on Saturday, Sept. 4.
The 2010 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title game will be played on Friday, Jan. 7, 2011, at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. The FCS playoff field expands from 16 to 20 teams this season. Eight teams will play first-round games on Saturday, Nov. 27. Twelve teams – including five seeded squads – earn byes to the second round on Saturday, Dec. 4.
Montana’s 12 straight conference titles is second all-time in Division I history behind Oklahoma’s 14 straight from 1946-1959. The Grizzlies won last year’s title by winning all eight of their league games, and went on to finish 14-1 overall as they suffered their first loss to Villanova (23-21) in the championship game of the FCS Playoffs.
The Eagles finished the 2009 season with an 8-4 record and also advanced to FCS Playoffs. Among the senior starters lost from an extremely prolific offense were All-America quarterback Matt Nichols, All-America tight end Nathan Overbay and right tackle and 30-game starter Chris Thomas.
The Eagles finished as the runner-up in the Big Sky Conference with a 6-2 mark, winning their last four regular season games by a combined 172-107 margin. The Eagles finished the season ranked 13th in the final NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Sports Network Poll, and was also ranked 13th in the FCS Coaches poll and the AGS/anygivensaturday.com poll.
But Eastern battled injuries all season dating back to the previous spring, and also weathered a postseason ban by the NCAA in February that was overturned in late October. Showing its consistency, Eastern had its 12th winning season in the last 14 years (1996-2009). Eastern is one of only eight schools (of 125 playing FCS football) to have made the playoffs at least four times in the past six years (2004-09).
1. Montana (8) - 64
2. Eastern Washington - 51
3. Montana State - 48
4. Weber State - 44
5. Northern Arizona (1) - 41
6. Sacramento State - 30
7. Northern Colorado - 19
8. Portland State - 18
9. Idaho State - 10
1. Montana (40) - 374
2. Eastern Washington (1) - 280
3. Montana State - 279
4. Weber State - 269
5. Northern Arizona (1) - 240
6. Sacramento State - 166
7. Northern Colorado - 128
8. Portland State - 89
9. Idaho State - 62