Who Will Win The Big Sky?

The Big Sky is one of the deepest conference top to bottom. Predicting a winner is difficult. Last year was my first attempt to take emotion out of it and use analytics to predict the winner. How I did this was combination of a “True Skill Ranking” and “Strength of Schedule” calculation.

Before we get into this year. It is a fair question to ask, How did last year go? How accurate is this? It is a little difficult to compare as I originally completed predicitons before five Big Sky Schools opted out of Spring. Lets look anyway with removing the teams that did not play and adjusting.

Predicted FinishTeamPredicted RecordActual FinishTeamActual Record
1Weber State6-01Weber State5-0
2E.Washington5-12E.Washington5-1
t3UC Davis4-2t3UC Davis3-2
t3N.Arizona4-2t3N.Arizona3-2
5Idaho2-4t5Idaho2-4
t-6Idaho State1-5t5Idaho State2-4
t-6Cal Poly1-57S.Utah1-5
8S.Utah0-68Cal Poly0-3

I will let you all determine if this was succesful or not, especially with last springs circumstances. But at least now you know how it did.

This season will be a test as all 13 current Big Sky Football Conference teams are playing. This is also only looking at the conference schedule. The out of conference schedule has not been included. Also the database used to calculate my True Skill rankings are not released yet. These prediciton are stricly of SOS and leave room for updating before conference kickoff.

Before we get into predicitons, lets take a look at some of the oddities of the 2nd annual Strength of Schedule Tub Table.

Obviously this system is not perfect, I am the first to acknowledge this. As Weber State (Preseason pick to win conference) benefits from not playing themselves and vice versa Northern Colorado and Cal Poly are punished for not playing themselves.

That being said it is the second time in as many seasons Weber State has the path of least resistance to win the championship. Montana State and Eastern Washington have a weird scenario too. Eastern Washington has the toughest schedule at home (Montana,Idaho,Weber & Montana State). While Montana State has toughest road schedule (Portland State, Weber State, Eastern Washington & Montana). Then they swap and Eastern has the least difficult road schedule. While Montana State has by far the easiest schedule at home. sidenote, I honestly wonder how season ticket sales are going with no Choate, 18 months of no football and a lackluster home schedule.

If you are looking for this years dark horse, Northern Arizona harbors 3rd easiest schedule and only by 2 points. The Standard Deviation for strength of schedule is 9.4. Being only 2 points off from easiest schedule is a big benefit to the lumberjacks of Flagstaff. To their defense, Shaun Rainey of SWX Montana and Colter Nuanez of Skyline Sports have been high on Portland State, Even saying they are top four in big sky. They do have 5th easiest schedule in the conference and could be one of those annual dark horses the big sky seems to get every year.

Okay enough of me nerding out over schedule strength statistics that really dont mean anything once the ball is kicked off to what you are all here for… using those useless statistics to make analytical predictions for each team in the conference.

t13. Cal Poly 0-8

t13. Northern Colorado 0-8

11. Southern Utah 1-7

t10. Portland State 2-6

t10. Idaho State 2-6

8. Idaho 3-5

t5.Northern Arizona 5-3

t5. Montana State 5-3

t5. UC Davis 5-3

t3. Eastern Washington 7-1

t3. Sac State 7-1

t1. Montana 8-0

t1. Weber State 8-0

Reminder these are not my predictions. You can tune into our live youtube show August 10th around 8 PT with Skyline Sports Colter Nuanez to hear how myself and the rest of the team think conference season will go.

*** As always I”m not an journalist so, take your gramatical error comments, & put them in a beg some-Where. Hope you enjoyed the content regarless if you maid it too dis disclaimer 😉

Tubs Preseason Big Sky Poll

We submitted three polls to the conference office. Here is how the three of us voted and why.

Chris
Brian
Dallas
1Weber StateMontanaWeber State
2EWUMontana StateEWU
3MontanaWeber StateMontana
4UC DavisEWUSac State
5Montana StateSac StateMontana State
6NAUUC DavisUC Davis
7Idaho StateIdahoIdaho State
8IdahoIdaho StateNAU
9SUUUNCIdaho
10Sac StateSUUSUU
11Cal PolyPortland StatePortland State
12UNCNAUUNC
13Portland StateCal PolyCal Poly

For those of you that read our Preseason All-Conference Team post you can see our picks for All-Conference lead to our opinions on our polls.

Further Explanations

Chris:

  • 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…

Brian:

  • 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.   

