Here at SFI, we haven’t really ever done our own preseason poll in the summer months in the past, but since we have seen several media members releasing their 2017 Big Sky Football Preseason Polls recently we figured we would do one of our own. After some intense internal arguing and debating between the SFI team members, here is how we think the Big Sky season will play out in 2017:
- North Dakota – The schedule is harder than it was last season but the experience factor will hopefully overcome that. UND has all their big guns returning in the key positions, which is crucial to defending a Big Sky championship. Senior QB in Keaton Studsrud, senior safety and best defensive player in the league in Cole Reyes, senior cornerback in all-American Deion Harris, veteran offensive line, All-American RB John Santiago. The Fighting Hawks won several very close games last year, both at home and on the road. We believe that experience will lead them to at least a share of the BSC title.
- Northern Arizona – With the return of Case Cookus from injury we expect the Lumberjacks to once again be sniffing around the top of the Big Sky. Their defense is usually their achilles heel and we will be interested to see how they play this season. Oh, and Cookus has the top two WR’s in the league back in Emmanuel Butler and Elijah Marks – hands down, the best wide receiver duo in the conference.
- Cal-Poly – The Mustangs have what is probably the easiest schedule in recent Big Sky history (based on the preseason polls and due to having 13 teams in the conference). They don’t play North Dakota, Eastern Washington, Montana or Montana State. That will be brought up weekly by the pundits if Poly is in the playoff picture, much like it was last season when talking about UND’s schedule. They return 13 starters and get the Lumberjacks at home early in the season when Poly seems to be playing their best ball.
- Eastern Washington – The exodus of Beau Baldwin and the revolving door at offensive coordinator have us a little bearish (relatively speaking of course) on the Eagles. The best QB in the country returns in Gage Gubrud, which will be enough to be in the hunt but things may not go their way in tight games this year like it has in the past. Replacing Cooper Kupp, Shaq Hill and Kendrick Bourne will not be easy, but it’s still EWU and their high-flying offense. Defense or lack thereof could be the tipping factor this year’s squad.
- Weber State – Weber is coming off an FCS playoff berth in 2016 and will once again have a solid defense. They need to replace their QB Jadrian Clark but do have the best TE in the league in Andrew Vollert. They will make some noise again this year. Their defense was sneaky good and physical last season and they return 8 starters on that side of the ball.
- Southern Utah – Extremely tough schedule for SUU in 2017. They play all of our Top 4 teams but the caveat is they get them all at home. Kind of a darkhorse team this year in our eyes that we could see knocking off a top team or 2.
- Montana – With 19 starters returning they will be an improved team on paper but we need to see it before we believe they are back to the Griz of old. They do get the best teams in the league at home, which is obviously huge, including UND. Doesn’t seem possible to have Montana this low, but the Big Sky as whole is much improved. We will find out early when EWU travels to Missoula in September.
- Montana State – Jeff Choate is doing a nice job of rebuilding that program into a tough-nosed, running style team. They have lost a lot of pieces over the last couple years but will improve as the year goes on, once again. Sophomore QB Chris Murray is the guy they are basing their offense around and he seemed to hit his stride late last year. An up and coming team.
- Portland State – This is a bit of a mystery to us. After a meteoric rise to a BSC championship in 2015, the Vikings went in the tank in 2016 with a 3-8 record. They open their non-conference schedule at BYU and Oregon State so trying to get out of those two games healthy will be critical. However, their BSC home schedule is stacked with UND, Montana, Northern Arizona and Weber State all traveling to Portland.
- Northern Colorado – UNC showed promise the last couple of seasons, but they look prime for a regression this year in Greeley. QB Kyle Sloter graduated so they will have to find a new signal caller behind center. UNC travels to the Florida Gators and Colorado Buffaloes in the non-conference schedule.
- UC-Davis – The Dan Hawkins era begins in Davis, California. Looks like they are heavily invested and committed to putting together a good staff. However, they still have a building project on their hands for the next couple of years.
- Sacramento State – The Hornets return a wealth of experience from last year’s squad on both sides of the ball. The question is how good is the talent they are returning? Starting QB Nate Ketteringham transferred to UND this winter. Will be interesting to see what former Wazzu Head Coach Paul Wulff can do with the offense in his second season.
- Idaho State – With Mike Kramer out as head coach, we’re not really sure what to expect with the new leader of the Bengal program. But we still feel 2017 will still be a long road for turning it around in Pocatello.
In the end, we could see a logjam at the top of the standings and multiple teams vying for a share of the Big Sky Championship going into the final week. This is probably the most competitive the BSC has been from top to bottom for sure since UND joined in 2012.
What do you think of our poll? Where do you think we have it wrong? Post your comments.