SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly has been selected to finish 10th or 11th by head coaches and media in the 2018 Big Sky Conference Preseason Football Polls.
Coach Tim Walsh's Mustangs, coming off a 1-10 season, will finish 10th, according to the 13 head coaches, and 11th by a vote of 55 members of the media covering Big Sky football.
While the first 16 Mustang teams of the 21st Century went 106-76 with 13 winning campaigns, last year's squad struggled both offensively and defensively. Injuries were a big factor, with fullback Joe Protheroe and quarterback Khaleel Jenkins out of action for the majority of the season along with six other starters, including four of the six team captains.
Protheroe, a two-time All-Big Sky first-team honoree as a sophomore and junior, went down in the second game of his senior campaign at San Jose State. He had not used a redshirt year, so will bring his 2,471 career rushing yards with him into the 2018 season.
Jenkins started the first five games of 2017 before he was sidelined, completing 28 of 66 passes for 597 yards and eight touchdowns while also rushing for 377 yards and four more scores. He missed Spring Camp but will be ready in the fall.
Injuries also claimed starting linebackers R.J. Mazolewski and Charlie Davis along with offensive lineman Colin Goebel, all of whom used up their eligibility last fall, but offensive linemen , Zach Shallcross, Harry Whitson and Sam Ogee along with defensive backs Dominic Frasch, Aaron Johnson and Carter Nichols all return healthy this spring.
Cal Poly captured the Big Sky championship in its first season in the conference (2012), has compiled a 26-22 record in its first six years in the Big Sky, has claimed five conference titles in the last 14 years, including four in the eight-year existence of the Great West Conference (2004-11), and earned its fourth NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth in 2016.
Eastern Washington was picked by both coaches and media to capture the 2018 crown. Weber State is No. 2 in both preseason polls while Northern Arizona is No. 3.
After that, opinions vary.
In the coaches poll, Big Sky returnee Idaho was selected to finish fourth and Sacramento State fifth. The media picked Montana fourth and Idaho fifth.
Preseason favorite Eastern Washington earned six first-place votes from the coaches (who were not allowed to vote for their own team) and 27 first-place votes in the media poll while Weber State earned three first-place votes from the coaches and 19 from the media.
In the coaches poll, Northern Arizona notched three first-place votes and Idaho, which is dropping back from the Football Bowl Subdivision to the Football Championship Subdivision this fall, picked up the remaining first-place vote.
In the media poll, Idaho earned three first-place votes, Montana two and Northern Arizona, Southern Utah, Montana State and UC Davis one each.
Under second-year head coach Aaron Best, Eastern Washington sports a roster that features 28 seniors following a 7-4 campaign in 2017 in which the Eagles 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.
Weber State is coming off its 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.
Southern Utah is No. 6 in the coaches poll, followed by Montana, Montana State, UC Davis, Cal Poly, Northern Colorado, Idaho State and Portland State.
Rounding out the media poll are Southern Utah, Sacramento State, Montana State, UC Davis, Idaho State, Cal Poly, Northern Colorado and Portland State.
North Dakota will play a Big Sky schedule for the 2018 and 2019 seasons before departing for the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The games will count in the conference standings for North Dakota's opponents, but the Fighting Hawks are ineligible for the conference title.
Cal Poly opens Fall Camp on August 3 and kicks off its 2018 season Sept. 1 at North Dakota State. The Mustangs host Weber State for a non-conference contest between Big Sky rivals Sept. 8.
2018 Big Sky Conference Preseason Polls
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
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