Big Sky Conference Football: 2012 Spring Power Rankings
Having made an appearance in the FCS National Championship game three of the last four seasons, the Big Sky Conference has established itself as one of the premier conferences in the FCS.
Will favorites Montana or Montana State repeat in 2012 after their shared Big Sky championship in 2011 or will another team step up and steal away the crown?
Add in four new conference newcomers in Cal Poly, North Dakota, Southern Utah and UC Davis, and the Big Sky Conference will be as entertaining as ever this upcoming season.
And why not get started looking forward to the conference race this spring too?
Here are the top five teams in the Big Sky Conference heading into the 2012 season.
No. 13 Though No. 6
No. 13: Northern Colorado Bears
2011 Record: 0-11 (0-8)
No. 12: Northern Arizona Lumberjacks
2011 Record: 4-7 (3-5)
No. 11: UC Davis Aggies
2011 Record: 4-7 (1-3 Great West)
No. 10: Sacramento State Hornets
2011 Record: 4-7 (3-5)
No. 9: Idaho State Bengals
2011 Record: 2-9 (1-7)
No. 8: Southern Utah Thunderbirds
2011 Record: 6-5 (1-3 Great West)
No. 7: Portland State Vikings
2011 Record: 7-4 (5-3)
No. 6: North Dakota
2011 Record: 8-3 (3-1 Great West)
No. 5: Cal Poly Mustangs
2011 Record: 6-5 (3-1 Great West)
The Mustangs will look to make a strong impression in 2012 in their first season as a football-only member of the Big Sky Conference.
Making a strong impression may be tough with only eight overall starters returning from a 6-5 team in 2011. The Mustangs will lose both starting slotbacks and their fullback in their "wing-t" offense, but should still put up huge numbers this season due to a strong offensive line with center Geoff Hyde and offensive guard Lefi Letuligasenoa.
Slotback Deonte Williams looks to be Cal Poly's probable leading rusher in 2012. Also returning is quarterback Andre Broadous.
The defense loses seven starters. However the Mustangs will feature a linebacker-driven defense with Kennith Jackson and Johnny Millard. Jackson had 80 tackles with two interceptions and was first team All-Great West Conference in 2011. Millard also had a strong showing in 2011 with 82 tackles.
Cornerback Bijon Samoodi will look to put up big numbers from the defensive backfield.
On a side note, due to scheduling, Cal Poly does not play arguably the two best teams in the conference in 2012: Montana and Montana State. This "luck" should help the Mustangs contend for at least a share of the conference title.
No. 4: Weber State Wildcats
2011 Record: 5-6 (5-3)
After Ron McBride retired at the end of the 2011 season, the Weber State Wildcats made a great hire in John L. Smith.
Well, Bobby Petrino had his little "accident" at Arkansas and the repercussions made their way to the Big Sky Conference as Smith took an interim head coaching position with the Razorbacks.
Even though the Wildcats currently do not have a head coach, they still have a great deal of talent which will make them a dark horse to win the conference this season. Back is Weber State's rushing tandem of Josh Booker and Tevia Tolutau. Booker should continue building on his 701 yards and five touchdowns rushing from 2011.
Also returning for the Weber State offense is offensive guard Tytan Timoteo, who was second team all-conference in 2011.
The young defense in 2011 struggled at times, but is laden with talent this upcoming season, especially up front with defensive ends Trevor Pletcher and Caldwell Taylor along with defensive tackle Ryan Eastman.
Linebacker Anthony Morales and safety Willie Okwuonu will also look to be strong contributors for the Wildcats in 2012.
No. 3: Eastern Washington Eagles
2011 Record: 6-5 (5-3)
After an FCS National Championship in 2010, the Eagles looked to repeat in 2011, but simply fell flat finishing a disappointing 6-5 in 2011.
2012 looks to see Eastern Washington back in contention for a Big Sky Conference title and an FCS playoff appearance. The Eagles bring in SMU transfer quarterback Kyle Padron who will take over the offense immediately. Along with all-conference receivers Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd who combined to receive for 2,272 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2011, Eastern Washington's passing attack projects to be the best in the Big Sky.
The defense looks to be average in 2012 with the loss of five starters, including Matt Johnson at safety, respectively. However, the Eagles do return T.J. Lee at cornerback who was first team all-conference in 2011.
Eastern Washington will play their Red-White Spring Game on April 28.
No. 2: Montana State Bobcats
2011 Record: 10-3 (7-1)
Head coach Rob Ash led Montana State to one of its best seasons in school history in 2011, and the Bobcats have the talent to not only compete for a Big Sky title, but an FCS National Championship in 2012.
After a slightly disappointing but still very productive sophomore season, quarterback DeNarius McGhee will lead the offense along with running back Cody Kirk who was second in the Big Sky in rushing with 1,351 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground in 2011. Also coming back for the Bobcats is Orenzo Davis, who sat out the 2011 season due to academic ineligibility.
McGhee was 11 of 19 for 103 yards and one touchdown through the air in Montana State's spring game. Wide receiver Tanner Bleskin had four catches for 40 yards.
The defense does have some holes to fill, but should still be loaded up front with defensive ends Brad Daly and Caleb Schreibeis and defensive tackle Zach Minter. Additionally, all-conference senior linebacker Jody Owens will look to build on his team-high 105 tackles from 2011.
No. 1: Montana Grizzlies
2011 Record: 11-3 (7-1)
Simply put, it's been a long, tumultuous offseason in Missoula with the firing of Robin Pflugrad along with the mysteries surrounding sexual assault allegations, not to mention the loss of nine starters on defense from 2011.
Regardless, the Grizzlies, along with interim head coach Mich Delaney, still have a tremendous amount of talent and enough to win the Big Sky. The offensive backfield will look to be one of the best in the conference with quarterback Jordan Johnson and an outstanding running back tandem led by Peter Nguyen and Dan Moore.
The defense will be young but should still have enough talent to help the Grizzlies win the Big Sky. The linebacking crops for Montana will not only be the best in the conference, but one of the best in FCS football with John Kanongata'a, Brock Coyle and Jordan Tripp returning from a medical redshirt season.
Heading into the 2012 season, the biggest question for the Grizzlies on defense has to be cornerback, especially with the departure of Trumaine Johnson to the NFL draft. However, transfer junior David Nguyen showed promise with a spring game high of five tackles.
Overall, Montana's spring game (with 8,731 fans in attendance, which was an FCS record) saw offensive explosion with 390 yards and four touchdowns through the air.
As of now, it's truly a toss-up between Montana and Montana State for the number one spot. However, having won at least a share of 13 of the last 14 Big Sky Conference titles, it's still Montana's conference to lose.