Deep Big Sky seeks to end Weber State title run
By CRAIG HALEY
(Stats Perform) - Heading into the 2020 Big Sky season, the defending co-champs, Sacramento State and Weber State, have the easiest conference schedules.
That may sound surprising, if not alarming, to the rest of the Big Sky, but it reflects on how the 13-member conference - the largest in the FCS - has an eight-game conference schedule and not all teams play each other.
If Weber State likes its schedule this season, it surely loved on Thursday when it was installed as the favorite in both Big Sky preseason polls - head coaches and media - during the first of the conference's two-day virtual kickoff event. The Wildcats, who have earned a share of the last three Big Sky titles and were FCS semifinalists for the first time last season, were followed by Montana, Montana State, Eastern Washington, Sacramento State and UC Davis as the top six spots were the same in both polls.
"We have had big expectations in our program the last few years and I think our players have handled that very well," Weber State coach Jay Hill said. "Now we have to take another step and find a way to raise those expectations even higher."
Unpredictability is another factor with the Big Sky, and it can take everybody's mind off schedules and place it squarely on winning. Consider this about the unbalanced scheduling: Sacramento State didn't win a Big Sky game in 2018 and had the toughest conference schedule heading into last season, yet went on to capture a share of its first title. While doing so, the Hornets beat Eastern Washington, Montana State and Montana - each nationally ranked at the time - in succession.
Sacramento State's opponents went a combined 22-42 in conference games last season, while Weber State's were 26-38. Both programs will face only one of last year's four Big Sky playoffs teams.
Conversely, the team with the toughest schedule, Northern Colorado, will face all four playoff teams (Montana and national semifinalist Montana State were the other two), with the Bears' eight opponents a combined 39-25 in conference.
"With going from eight or nine teams to 13 teams, I think there's such a great variety, too," said Cal Poly first-year coach Beau Baldwin, who won the 2010 FCS national title at Eastern Washington. "You see different things, like what Weber State does on offense compared to what Sac State, Eastern (do). That makes it tough, too."
Whether there will be a Big Sky season - or any college football - is tenuous. Five of the 13 FCS conferences have canceled their fall schedule due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. The Big Sky presidents are scheduled to meet again next Thursday to review a myriad of scenarios, commissioner Tom Wistrcill said.
If there's a season, the top tier of teams is excellent: Weber State coach Jay Hill will have a team that features All-Big Sky running back Josh Davis and a stout defense; Montana will light up the scoreboard with the trio of running back Marcus Knight and wide receivers Samori Toure and Samuel Akem; and Montana State will run over opponents, including with running back Isaiah Ifanse. Also, Eastern Washington, a 2018 national finalist, has the Big Sky's top quarterback in Eric Barriere.
The Big Sky preseason team will be announced Friday.
BIG SKY CONFERENCE PRESEASON POLLS
Head Coaches Poll
1. Weber State (7 first-place votes), 135 points
2. Montana (3), 128
3. Montana State (1), 121
4. Eastern Washington (1), 118
5. Sacramento State (1), 99
6. UC Davis, 83
7. Northern Arizona, 68
8. Portland State, 67
9. Idaho, 66
10. Cal Poly, 46
11. Idaho State, 37
12. Southern Utah, 33
13. Northern Colorado, 13
1. Weber State (28 first-place votes), 546 points
2. Montana (6), 496
3. Montana State (6), 493
4. Eastern Washington (1), 438
5. Sacramento State, 389
6. UC Davis (1), 325
7. Portland State, 274
8. Idaho, 273
9. Northern Arizona, 238
10. Cal Poly, 206
11. Idaho State, 133
12. Southern Utah, 105
13. Northern Colorado, 88
Updated July 23, 2020