Much like what Ken Goe, sports columnist does for the Pac-10 in the Oregonian, and similar to what I did last year before my computer blew up, I will be providing my own list of rankings where I believe the teams in the Big Sky are at in the conference. Keep in mind that this is just my opinion, all open to discussion, and not sanctioned to any publication. I will update them each week based on the outcomes of the previous weeks ballgames. Going into week 1, here the first list...
1. Montana---Hands down the number one pick in the conference. The Grizzlies had to enjoy the off field incidents and coaching changes within the conference that moved them further ahead of the rest. Time will tell if this year is just a one-horse conference, but the Griz should be the favorite in all the games they play. Not only a strong nucleus returning, but they welcome back Lex Hilliard, their all purpose runner who was lost all last year due to injury. First game of the year against Southern Utah should be a cakewalk, as most of the games.
2. Portland State---New coach, new philosophy, same team. The Vikings had all spring and summer to get acquainted with the run and shoot brought in by former Viking HC Mouse Davis, and also Glanville brought his defense to Portland, too. Do they have it down? They need to. A trip to Bayou country starts them off as they go to McNeese State this week. The Vikings were 7-1 against the Southland with Walsh. Will it continue with Glanville/Davis?
3. Montana State---Probably the biggest question mark in the conference. The Bobcats have the talent and the opportunity to go after the Griz this year, but bringing in a new coach after spring ball can not help. What changes have happened? What changes will happen? Cats move up to FBS level this weekend with a trip to College Station against Texas A&M. Then again no one picked a win against Colorado last year.
4. Northern Arizona---The Jacks have quietly been moving up the list in the offseason, thanks to the turmoil in the conference. Now that the season is here, they can make even more noise. A daunting non conference game at Appalachian State is on the horizon, but the Jacks do have Montana at home this year. A break here and there and the Jacks could make some noise. A breakthrough year is a must for Alex Watson. It all starts this weekend at home against Western New Mexico.
5. Eastern Washington---Interesting starting spot for the Eagles this year, but a good spot after last years dismal season. Eagles are ready to put that behind them. Still, maybe a year away, but they are a team never to count out. Always a tough game at Cheney and they give the Griz fits in Missoula (which is where this year's game is). Easy game this weekend against Montana-Western should get them started on the right foot.
6. Weber State---Another team that avoided most of the problems in the conference during the offseason and emerged as a possible sleeper pick in the conference. An ugly start to the year may prove otherwise (at Boise State, at Cal Poly), but that undoubtably will get the Wildcats primed for the conference. Still, starting this week at Boise State will be tough, but Portland State stayed with the Broncos two years ago. Can the Wildcats?
7. Idaho State---Last year was bad. This could be worse. Little in the way of returnees has the Bengals starting from scratch. An extra week of preparation will not hurt as they are not scheduled to play until next week. Will it help? Can anything help?
8. Northern Colorado---Yeah, trendy pick here, but the Bears were competitive in conference last year and got a win against Southland foe Texas State. Best thing to do is keep improving in the Big Sky and the Bears, in their second year, have a chance to do that. Yet, last year's punter situation is still prevalent in Greeley and it is unsure if that will be a distraction. A paid trip to Hawaii is always nice, even at the end of August.
9. Sacramento State---The Hornets, surprising, looked good last year, playing close and getting some wins. Unfortunately, that was last year. This year does not come close. Not much returning and a schedule that does not have a home game until the last week of September may be too much. It starts this week at Fresno State. Nowhere to go but up.
Like I said, just my opinon and all open for discussion. Just where I see the teams in the Big Sky right now. Tough to do as no one has played any games yet. Pretty much pure speculation.