Seeking an unprecedented third straight Big Sky Conference title, the Eastern Washington football team has been picked by coaches and media to reach its goal.
The Eagles soared to 8-0 last year against Big Sky foes, marking the first time in school history that Eastern had an undefeated conference slate.
“We appreciate what our past and present players did to put us in this position,” coach Beau Baldwin said Tuesday from league’s Summer Kickoff in Park City, Utah. “But after today you move forward toward the 2014 season.”
The Eagles received 34 of the 36 first-place votes in the media poll and 11 of 12 coaches picked Baldwin to repeat. Montana received one first-place vote in both polls and one media pollster picked the Grizzlies to win the league and the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivison Playoffs.
“I don’t shy away from the fact that we appreciate being picked so high,” Baldwin said in a news release. “That means you’ve done good things in the past and it’s nice to see that recognized.”
Media gave Eastern 464 total votes compared to 416 for Montana and 364 for Montana State. Coaches gave Eastern 144 total votes compared to 130 for Montana and 111 for Montana State.
The Eagles play at Montana State on Sept. 20 and host Montana on Nov. 8.
In 2012 and 2013, Eastern was picked to finish second in both polls before winning the league both years after winning the NCAA Division 1 title in 2010.
In 2011, the Eagles started 0-4 before rebounding for finishing 12-3 and advanced to the semifinal game of the FCS Playoffs.
“It’s a fine line between winning and losing, especially with the difficult nonconference schedules all of us play, followed by a tough league schedule,” Baldwin said.
Six starters return on offense and five on defense, including the punter and long snapper.
The Eagles have a total of 45 returning letterwinners include 22 on offense, 21 on defense and two on special teams. The Eagles return 12 players who earned All-Big Sky Conference honors, including a trio of returning All-Americans.
Eastern begins practices for the 2014 season on July 31 in preparation for the team’s season opener on Aug. 23 versus Sam Houston State at Roos Field. Eastern also plays at home the following week against Montana Western on Aug. 30.