As the Eastern Washington football players take another shot at the Pac-12 this weekend, so do the coaches.
They’ve done that since spring, in the film room and on the field, all the while practicing the same even-keel mentality they preach to their players.
“Maybe it’s coach-speak, but if it’s on your schedule, you play it,” Eastern offensive line coach Aaron Best said Wednesday afternoon before practice at Roos Field.
Still, even that “next-game-is-all-that- counts” mentality can’t ignore the fact that Saturday’s game at Oregon State has been the “next game” for almost nine months. That the Beavers are ranked 25th in the Football Bowl Subdivision only adds to the anticipation.
“It’s always fun,” defensive coordinator John Graham said. “We’ve taken that approach here since the day we got here: that we’re going in to compete and going in to win it.
“When you go against an FBS school, it makes it that much sweeter,” Graham said.
The preparation is the same, whether the Eagles are playing up or playing down (as they do the following week against Division II school Western Oregon.)
“At the end of the day,” Best said, the big-school advantages in facilities, budgets and other perks “don’t matter a bit.”
“If we take that attitude, we’re already defeated,” Best said. “When it comes down to the game, it’s just Xs and Os.”
Head coach Beau Baldwin acknowledges the advantages that accrue to the bigger schools, especially during recruiting, but noted that assessment of 17-year-olds is an inexact science.
“There’s definitely a difference out of high school,” Baldwin said. “But sometimes it can be closer than people realize.”
Another thing that’s closer than people realize? The Eastern staff, which is unchanged since April of 2012.
“When you see the continuity, when you see the things we’re able to do on the run – just because we’ve been together – that goes a long way,” Baldwin said. “That’s something you take for granted; it allows you do do things in a manner like we’re on the same page.”
Adams ‘going home’
Eastern Washington receivers coach Junior Adams was on the Beavers sideline for the opening game of the 2000 season, a 21-19 win over the Eagles.
Adams, a redshirt sophomore, didn’t see action. “Let’s be honest, I was stuck behind some really good players,” said Adams, referring to future NFL receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh.
The narrow win belied how good the Beavers would be that year, which ended with a share of the Pac-10 title and a 41-9 thumping of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. “That was a great team,” said Adams, who was recruited to Corvallis in 1998 by current coach Mike Riley, who left OSU that year to coach the San Diego Chargers.
Dennis Erickson coached the next four seasons – including the 2000 season – and Riley returned to OSU in 2003. “He’s an awesome, down-to-earth guy,” said Adams, who transferred to Montana State in 2001.
Several of Adams’ OSU teammates are in the coaching ranks, including Jake Cookus, safeties coach at Montana; Jonathan Smith, quaterbacks coach at Boise State; and Keith Heyward, who handles the cornerbacks at Washington.
Against the FBS
Last year, Big Sky teams notched four wins over teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision. The four wins led all FCS conferences. This year, Big Sky teams will face FBS teams 17 times. Only Montana and North Dakota do not face an FBS team this season. Cal Poly, Eastern Washington, Idaho State, Sacramento State, Southern Utah and Weber State will each face two FBS teams. The Big Sky will go head-to-head with the Pac-12 seven times and the Mountain West six times.
Five teams ranked
Five Big Sky Conference teams enter the 2013 season ranked in the two major FCS polls. Montana State, which has shared the league title each of the past three seasons, is second in the Sports Network and the Coaches Poll. Two-time defending national champion North Dakota State is first in both polls. Eastern Washington, which advanced to the national semifinals last season, is ranked third by the coaches and fourth by the Sports Network. Cal Poly, which shared the Big Sky title with MSU and EWU last season, is 11th in the coaches poll and 14th in the Sports Network Top 25. Northern Arizona is 18th in both polls. Montana is 20th in the Sports Network poll, and 22nd in the coaches poll.
The 51st season of Big Sky Conference football opens tonight with five teams in action. … Montana State is at home against Monmouth, an FCS Independent; North Dakota plays host to Valparaiso of the FCS Pioneer Football League; Portland State is at home against Eastern Oregon; Sacramento State travels to San Jose State; and Southern Utah is at South Alabama.