After a season that ended with a national championship, Eagles are picked to win the Big Sky Conference title it shared last year with Bobcats
If coaches and media are correct, Eastern Washington University’s football home opener with Montana State on Sept. 24 will go a long way to decide the 2011 Big Sky Conference Championship.
In narrow balloting decided by just a few votes in both polls, the Eagles edged Montana State as the preseason pick by both the coaches and the media to win the Big Sky title, the league office announced Tuesday (July 19).
In the poll of league coaches, Eastern received six first-place tallies and 60 total votes, while MSU received 57 points and was first on the other three ballots. The Eagles also edged MSU in the media poll, receiving 29 first-place votes and 430 total tallies, compared to 19 and 414, respectively, for MSU.
Montana, which had won or shared the last 12 league titles before last season, was picked third in both polls. The Eagles and Bobcats both finished 7-1 in the league last season, with MSU winning the regular-season battle between the two teams 30-7 in Bozeman, Mont. Following that setback, Eastern won 11-straight games and the NCAA Division I Championship.
The EWU-MSU rematch this season is in Cheney, starting at 4:05 p.m. Pacific time on the red Sprinturf surface at the “Inferno” in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles open the season with three-straight road games, including non-conference games at Washington (Sept. 3) and South Dakota (Sept. 10), and EWU’s league opener at perennial power Montana (Sept. 17). The Grizzlies failed to advance to the FCS Playoffs for the first time since 1992.
“We know darn well that it is hard,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin of replicating the success his team had in 2010. “It is hard work in the offseason. It’s hard work to win the non-conference games we have on our schedule. And it’s hard to win any Big Sky Conference game, let alone trying to win the league title. All of those little goals we have along the way are tough to accomplish, so they are really huge goals. We have to be excited about them and strive to achieve them.”
“It starts over again no matter what it says on paper and whatever comments are made that we look better entering 2011 than we did in 2010,” added Baldwin, whose team returns 15 starters and 52 total letterwinners from last season’s team that finished 13-2. “That doesn’t matter in terms of the success we have on the field. Our players are very mature in handling that and understand we still have to work hard and look for short-term goals.”
Sacramento State, a team Eastern edged 28-24 last season, is picked to finish fourth in both rankings. The next two teams in the coaches poll are Northern Arizona and Weber State, but those two positions were reversed by the media. Both polls have Portland State, Northern Colorado and Idaho State ranked as the bottom three teams.
1. Eastern Washington (6) - 60
2. Montana State (3) - 57
3. Montana - 49
4. Sacramento State - 46
5. Northern Arizona - 35
6. Weber State - 32
7. Portland State - 23
8. Northern Colorado - 13
9. Idaho State - 10
1. Eastern Washington (29) - 430
2. Montana State (19) - 414
3. Montana (3) - 365
4. Sacramento State - 273
5. Weber State - 247
6. Northern Arizona - 228.5
7. Portland State - 151.5
8. Northern Colorado - 110.5
9. Idaho State - 76.5