Weber State at 1 – The Wildcats return possibly the best Secondary in the FCS. Three members of the secondary made our All-Tubs Team. Bronson Barron (technically a true freshman still) had barely been on campus and had to compete for starting job last season. That is not the case this fall, he will be receiving all the reps. Pair that with former Jerry Rice Award winner Josh Davis and an emerging stable of backs returning. The Achilles heel of this program, the offense, has to take a step forward. Even if the offense doesn’t improve, they have still won four straight Big Sky titles. Why would I bet against them?
Montana at 3 – Look even with some “?” still at QB. This team returns a lot of talent. How bad could it be when you get to throw to Maybe the best WR in the FCS, Sammy Akem. If the QB works out, they could easily win the conference. But right now with Weber returning Bronson & Eastern returning EB3, I gave them the SMALL nod over the Griz. Its going to be a close race this year.
Sacramento State at 10 – I understand I’m sticking my neck out with this one. I just think the 2019 season was a flash in the pan. I expect this team to be closer to their 42-28 home playoff loss to start the playoffs, more then the 49-22 win vs the Griz. The Hornets in my opinion benefited greatly from being a sleeper until about half way through the 2019 season, an out of nowhere QB (who has since transferred out) and no one having tape on first time head ball coach Troy Taylor. I expect them to struggle early and maybe make a charge late. Are they the 10th best team in conference probably not, probably a bit better. But weeks 1 thru 6 I expect them to play below where most people have them. Most throw out the easy schedule this year as a reason to have them high. I think the easy schedule will catch them sleep walking with rust early. Though lighting can strike the same spot twice…
Weber State at 3 – Defending Big Sky champion Weber State (finally) looks vulnerable. The Wildcats won a single spring game by a margin greater than a touchdown–with all of those nail biters coming against teams that will be picked in the bottom half of this fall’s season–but Weber’s schedule, and Jay Hill’s tendency to just never lose games he shouldn’t, makes a 6-2 (in conference) floor all but locked in.
Idaho at 7 – This vote was a strict judgement of talent–which should put Idaho not in the top tier of the conference, but close enough to talk yourself into yet another but maybe this year discussion.
Which is lunacy.
We all know the Idaho blueprint from the previous three years: stay competitive at home, but faceplant on the road. Hang with, or knock off a playoff-level team, then stumble in comical fashion against the Northern Colorados, or Northern Arizonas occupying league’s bottom tier. Never mind that Idaho has its toughest league schedule since rejoining the Big Sky.
So yes: in my written-in-blood preseason poll, Idaho sits at number seven. And yes: the moment my poll was officially sent, I could not believe their slot was higher than ten.
Northern Colorado at 9 – Consider Northern Colorado a composite character of Idaho, Idaho State, Southern Utah, and Northern Arizona: it’s an absolute crap shoot rating any of those teams above each other. Before the Bears land higher than ninth, we’ll need to see the fruits of Coach McCaffrey produce. The talent influx following McCaffrey alone will make Northern Colorado at least good enough to spoil someone else’s playoff hopes, but with the promising spring efforts from other projected lower-tier teams, there’s too crowded a field of candidates to repeat the out-of-nowhere rises of UC Davis and Sacramento State to rate Northern Colorado much higher.
Eastern Washington at 2 – Eric Barriere is one of the best players in the entire FCS, and when you have a quarterback like him running the show, you’re going to have at least a puncher’s chance in every game. Yes, their questionable defense allowed 35 straight points in the first round of the spring playoffs to a weakened North Dakota State. Yes, the receivers drop more passes than they should. Yes, they have an extremely tough conference schedule this year. But, their three toughest games (Montana, Montana State, Weber State) are all in Cheney this year and I’d expect they win two of the three to keep themselves just behind Weber in the conference standings. Even in their last true down year (2015, when Vernon Adams transferred to play his final year at Oregon), they tied for fourth in conference, going 5-3 with two losses to ranked teams.
UC Davis at 6 – UC Davis has a deep cast of receivers, a solid defense (as Vandal fans likely remember), and one of the best running backs in the conference. QB Hunter Rodrigues had 21 FCS passes to his name coming into 2021 and may have benefited more from the spring season than any other athlete. So why do I have them sixth? Weber State, Eastern Washington, and the Montana schools certainly look better on paper and should all slot in as top five finishers, even if they trade losses around. I don’t see the Aggies beating Weber State (and yes, I know they had a double digit lead on the Wildcats last season) or Eastern Washington. Even if they beat Sacramento State in the Causeway Classic to finish the year, I don’t think a game in hand on the Hornets helps, courtesy of the absolute gift of a schedule Sacramento State got this year. Nothing against UC Davis, but a top five finish doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
Idaho at 9 – Every year it seems I talk myself into Idaho finally becoming a bully in the Big Sky. Take one look at the schedule and you’ll realize why I’m not doing that this year. The Vandals could be favored in three of their four home conference games, but even if they won out at home with an upset of Montana, they will not be favored in a single road game this season. I don’t think they win a single game outside of Moscow this year, even without Paul Petrino’s track record of failure away from the Kibbie Dome. There’s plenty of talent on this team, just like there was in the spring, but I don’t see any reason to believe that it magically clicks this season. 4-4 in conference is the ceiling for this team if things go well, and 2-6 is certainly on the table. We’re looking at another long year.
