(Editor’s note: Big Sky Conference release)
SPOKANE, WA – Returning 18 starters and seven All-Big Sky performers, Eastern Washington has been named the favorite to win the 2018 Big Sky Conference race by the league’s 13 head coaches and selected media from across the region the league announced Monday.
Under second-year head coach Aaron Best, Eastern Washington sports a roster that features 28 seniors following a 7-4 campaign in 2017 where they posted a 6-2 mark in Big Sky play to finish in a tie for third in the league standings. Senior All-American quarterback Gabe Gubrud returns for the Eagles after ranking second in the nation in total offense per game (357.8 yards) a season ago.
Eastern Washington totaled 134 points and garnered six first-place votes in the Coaches Poll to edge out Weber State who received 124 points and three first-place nods. In the Media Poll, the Eagles secured 651 points and 27 of the 55 first-place votes. Weber State followed with 636 points and 19 first-place votes.
The Wildcats are coming off their best season in program history after recording a school-record 11 wins en route to an appearance in the FCS Quarterfinals. Weber State also earned a share of the Big Sky title with a 7-1 record for its first trophy since 2008, and finished the season with a program-best No. 5 national ranking.
The Wildcats will look to put together another memorable season on the gridiron in 2018 as they return 10 All-Big Sky performers and five players that garnered All-America distinction including a highly-touted special teams core that features sophomore return specialist Rashid Shaheed and sophomore kicker Trey Tuttle. Shaheed finished fourth nationally with an average of 29.7 yards per kickoff a season ago while Tuttle came in fourth with an 86.0 field goal percentage.
Northern Arizona was voted third in the Coaches Poll with 121 points and three first-place votes, and was also picked third in the Media Poll with 535 points and one first-place nod. The Lumberjacks are led by the Big Sky’s all-time winningest coach in Jerome Souers following a 2017 campaign that featured an appearance in the FCS Playoffs with a 7-5 overall record and a 6-2 slate in the conference. The Lumberjacks return five all-conference performers including junior quarterback Case Cookus, a two-time All-Big Sky selection, who ranked 10th in the FCS with 3,413 passing yards.
Montana was selected fourth in the Media Poll with 496 points and two first-place votes. The Grizzlies appeared in seventh in the Coaches Poll with 82 points. Senior linebacker Josh Buss headlines a Montana squad returning seven starters and nine of last year’s top 15 tacklers. Buss was named the 2018 Big Sky Preseason Defensive MVP after recording 94 tackles (13.5 for loss), 5.5 sacks, seven pass breakups and two interceptions in 2017. Head coach Bobby Hauck makes his return to Missoula in 2018 after leading Montana to three national championship appearances and seven-straight Big Sky Championships from 2003-09.
Idaho came in fourth in the Coaches Poll with 101 points and one first-place vote as the Vandals return to the FCS level and the Big Sky for the first time since 1995. The Vandals garnered 483 points and three first-place votes for fifth in the Media Poll. Idaho brings back 11 starters and three All-Sun Belt performers from 2018.
Sacramento State rounded out the top five in the Coaches Poll with 94 points while the Hornets appeared in seventh in the Media Poll with 415 points. Fifth-year head coach Jody Sears was tabbed the Big Sky Co-Coach
of the Year after leading the Hornets to a 7-4 record and 6-2 league mark in 2017. Sacramento State led the FCS with 3.91 sacks per game, paced by senior defensive lineman George Obinna who ranked 27th nationally with 0.77 per contest.
Rounding out the Coaches Poll was Southern Utah (91 points), Montana (82), Montana State (76), UC Davis (64), Cal Poly (40), Northern Colorado (30), Idaho State (29) and Portland State (21).
The Thunderbirds were also voted sixth (449 points) in the Media Poll and were followed by Sacramento State (415), Montana State (391), UC Davis (331), Idaho State (170), Cal Poly (169), Northern Colorado (166) and Portland State (103).
2018 Big Sky Football Coaches Poll
School Total Points (First-place votes)
Eastern Washington 134 (6)
Weber State 124 (3)
Northern Arizona 121 (3)
Idaho 101 (1)
Sacramento State 94
Southern Utah 91
Montana State 76
UC Davis 64
Cal Poly 40
Northern Colorado 30
Idaho State 29
Portland State 21
2018 Big Sky Football Media Poll
School Total Points (First-place votes)
Eastern Washington 651 (27)
Weber State 636 (19)
Northern Arizona 535 (1)
Montana 496 (2)
Idaho 483 (3)
Southern Utah 449 (1)
Sacramento State 415
Montana State 391 (1)
UC Davis 331 (1)
Idaho State 170
Cal Poly 169
Northern Colorado 166
Portland State 103