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North Dakota edges Eastern Washington in Big Sky coaches, media polls

Aaron Best has a solid chance to win the Big Sky Conference title in his first year as head coach. (James Snook / James Snook/For The Spokesman-Review)
Aaron Best has a solid chance to win the Big Sky Conference title in his first year as head coach. (James Snook / James Snook/For The Spokesman-Review)

There won’t be an undefeated tie this year between North Dakota and Eastern Washington University in the race to the Big Sky Conference football championship, but they are expected to battle at the top again.

The Fighting Hawks and Eagles have been pegged to finish 1-2, respectively, by both the coaches and media as the picks were released on Tuesday at the Big Sky Conference Football Kickoff in Park City, Utah.

The Eagles received five first-place votes and 271 total points by the media, and had two first-place tallies and 124 total votes by the coaches. The Fighting Hawks were picked first on six of the coaches’ ballots, and received six more total votes than EWU. North Dakota earned 15 of 24 first-place votes from the media and had 298 total points.

The two teams play each other on Nov. 11 in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in what could be a showdown for the league title. That game ends the regular season for the Fighting Hawks, while the Eagles play their last game at home versus Portland State the following week.

The Eagles enter their first season under new head coach Aaron Best with five new coaches on the offensive side of the football, but will be well-stocked with experience on the field. Eastern returns 53 letterwinners, including 26 on defense, 23 on offense and four on special teams.

The team’s defensive coaching staff returns intact from EWU’s 2016 team which finished 12-2 and a perfect 8-0 in the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles ended the year ranked fourth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision after advancing to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs for the third time in the past five seasons, and 12th playoff berth overall.

Six years after capturing the NCAA Division I Football Championship, the Eagles won the Big Sky Conference title for the ninth time overall and fifth time in seven seasons. Eastern garnered its 19th winning season in the last 21 years, including playoff berths in nine of the last 13 seasons.

“Every year is a new team,” said Best, who is entering his 21st season as either a player or coach at Eastern. “Everybody wants to make comparisons to the 2016 team, but we want the 2017 team to develop. Our identity is yet to be determined and that’s what we are starting to do.”

A year ago, Eastern was picked to finish second and ended up tying North Dakota at the top of the league standings with perfect 8-0 records.


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