Big Sky Powers Seek to Shake off Rust, Rejoin Deep Title Race
Most FCS conferences had at least one school opt out of participating in the 2020-21 season due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Big Sky Conference was the only one that moved forward with a schedule this past spring without multiple top-10 teams that appeared in the 2019 postseason. Next month, co-champion Sacramento State and national semifinalist Montana State as well as Northern Colorado will be playing catch-up, having not blocked or tackled an opponent in nearly two years, while a third 2019 playoff squad, longtime power Montana, and Portland State will be back on the field after playing only a limited nonconference schedule in the spring.
“First game in a long, long time,” was how Montana State first-year coach Brent Vigen described the layoff on Monday during an ESPN+ broadcast of Big Sky Football Kickoff.
The FCS’ largest conference is intact again with 13 teams, and in one way it never changed. Weber State won a fourth straight conference title this past spring and has been installed as the favorite in both the preseason coaches and media polls. Full of veteran players, the Big Sky preseason squad had the look of an All-America team, including Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere and Idaho linebacker Tre Walker as the preseason MVP choices.
Seven of the eight teams that participated in the spring conference schedule got in at least five games. Sacramento State, Montana State and Montana figure to get better quickly after they shake off the rust, and rejoin Weber State and Eastern Washington in a title race with little margin for error. Those first four schools earned seeds in the 2019 playoffs – a first for an FCS conference – while Eastern Washington made the playoffs this past spring.
“We’ve moved on from (2019) quite a while ago,” said Sacramento State coach Troy Taylor, who guided the FCS’ most improved team while earning the 2019 Eddie Robinson Award. “It was a great season, I appreciate it, the memories and everything that our team gave, but we move on pretty quickly … that’s kind of our culture. So we’re excited for the new season.”
BIG SKY CONFERENCE
Preseason Polls (with spring record unless noted)
1. Weber State (5-1, 5-0 Big Sky); 2. Montana (2-0); 3. Eastern Washington (5-2, 5-1); 4. Montana State (2019: 11-4, 6-2); 5. Sacramento State (2019: 9-4, 7-1); 6. UC Davis (3-2, 3-2); 7. Northern Arizona (3-2, 3-2); 8. Idaho (2-4, 2-4); 9. Idaho State (2-4, 2-4); 10. Portland State (0-1); 11. Southern Utah (1-5, 1-5); 12. Cal Poly (0-3, 0-3); 13. Northern Colorado (2019: 2-10, 2-6)
Offensive Player of the Year – Eastern Washington QB Eric Barriere
Defensive Player of the Year – Idaho LB Tre Walker
1. Weber State (5-1, 5-0 Big Sky); 2. Montana (2-0); 3. Eastern Washington (5-2, 5-1); 4. Montana State (2019: 11-4, 6-2); 5. Sacramento State (2019: 9-4, 7-1); 6. UC Davis (3-2, 3-2); 7. Northern Arizona (3-2, 3-2); 8. Idaho (2-4, 2-4); 9. Idaho State (2-4, 2-4); 10. Portland State (0-1); 11. Southern Utah (1-5, 1-5); 12. Northern Colorado (2019: 2-10, 2-6); 13. Cal Poly (0-3, 0-3)