Coaches Pick Eagles to Finish Third

Media selects Eastern fourth as Big Sky Conference preseason polls are announced

The Eastern Washington University football team has been picked to finish as high as third in the Big Sky Conference as the 2009 preseason polls were released on Tuesday (July 21) by the league office.

The Montana Grizzlies, whose 2008 season ended with a loss in the championship game of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, have once again been selected by the media and coaches to capture the league title. Weber State, the 2008 co-conference champion, was picked second in both polls. Eastern was selected third by the league's head coaches and fourth behind Montana State by the media.

Montana, which has won or shared a record 11-straight conference championships, is shooting for No. 12 in a row in 2009. Only Oklahoma has won more consecutive conference titles in the history of college football with 14 consecutive league titles from 1946-59.

The Grizzlies earned 27 first-place votes from the media, and a total of 283 points. Fifth-year coach Ron McBride's Weber State Wildcats received five first-place votes from the media and 261 points. In the coaches' poll, Montana earned seven first-place votes and 63 total points. Weber State earned one first place vote and 57 total points. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.

Eastern earned the other first-place vote from the coaches and 48 points. In February, the Eagles were placed on probation by the NCAA and hit with a postseason ban in 2009. EWU is currently appealing the postseason ban, but if it is upheld, the Eagles will be ineligible to win the 2009 Big Sky Conference championship.

Weber State claimed a share of its first conference championship since 1968, finishing 7-1 in conference and 10-4 overall in 2008. Eastern helped continue Montana's league title streak by handing the Wildcats their lone league loss with a 33-26 victory to end the regular season on Nov. 22. Weber State beat Montana 45-28 in the regular season, but the Grizzlies avenged the loss with a 24-13 victory in an FCS quarterfinal game.

Montana and Weber State square off in Missoula on Oct. 31. Eastern plays both teams in back-to-back games earlier that month, taking on Weber State in Cheney on Oct. 10 and playing the Grizzlies in Missoula on Oct. 17.


Media Poll
1. Montana (27) - 283
2. Weber State (5) - 261
3. Montana State - 203
4. Eastern Washington - 195
5. Northern Arizona - 156
6. Portland State - 120
7. Sacramento State - 102
8. Northern Colorado - 71
9. Idaho State - 47 

Coaches Poll
1. Montana (7) - 63
2. Weber State (1) - 57
3. Eastern Washington (1) - 48
4. Montana State - 41
5. Northern Arizona - 32
6. Portland State - 30
7. Sacramento State - 27
8. Northern Colorado - 15
9. Idaho State - 10


More About the Eagles . . .

Last November, the wins finally caught up with the improvement the Eastern Washington University football team made during the 2008 season.

For what they accomplished in the final half of that year, the Eagles are hoping for a carryover effect for the 2009 season to improve upon last year's 6-5 finish that included a 5-3 record in the Big Sky Conference.

The Eagles return 38 letter winners from last year's team that ended the season with a three-game winning streak, including 17 back on offense and 21 returning on defense. A total of 15 starters are returning, featuring eight on offense and seven on defense.

Eastern had high hopes in 2008 after appearing in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs three times in the previous four seasons, including breakthrough playoff victories in 2004 and 2007. Three losses in a four-game stretch from Oct. 4 to Nov. 1 spoiled those hopes, but Eastern still managed to salvage the season with its 10th winning season in the last 12 campaigns.

A total of 12 players return who earned All-Big Sky Conference honors a year ago, including a pair of wide receivers selected to the second team last year as juniors -- Aaron Boyce (Kent, Wash. - Kentwood HS '05) and Brynsen Brown (Puyallup, Wash. - Emerald Ridge HS '05). Boyce caught 63 passes for 917 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and has 183 catches for 2,696 yards and 23 touchdowns in his career

Senior quarterback Matt Nichols (Cottonwood, Calif.) is one of 10 players returning who earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors after earning the league's Offensive Player of the Year award as a sophomore. He has passed for 8,786 yards and 63 touchdowns in his career.

Talented sophomore Taiwan Jones (Antioch, Calif.) will move to running back to help replace four departed seniors at that position. Jones missed the early part of the 2008 season with a broken fibula, but returned to start four games at cornerback for the Eagles.

Twin brothers Matt and Zach Johnson (Tumwater, Wash. - Tumwater HS '07) return after stellar debut seasons. They combined for 179 tackles to rank 1-2 on the team, with Zach finishing with 96 and a team-high seven passes broken up, and Matt closing the year with 83 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions. Both players earned honorable mention All-Big Sky accolades in 2008.


More on Big Sky Conference Teams . . .

Montana is slated to return 13 starters from the 2008 team, which finished 14-2 overall and lost to Richmond 24-7 in the national title game. Among those retuning are return are senior All-American wide receiver Marc Mariani and junior running back Chase Reynolds, who set a school single-season record with 22 rushing touchdowns as a sophomore.

Weber State is also expected to return 13 starters, including seven from an offense that averaged a league-high 35.2 points and 455.3 yards per game. Junior quarterback Cameron Higgins is the reigning Big Sky Offensive MVP, and senior running back Trevyn Smith has led the league in rushing three straight seasons. Weber State also returns first-team All-Conference players Beau Hadley (safety), Josh Morris (cornerback) and Kevin Linehan (defensive end) to its defense.

Montana State, which finished 7-5 in 2008, earned 203 points in the media poll and 41 in the coaches' poll. The Bobcats, who led the league in total defense, will be led by defensive end Dane Fletcher, a candidate for the Buck Buchanan award.

Teams selected fifth through ninth were the same in both polls. Northern Arizona was selected fifth, followed by Portland State, Sacramento State, Northern Colorado and Idaho State.

Northern Arizona has finished 6-5 each of the past three seasons. The Lumberjacks led the nation in rushing defense and sacks in 2008.

Portland State went 4-7 in Jerry Glanville's second season as head coach in 2008. The Vikings will play six home games this season, as well as an Oct. 31 tilt against Eastern Washington at Qwest Field in Seattle.

Sacramento State is coming off a 6-6 campaign, its most victories since winning seven in 2007.

Northern Colorado and Idaho State are both coming off of one-win seasons.

The 2009 season begins on Saturday, Sept. 5


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