We have a spring season on the way and the team has started conditioning. It is time to analyze what the team may look like February 27th in the Kibbie Dome against Northern Colorado in our opener (subject to change).
I am going to to take my best educated guess at the two-deeps going into camp.
QB1 is Mike Beaudry. It has been stated by coach Petrino more than enough times to be a slip-up. We also called this back in June. There is no competition at the position for the first time since 2017. Hopefully, it leads to similar success the last time we had a starter written in pen.
CJ Jordan is your backup. With a free year of eligibility this spring, expect him to play in any blowouts. Hopefully it’s us doing the blowout. This spring, paired with the allowed 4 games in fall, it is possible CJ Jordan could have 14 games worth of experience when he takes the field as a redshirt freshman starter for the 2022 season, which is unheard of! Just give us the ship 2022-2025 now.
I would be remise, as a noted Nikhil Nayar fanboy to not say, “Don’t Sleep on Nayar!”
Logan Kendall, no question. Paul has raved about him! Moving on.
True Sophomore Aundre Carter surely positioned himself to win this job. However, he has left the team. No worries; don’t forget we had the exact scenario last season. Top young rusher Tyrese Walker also did not return after a standout true freshman year.
As has been the case with Petrino in the past, we’ll have a “by committee” system. The hope is somebody breaks out and takes control, as in the past with Elijhaa Penny and Isaiah Saunders. Even with Carter, Walker, and Saunders, we started to divvy carries by matchup. Thigpen played a majority of the snaps against Portland State, only to have Nick Romano take most of them the next week.
Basically, expect Romano, Thigpen & Roshaun Johnson to be the “big three.” But, both redshirt sophomore Kiahn Martinez and Khalil Forehand are poised to be this season’s out-of-nowhere stud!
Let me just be straight with you… Cutrell Haywood and the field.
That said, it is not to say we don’t have talent there. We just have been blessed over the past two years to have a mix of Jeff Cotton, David Ungerer, and Cutrell Haywood. Now it’s dwindled down to just Cutrell and a log jam of depth behind him. We have legitimately 10 dudes who could be in our top four. I will just list the guys to be aware of Jermaine Jackson (Junior, No. 1), Michael Noil (Redshirt Sophomore, No. 2), Sean McCormick (Sophomore, No. 10), DJ Lee (Redshirt junior, No. 11), Kyrin Beachem (Sophomore, No. 14), Kaleb Covington (Sophomore, No. 18), Bryson Lee (Sophomore, No. 20), Hayden Hatten (Sophomore, No. 80), Daseau Puffer (Sophomore, No. 88) and Noah Ormsby (No. 89).
You probably noticed most of the players I listed have no redshirt. I would expect a majority to become Redshirt freshmen and redshirt sophomores. We need to utilize the free eligibility in the spring and find the guys to use in the fall when eligibility counts, then keep the rest on ice for upcoming seasons.
My best guess for our five-wide set would be some combo of Cutrell Haywood, DJ Lee, Hayden Hatten, Jermaine Jackson, and Daseau Puffer.
I am gonna be honest here, and shame on me. I am 5-foot-5 and the furthest thing from an offensive lineman. I know zero of the dudes in the trenches. I was a running back/linebacker in my youth and a cornerback in reality in high school.
Here’s what I know about the offensive line: Mathew Faupusa is an absolute stud and the best bet to fill the gap left by Noah Johnson. Darius Archie you can pen in as a starter, along with Logan Floyd. I know I’m most likely leaving multiple important players off this list.
For the new bloods, Noah Gunn and Josh Guzik were big recruiting grabs last year. I would expect one of them to capitalize on an open spot on the line, most likely at a tackle position.
Petrino spoke highly of Jory Dotts as being a mean son of a gun. I expect him to get reps with the free eligibility.
The rest of the line is filled in based on generic assumptions and available stats.
See above for what I know about this side of the trenches as well, especially after running the opposite 4-3 concept my whole life to Idaho’s 3-4. However, Rahsaan Crawford and Kayode Rufai are animals! I know that.
Then you have what I will label “the four.” People forget we have, and I make no apologies for this comment … The best front seven in the entire FCS. Vei Tomasi, Noah Elliss, Jonah Kim, and Nate DeGraw start on almost every other roster in FCS, no questions asked. It is a benefit we have them as “rotational” players.
I think Jonah Kim is best set to be penciled in as the third star of the group, simply based on the fact Paul Petrino speaks highly of him, frequently.
