The Cal Poly football team was predicted to finish fifth in both Big Sky Conference preseason polls last season, but achieved a 7-1 record and a share of the conference title.
This preseason, the pollsters have picked the Mustangs to finish fourth.
“It seems like just about every year, the teams from Montana and Eastern Washington get the top votes, so to be voted next to them is probably a pretty good compliment,” Mustangs coach Tim Walsh said.
Cal Poly was ranked fourth in both the Big Sky coaches and media preseason polls released Monday in Park City, Utah.
The polls included votes by the conference’s 13 head coaches and 48 members of the media.
Montana State got the first-place nod, Eastern Washington was picked second and Montana third in both polls.
Walsh emphasized that the polls rely heavily on the past season’s performance and which players are returning, but they “don’t mean anything” because the results have to proven on the field.
Also Monday, three Cal Poly seniors were announced as picks for the Big Sky preseason all-conference team — offensive tackle Giovanni Sani, defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz and special-teams player Chris Judge.
“When you have 13 teams in the conference and ‘x’ amount of guys who are worthy, it means what you did last year proved that you’re good enough to make the list,” Walsh said. “But it’s about, ‘What are you going to do this year?’ ”
As far as the prediction of the conference standings, the pollsters likely took into consideration that the Mustangs graduated three key players — quarterback Andre Broadous, running back Deonte Williams and linebacker Kennith Jackson.
Broadous passed for 3,120 yards and 31 touchdowns in his Mustangs career, and last season Williams rushed for 1,506 yards, the second-highest single-season total in Cal Poly history. Jackson recorded 302 career tackles.
“Those guys were game-ready, and they were as sophomores and juniors,” Walsh said. “I know (running back) Kristaan Ivory is game-ready because of how he played last year. Now, we have to find out who’s game-ready this year.”
Cal Poly brings back 58 players, including nine all-conference selections in 2012.
Outside linebacker Johnny Millard and Grosz received second-team all-conference honors last season, and seven other returnees, including receiver Willie Tucker and kicker Bobby Zalud, were honorable-mention picks.
Walsh said Monday that he still isn’t ready to name his starting quarterback, but he expects to do so later this month, likely within a couple of weeks of the Aug. 31 opener against the University of San Diego at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
Going into the summer, four players were competing for the starting spot at quarterback — Vince Moraga, Chris Brown, Dano Graves and Tanner Trosin.
Walsh expects a tight race for the title this year.
“I could see the conference winner getting two or three losses this year,” Walsh said. “That’s how tight this race is. We want to do our job on the field, and we don’t want to leave it to chance about whether we get into the playoffs.”