SPOKANE, WASH. — This year's Big Sky Conference Kickoff theme was simple: It's good to be back.
After going virtual last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference held its annual media day at the Davenport Grand Hotel in Spokane, Washington on Monday, signaling the official beginning to the 2021 Big Sky Conference football season.
Representatives from all 13 schools were in attendance as players as coaches met with the media to discuss the upcoming season.
The Montana Grizzlies were picked to finish second in the league by both the media and the coaches. Meanwhile Montana State was picked fourth by both media and coaches. Weber State, which is coming off of winning the spring title in 2021, was picked to win the league.
"I think to a man we’re excited to go this fall," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. "Obviously when you get something you love taken away from you, it maybe makes you love it a little bit more and I think we have a lot of guys on our team and in our operation that love the game and we can’t wait to get going."
The Grizzlies also saw five players earn preseason All-Big Sky team honors in receiver Samuel Akem, linebacker Jace Lewis, safety Robby Hauck, offensive tackle Conlan Beaver and longsnapper Matthew O’Donoghue.
Montana State had two players named to the team in linebacker Troy Andersen and offensive guard Taylor Tuiasosopo.
The Bobcats haven't played a game since Dec. 2019 when they advanced to the FCS semifinal round, and they will carry that into the fall with them under first-year head coach Brent Vigen.
"We walked off the field, I believe it was April 24th (at the Sonny Holland Classic), and charged the guys with, hey, we need to walk on that field in August and be a better football team made up of improved individuals," Vigen said. "So anxious to get there and see where we’re at."
While the Big Sky Kickoff provided excitement for the upcoming season, Big Sky Commissioner Tom Wistrcill told everyone assembled that the pandemic is "not over" and that he along with the rest of the conference encourage players and coaches to get vaccinated against the virus, though it will not be a conference mandate to do so.
Wistrcill said that if one team has to cancel a game due to a COVID outbreak, the game will not be made up and will be counted as a forfeit officially throughout the season.
"What we have decided in discussion with some of our presidents was there’s just no room in our schedule to have makeup games," Wistrcill said. "The schedule is very compact, we’re playing a full schedule so that’s why it’ll be forfeits instead of no contests or makeup games so that decision comes pretty quickly just because there’s not a lot of options."
Other notes from the conference included the reiteration of its new media rights partnership with ESPN and ESPN+. Wistrcill also announced that Montana's road game at Eastern Washington on Oct. 2 will be aired on ESPNU during primetime. MSU's road game against Weber State on Oct. 15 will also air on ESPNU, with that kickoff slated for 8 p.m.