Mark me down now: We have four All-Americans. Now, well-known FCS pundits Sam Herder, Brian McLaughlin, and Craig Haley will NEVER put all four as first, second, or third-team All-Americans. Even the North Dakota State dynasty never received such an honor. But, I will die on this hill. Tre Walker, Christian Elliss, Chuck Akanno are first-teamers. Fa’avae Fa’avae, I would wager a condo will play at that level as well. In fact, Idaho may have the best four linebackers ever to play at the FCS level. You can @ me, I dare you. But before you do, imagine this. The returning solo tackles leader in the FCS as a sophomore, the leading NFL prospect at the FCS level, or the nation’s leader in tackles for loss through 10 weeks, despite missing three of those games,all standing behind you while you’re telling me I’m wrong.
The best part is … our depth is lethal behind them too. Sully Shannon, Jalen Jenkins, Coleman Johnson, Leo Tamba, Tanner Brooks, Hogan Hatten, and Talon Davis are all capable linebackers.
The Back End
Look, if you want me to get into the semantics of safeties versus corners, I will fail you. With no offense to whoever ends up playing safety for us (outside of Zach Borisch), we have a lot of what you would call defensive backs. This is not a slight, but a reference to our squad of guys being better defined as hybrids.
Dareon Nash is an All-Conference caliber transfer from Montana at corner. If there was a “pen-in” starter on this squad, he seems to be the guy.
Now, Jalen Hoover is rumored/reported to be in the transfer portal, but he’s a starter if he returns. However, he is good enough to get an offer elsewhere. We of all programs can’t be mad at a guy who wants to take his FBS shot if it comes along.
Most interesting player on backend is Tyrese Dedmon. He has been an amazing player for us and could be suprise standout.
This morning the Big Sky Conference announced it will be moving its 2020 football season to the spring, effectively putting one of the final nails in the FCS Playoffs coffin. With the Big Sky out, many people seem to think the Missouri Valley will be the next conference officially putting an end to the FCS playoffs. Meaning, there really isn’t a strong reason for schools to play each other … except for money.
Fans will have differing opinions as to whether this was the right call, but I don’t care either way anymore. I just have more questions than answers: Questions on the national, divisional and local level. If you have the answers I seek, please share them.
The NFL Draft?
The NFL Draft is currently set for April 29th – May 1st. If FBS Power 5 play, you would imagine the NFL Draft is not moving. Are we going to have players sit out after a few good games in order to prep for the draft and not run the risk of injury? Think Trey Lance of North Dakota State who is a projected top 10 draft pick.
Not every players’ draft stock is as locked as Trey Lance’s if they choose to opt out. Do some opt in to playing at an FBS school this fall? This appears to be an option gaining popularity. An All-American James Madison standing announced he will be seeking to transfer to an FBS school per the Richmond Times-Dispatch because the FBS has a higher likelihood to play. Who else may fall in this category? Eric Barriere of Eastern Washington? Zerrick Cooper of Jacksonville State? Christian Elliss of Idaho?
Anyone’s best guess would put the 2020* FCS Championship Game around the end of April to early June 2021, in which case Major League Soccer would presumably be back playing. FC Dallas is the home team and owner of Toyota Stadium, where the FCS Championship is held. While not insurmountable to schedule around, maybe FC Dallas does not want the damage that football causes done to their short grass field when they are in middle of their season. Is the game moved to a new location?
It sounds like no one is losing eligibility. Seniors this fall will still be seniors this spring. How do schools know how many scholarships they have to use? Usually it is based off your projected graduating class. Some players may opt to just graduate in the winter of 2020. I would imagine the majority decide to return and play this spring. The FCS only allows 63 scholarships, so how are leagues and programs going to adjust this for spring?
The early signing period is in December and National Letter of Intent day is early February. Both, you would assume, are before the spring 2021 season would kickoff. Are early high school graduates, transfers and JuCo signings going to be able to play this spring since they will already be on campus?
How are schools going to make up the loss of the bodybag game payouts? Does the season moving impact TV contracts? These issues combined are millions of dollars left on table. Worrisome for athletic departments that tend to already run lean and rely heavily on these revenue sources just to meet budget.
Are we going to roll into the fall 2021 season with only 2-4 months off? If the Power 5 play, is this even safe? Most FCS schools’ first few games are against these type of schools. Is it safe for Mercer to be on about three months rest, start practice and then play Alabama to start their fall 2021 season?
Are teams still able to practice all fall and winter? What are the restrictions going to look like, both with Covid-19 and competitive restrictions?
The Big Sky Conference
Is the schedule going to be the same that it was for the fall 2020 season?
Thinking we will be in a much improved position come spring 2021 is a tad naive in my opinion. What is the plan if some schools cannot participate? How do you make the Covid protocol improvements athletes are looking for to be safe? How do we proactively put ourselves in a better spot than we are in today?
Are we canceling indoor track and field in the spring? Are the basketball programs going to get booted to Mem Gym late in the season? How does football coexist in the multi-use facility that is transformed three different times throughout the year?
Are we able to afford winter and spring sports without football revenue from the fall? Do people need to donate the the Vandal Scholarship Fund (VSF)? If so, how much do we need to give to save our programs?