I've been a voter in The Sports Network/Fathead.com Preseason FCS Top-25 poll for many years and I take my ballot very seriously as this poll is one of the things considered in determining both at-large bids and seeding in the FCS Playoffs. I feel very good about my 2011 preseason ballot in that I picked 23 of the top 25, 17 of the top 20, 12 of the top 15, nine of the top ten and four of the top five. Here is the actual Preseason Poll.
I'm excited to see the Big Sky Conference getting four teams in the preseason top-25 and as you can see on my ballot, I was one of 90 voters to give the defending national champion Eastern Washington Eagles a #1 pick. Big Sky Conference newcomers (in the 2012 season) Southern Utah came in at #31, Cal Poly at #33 and UC Davis at #43. That should erase any question marks about the quality of those teams coming into the Sky.
NAU coming off a 6-5 season in 2010, comes in at #50 in the preseason poll. The Lumberjacks will get a chance to dazzle the voters (myself included) October 8th in the renovated Skydome when they host the runaway preseason #1 team in the Eagles of Eastern Washington University, which is coming off a 13-2 run to the FCS title last season. The Eagles boast EIGHT players on the Big Sky Preseason All-Conference Team. The Lumberjacks meanwhile, will have a new starting quarterback and placed a Big Sky best four players on the preseason offensive team. Keep an eye on Flagstaff, NAU has six home games for the first time since 2004 and the Jacks host both Montana and Eastern Washington in the new Skydome.
#6 (#5 on my ballot) Montana State (a team NAU soundly defeated in Flagstaff last season), has the Big Sky's Preseason Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback DeNarius McGhee who captured last season's Newcomer of the Year and Co-MVP awards. The Bobcats will be looking to show last year's disappointing end to the season in the first round of the FCS Playoffs was a fluke.
Crashing the FCS Top-25 party this preseason are the Hornets of Sacramento State. The Hornets may have lost five games last season, but they lost four of those five games by a combined eleven points! The Hornets break into the presseason top-25 at #24 (#15 on my ballot) and they're in the preseason Top-25 for the first time since the team moved up to the FCS (I-AA) level. This is a very exciting time to be a part of the Green and Gold and that is also exciting for the Big Sky.
The always dangerous and conference championship contending Montana Grizzlies, had a very unusal place last November/December, on the sidelines of the FCS Playoffs for the first time in 18 years! The Griz 17 year postseason run included two national championships and five national runners-up finishes! Montana has been the absolute gold-standard in not only the Big Sky Conference, but in all of the FCS. It felt very odd not having the Griz in the postseason party last year. Second year Head Coach Robin Pflugrad and his staff are certaintly laser-focused on not only improving upon last year's 7-4 record, but starting another Big Sky Conference football championship streak. The Grizzlies before last season had won outright or shared a record 12 consecutive Big Sky championships! Montana will get a chance to show the voters where they stand in 2011 by the end of only their fourth game as they will have faced #33 Cal Poly, #1 Eastern Washington and #24 Sacramento State in consecutive weeks after opening at FBS Tennessee. I'm certain Griz Nation will have high expectations in 2011.
The start of the college football season is less than three weeks away! The excitement is building rapidly all across the Big Sky Conference. I enjoy sharing my top-25 ballot each season and love the debate it triggers. That's part of what makes college football so special to so many of us.
NAU Lumberjack Football kicks off Sepember 3rd at the University of Arizona Wildcats in Tucson! Pregame coverage begins at 6:05 PM on 105.1 FM, www.bigtalkerradio.com and on your smart phones with your free app for iPhone, Droid and Blackberry.
I present to you my preseason Top-25 ballot. Let the debate begin!
1 Eastern Washington
2 William & Mary
3 Georgia Southern
4 Appalachian State
5 Montana State
7 Northern Iowa
9 Jacksonville State
12 New Hampshire
13 North Dakota State
14 McNeese State
15 Sacramento State
20 Southern Illinois
23 Indiana State
24 Central Arkansas
25 Stephen F. Austin