Dallas:

  • 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.

MOSoccerCOW

What a season for Vandal soccer! In the preseason Idaho was picked 7th out of 10 in the Big Sky Conference. They ended up finishing 2nd in the northwest division to earn a spot in conference post-season. Lets take this momentum and turn it into something! I want to explain why I think Vandal fans should become soccer fans as well. Lets support this program like never before next season. Give me a chance to explain why.

For those of you that follow me on Twitter, you know I am a soccer fan as well as a football fan I used to love going to Guy Wicks Field when I was in college and watch our ladies’ team play. I’d even watch the men’s club team on the Sprinturf.

2014 Copa 90 on Seattle Sounder Supporters Culture

Now, I did not grow up a soccer fan. In fact, I used to joke about the sport. But I did always find it odd soccer wasn’t bigger collegiately. Soccer is insanely popular as a youth sport in Idaho, especially the Treasure Valley. But when the Seattle Sounders moved to the MLS in 2009, I bit, hook, line and sinker.

The Northwest loves their soccer. What would it take to bring a supporter’s culture like the ones in Seattle & Portland to Moscow?

First step is to get the students involved. The growth of interest in the sport has been led by Millennials and Gen Z. Being in a supporters section is a lot like being in the student section at a college hoops or football game, just a tad more organized and can be even more fun.

Idaho has an organized student section that, if we are being honest, could use a shot in the arm and a rebrand: The Vandalizers. Now, I don’t want to totally steal them from basketball, though they have noticeably decreased in numbers over the years. Rebranding them as an organized student supporter section for soccer could get some new students interested in the organization. Soccer is played in the fall, so it would be a good way to refill the Vandalizers roster and get them in larger numbers at hoops games in the winter.

2015 Copa 90 on Portland Timbers Supporters Culture

Because supporter culture is so important in soccer, the supporter groups are what make soccer unique. It is marching to the match, singing and chanting all match, and tifos. How cool would it be to have organized march from the “I Bench” at admin building and walk down “Hello Walk” to the Kibbie. Then reveal an amazing tifo poking fun at Boise State, Montana, Eastern or Idaho State and then chanting and singing all match long!

I get that this will make no sense to some people. The demographic for soccer is typically younger. Millennials (recent grads) started the boost in interest. Zoomers (current students) are the the turing tide demographic for the sport. While Generation Alpha (upcoming students) are expected to take Soccer into the modern era of fandom, which is why a league like the MLS is expected to pass leagues such as MLB, NHL & NBA in popularity, meaning this is more of a question of when, then if.

Creating a soccer culture, specifically female, would set the University apart. Most of the major soccer Universities also have a men’s team. Idaho does not. We can fully invest into our women’s program and make it the envy of many.

Photo Credit: GoVandals.com

We already have seen glimpses of what could be. In 2017 vs Boise State, we drew 4,171 spectators, in 2019 it drew 2,169. That is impressive for a mid-major school. To put that in perspective, in this millennium, the Stanford men’s team’s largest attended home game was 2,919 vs Cal. In fact, in 2018 UConn led the men’s average attendance with 3,213. We are talking about men’s soccer. Traditionally, men’s sports draw larger attendance. Tell me this isn’t doable for the Idaho women? Fun fact, in 2017 Idaho was already 36th in the country in average attendance, and 30th in total attendance and we weren’t even trying!

The only schools really trying on the women’s side to create a soccer culture and big time atmosphere are Portland and BYU. This is setting up to have some viral home and home moments. With these two programs out west, we could easily schedule both, especially if all three programs create the standard for women’s soccer attendance.

We all have watched the USWNT see extreme success on the field and in the stands. If Idaho has a shot at a national title, women’s soccer could be built into one. There just isn’t a school, alumni base and student section really behind their programs. So why not us?

The team on its own is primed to be worth watching as well. Four All-Big Sky players this season. Manager Jeremy Clevenger won Big Sky coach of the year as well. The blocks are in place to stay winners.

The sport is undoubtedly growing, let’s be at the forefront for once!

I would love to see this movement start gaining steam, even if I personally have to spearhead it! If I was Terry Gawlik and the Athletic Department, I would be planning for a triple header of sorts for Idaho Homecoming next year. Friday night at the bonfire, give out the 2021 scarves for free, lead a chant with the newly rebranded Vandalizers and lead a march into the dome for kickoff against an awesome regional opponent (preferably not BSU) and anyone with a ticket to Saturday afternoon’s football game or the ICCU Arena court opening game Saturday evening gets in for free, everyone else is $5 a ticket.

