PARK CITY, Utah – A year ago Montana State was at the top of most everyone’s preseason list to win the Big Sky Conference football race.
Things didn’t turn out so well for the Cats and then-senior quarterback DeNarius McGhee, who failed to live up to the hype as preseason offensive MVP. In fact, MSU didn’t even make the playoffs after losing at home to archrival Montana in November.
This year it’s Eastern Washington’s turn to wear the target. A day after Eagles quarterback Vernon Adams was feted by the league as preseason offensive MVP, his team was recognized in the media and coaches’ polls Tuesday as the favorite to finish atop the Big Sky standings.
Will Eastern handle the burden of expectation any better than Montana State in 2013? That’s tough to predict in a league where parity is taking root and Montana has regained its footing as a powerhouse, returning 14 starters from a 10-3 team.
“You just don’t get into polls — it’s only preseason,” Adams said at the Big Sky’s annual Summer Kickoff at the Marriott Hotel. “It’s not like that’s the way it is. It’s just preseason.
“I’m appreciative and thankful we’re ranked and all that stuff, but you don’t look into that stuff — media hype and stuff typed into Google and all that stuff. That’s distractions. All these teams are so good here, you never know what you’re going to get. Portland State almost crashed it for us in that last game last year. Good thing their field goal kicker missed that last kick and we went down and scored.”
Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said the preseason rankings will be largely forgotten by later in the week. But at least for Tuesday, he was relishing the role of favorite.
“I don’t shy away from the fact that you like it that you’re preseason (favorite) because that means you’ve done good things in the past,” Baldwin said. “A lot of people say, ’Wouldn’t you rather be an underdog and sneak up?’ I’d say what does that mean about your last couple years?
“I also understand that sheet of paper said that same thing about us in 2011 and we started 0-4. It’s a fine line between winning and losing.”
Griz coach Mick Delaney also feels good about his team’s preseason recognition. The Griz are picked to finish second.
“For them to think that we’re that caliber of football team, the opposing coaches, that’s a very humbling tribute to Griz football,” he said. “There’s some teams with some really good players coming back. I tell the guys it’s a great honor but it doesn’t mean a dang thing. What means something is where you end up in December.”
The Eagles and Grizzlies will both be involved in showcase nonconference games in late August.
Eastern will play host to Sam Houston State in a rare Aug. 23 contest to be broadcast on ESPN. Montana will battle FBS foe Wyoming in Laramie on Aug. 30.