A new trend has started.
For years, NCAA Football Championship Subdivision power Montana was the annual pick as the team to beat in the Big Sky Conference, but for the second-straight year, Montana State and Eastern Washington University have been picked to finish 1-2.
Three-time defending Big Sky Conference football co-champion Montana State has been selected first by the media and the coaches in the polls. Eastern has been selected second, the league announced Monday (July 15) at the Summer Kickoff in Park City, Utah.
Montana State, which has finished 7-1 in the conference in each of the past three seasons and advanced to the FCS Playoffs each year, earned eight first-place votes in the coaches’ poll and a total of 140 points. In the media poll, the Bobcats received 31 of 48 first-place votes and 596 total points.
Eastern garnered three first-place votes and 130 total points from the coaches. In the media poll, the Eagles earned 12 first-place votes and 566 total points.
Montana was picked third in both polls, receiving a pair of first-place votes and 111 total votes by the coaches, and three and 492, respectively, by the media. Cal Poly, which shared the 2012 league title with EWU and MSU, was picked fourth in both polls and received a first-place vote by the media. Northern Arizona is fifth in both polls and Sacramento State, which received the final first-place vote by the media, was sixth.
“I love the competition,” said senior safety Allen Brown, who is EWU’s player representative at the Big Sky Conference Summer Kickoff in Park City, Utah. “We compete year-in and year-out with Montana State and Montana. And it’s good to see Northern Arizona and Cal Poly also competing for the title. This is a great conference with great competition.”
In 2011, the Eagles were picked to win the league title after they had won the 2010 Big Sky championship and went on to win the NCAA Division I title. But an 0-4 start and a rash of injuries led to a 6-5 finish overall and 5-3 mark in the Big Sky in 2011. In 2012, the Eagles finished 11-3 overall and advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs.
A total of 48 returning letter winners are back for the Eagles, including 25 on offense, 21 on defense and two on special teams. Among the returning letter winners are seven starters on offense and five and a half on defense, as well as the school’s punter and kickoff specialist. Three All-Americans (linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, cornerback T.J. Lee, offensive guard Steven Forgette) and three others who earned Freshman All-America accolades (quarterback Vernon Adams, safety Jordan Tonani and return specialist Shaquille Hill) are among the returning players.
After summer conditioning, Eastern will begin practices for the 2013 season on Aug. 7 in preparation for the team’s season-opener on Aug. 31 at Oregon State. Eastern plays its home opener at Roos Field against Western Oregon on Sept. 7 at 4:05 p.m.