Pack the dome Friday, Saturday and the new hardwood twice all in 48 hours!

The Questions I Have About Spring Football 2021

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.

Nationally

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.

Transfers?

  • 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?

The FCS

Frisco?

  • 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?

Scholarship Numbers?

  • 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?

Recruiting/Eligibility?

  • 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?

Money?

  • 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.

Fall 2021?

  • 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?

Practice?

  • 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

Conference Schedule?

  • Is the schedule going to be the same that it was for the fall 2020 season?

Backup Plan?

  • 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?

Idaho Vandals

Kibbie Dome?

  • 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?

Building with the players?

Future Schedule?

Other Sports?

  • 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?

 

 

 

Could High Noon Big Sky & Pac 12 After Dark Help Idahos Deficit?

The University of Idaho is facing a bit of a budget crisis. In a rare feat of dumb luck, misfortune and geography, Idaho may be able to get creative in generating new revenue during the upcoming fall season in midst of the current pandemic.

The State of Idaho, for right or wrong, is moving along quicker than some neighboring states at reopening. With the recent announcement that students will be returning to campus in August, along with rumors the football team could report to campus as soon as early June, everything is pointing towards Idaho hosting sports come fall.

States like Oregon have said no sporting events until October. The California State University system has said it doesn’t expect students back in the fall.  It does not seem out of the realm of possibility that the state of Washington could say something similar and not allow sports within its state borders, seeing as the three states are apart of a joint COVID Coalition.

This puts our neighbors to the west in a particularly tough place. What if Washington State is not allowed to play sporting events in Martin Stadium come fall 2020? Is there a way to almost repay the “favor” they did for us back in late 90’s and early 2000’s?

Idaho at this point will have, we assume, already put into place proper precautions, procedures, and rules to be as safe a place as possible to host sports during the pandemic. All Washington State would have to do is bus the 8 miles to their new temporary home, play their home games in the Kibbie Dome, and then bus back. Idaho would obviously work out some sort of monetary deal for renting the Kibbie Dome. Whether it be a portion of ticket sales, concession, other game-day revenue, or just a flat fee depending on what the decided attendance structure even is (students only, season ticket holders only, completely empty?)

It also just so happens there is another school in a similar boat 77 miles away. It would be pretty cool having Coug, Eagle & Vandal doubleheaders in Moscow this fall.

 

Here is a hypothetical season in the Kibbie:

September 5th

  • Afternoon Kickoff: Idaho v Western Oregon

September 12th

  • Noon Kickoff: Eastern Washington v Western Illinois
  • Evening Kickoff: Washington State v Houston

September 19th (AKA Palousefest 2020)

  • Noon Kickoff: Eastern Washington v Northern Arizona
  • Evening Kickoff: Washington State v Idaho

October 3rd

  • Noon Kickoff: Eastern Washington v Montana
  • Evening Kickoff: Washington State v Cal

October 10th

  • Noon Kickoff: Idaho v Portland State
  • Evening Kickoff: Washington State v Utah

October 17th

  • Afternoon Kickoff: Eastern Washington v Idaho

October 24th

  • Afternoon Kickoff: Idaho v Montana

October 31st

  • Noon Kickoff: Idaho v Northern Arizona
  • Evening Kickoff: Washington State v Arizona State

November 7th

  • Noon Kickoff: Eastern Washington v Montana State
  • Evening Kickoff: Idaho v Southern Utah

November 21st

  • Evening Kickoff: Washington State v Oregon

November 27th

  • Afternoon Kickoff: Washington State v Washington

 

Big Sky at noon, followed up by ‘Pac-12 After Dark.’ That would be something else. Not to mention the added foot traffic coming to town to help those businesses that just penny-pinched to keep the lights on.

I understand that there are other logistics and more important health concerns that would need to be worked out to make this even remotely possible. We also aren’t even sure what the 2020 schedule will evolve into, as news is changing by the moment. It is an interesting scenario and alternative that the FBS & FCS programs in Palouse could look at. This is the outside-the-box thinking Idaho needs to be doing to conquer our financial woes. This call should at least be placed to the respective athletic directors on interest, if possible.

One last thought on this hypothetical,  Just imagine the Kibbie Dome parking lot on September 19th or even October 3rd…Heaven won’t be the only place without beer!