SPOKANE, Wash. — Montana coach Bobby Hauck and Montana State coach Jeff Choate conveyed similar practical opinions Monday at the Big Sky Kickoff with the release of the Big Sky Conference preseason football media and coaches polls. Each ranking placed the Bobcats and Grizzlies in the top five of the 13-team league.
The Bobcats were picked fourth in the media poll with 417 points, while the Grizzlies were slotted fifth with 396 points and one first-place vote. They were flip-flopped in the coaches votes, with Montana coming in No. 4 with 104 points and one first-place nod, and the Bobcats at No. 5 with 100 points.
Eastern Washington, one of three defending conference co-champions and on the heels of a run to the FCS national championship game, is ranked No. 1 in each poll. UC Davis and Weber State, who shared the league crown with EWU in 2018, were ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in both.
It’s the second consecutive preseason in which Eastern Washington came in at No. 1 in each poll, and the third time since 2014 the Eagles were picked to win the league by both the coaches and the media simultaneously. The media picked EWU No. 1 in 2015.
Meanwhile, after an 8-5 season that included the program’s first playoff victory in six years, Choate said he wasn’t surprised with where his Bobcats landed.
“I think it’s probably right where you’d think we would be, given that you’ve got three teams that all had first-round (playoff) byes and were co-conference champions last year,” Choate said.
“It’s hard to not put each one of those teams in the top whatever order, however you want to stack it. And then there’s some brand recognition, if you will, that goes along with the University of Montana. So I think it’s kind of more or less what you’d expect.”
The Grizzlies are coming off a 6-5 campaign in which they missed the playoffs for the third straight season. Hauck, entering the second year of his second stint as coach, said the preseason polls are more for conversation than anything else.
“It’s about being there in November. That’s what we want,” Hauck said. “We don’t have a Big Sky championship to our name since 2009, and we need to fix that. The sooner the better.
“Maybe we can take a little solace in the idea that some of our bone-headedness (in 2018) was due to youth. We need to be a more complete football team and play more complete games. If we do that I think we’ll be good. One thing that’s exciting for me is that we weren’t a million miles away from being better record-wise.”
No. 6 Northern Arizona (with first-year coach Chris Ball), No. 7 Idaho State, No. 8 Idaho, No. 9 Cal Poly and No. 10 Portland State were ranked the same in both polls. Northern Colorado, at No. 13, was picked last in each.
The only other difference was between Southern Utah and Sacramento State. The Thunderbirds were slotted 11th in the media poll while the Hornets, under new coach Troy Taylor, were picked 12th. The teams traded places in the coaches poll.
Eastern Washington coach Aaron Best, whose team went 12-3 last year and fell 38-25 to perennial FCS champion North Dakota State in the national title game in Frisco, Texas, in January, said he and the Eagles are honored by being No. 1 in both polls.
But he also cautioned against it, considering EWU lost 25 seniors, including 18 four-year lettermen — though the team has 22 seniors returning in 2019.
“Preseason is preseason,” Best said. “You’re a year older. That’s all that’s guaranteed. Those things are out of our hands. I’m humbled, we’re humbled. We’re privileged and excited about the opportunity to play this thing out. But if you and I had a conversation about whether we’d rather be there in July or in December, we both know the answer.
“This has happened multiple times in this decade. I think we’ve had a great run. It’s a tough thing to do — to be No. 1 in everyone’s eyes in the preseason and to be No. 1 at the end of the year. You haven’t mentioned injuries, you haven’t mentioned luck, you haven’t mentioned weather, you haven’t mentioned schedule … there’s so many things to consider.”
Eastern Washington has won or shared six Big Sky championships since 2010.