Eastern Washington is No.1 … in the magazine aisle at your local supermarket.
That will have to do for now – the college football season is 11 weeks away – but the Eagles are a unanimous top pick in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, according to three national publications.
Athlon, Lindy’s and The Sporting News all have placed the preseason target squarely on the Eagles’ backs, but coach Beau Baldwin doesn’t mind.
“It’s a compliment, and we appreciate it very much,” said Baldwin, who will open practices on July 31 in preparation for the season opener on Aug. 23 against Sam Houston State.
“Like any coach, you’re more concerned with the postseason, and that’s definitely the case with us, but your preseason rankings reflect what you’ve done in the past,” Baldwin said.
“I don’t want to sneak up on people – if that’s the case, you haven’t had much success in the past.”
Eastern is coming off its second straight Big Sky Conference title and back-to-back appearances in the FCS semifinals and returns 11 letterwinners. Those include three All-Amercans – quarterback Vernon Adams, wide receiver Cooper Kupp and linebacker Ronnie Hamlin – and nine other all-conference honorees.
Adams finished the 2013 season ranked No. 1 in passing efficiency in the FCS (183.13), which set school and Big Sky records while ranking fourth all-time in FCS. Kupp had 21 TD catches in 2013 to lead FCS as a redshirt freshman.
Meanwhile, three-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State must break in a new coach and a new quarterback. The Bison are ranked second by Athlon and The Sporting News and third by Lindy’s, which has Southeastern Louisiana in the runner-up spot.
Sam Houston State, also with a new coach and starting quarterback, is ranked between 16th and 21st by the three publications.
Baldwin noted that all three schools have reached at least the semifinals in back-to-back years, but that NDSU and SHSU “had the most turnover.”
“We also lost some great seniors, but we probably have more returning from an overall standpoint,” Baldwin said.
Other high-ranked teams include Southeastern Lousiana (second in Lindy’s and third in the other two lists) and New Hampshire (ranked eighth or higher by all three).
Eastern, NDSU, Southeastern Lousiana, New Hampshire and Montana are the only schools ranked in the top 10 by all three magazines.
Towson, which knocked off EWU 35-31 in last year’s semifinal at Roos Field, is ranked between 10th and 15th.
Among Big Sky teams, Montana is ranked fourth by Lindy’s, seventh by Athlon and 10th by The Sporting News. Montana State is ranked between 16th and 21st by all three magazines. Southern Utah is ranked 24th by The Sporting News.