Cal Poly

Cal Poly football picked to finish ninth in Big Sky Conference preseason polls

The Cal Poly football team was picked to finish ninth in the Big Sky Conference preseason coaches and media polls released Tuesday.
The Cal Poly football team was picked to finish ninth in the Big Sky Conference preseason coaches and media polls released Tuesday. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Expectations outside the Cal Poly football program aren’t particularly high heading into the 2016 season, according to the preseason polls released Tuesday during the Big Sky Conference Football Kickoff event in Park City, Utah.

The Mustangs were picked ninth in both the coaches and media preseason polls, finishing ahead of Northern Colorado, Sacramento State, Idaho State and UC Davis in the 13-team conference.

Cal Poly was one of three teams to finish 3-5 in conference play last fall, and it seems opposing coaches and media members are anticipating a similar outcome this coming season.

“I think our team has a little bit of a chip on its shoulder going into the 2016 season,” Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said in an interview with Big Sky communications director Jon Oglesby. “They want to be a better all-around football team that finishes games.”

Northern Arizona, which last won the Big Sky championship in 2003, was picked by coaches and media as the preseason favorite. The Lumberjacks return one of the top underclassmen in the country in sophomore quarterback Case Cookus, who garnered STATS FCS Freshman of the Year honors last season.

Portland State and Montana tied for second in the coaches poll, each receiving 121 points. Eastern Washington was fourth, followed by North Dakota, Weber State, defending conference champion Southern Utah and Montana State.

In the media poll, Montana held a small edge over Eastern Washington for the runner-up spot, and North Dakota was picked fourth. Portland State came in fifth, followed by Weber State, Southern Utah and Montana State.

Protheroe honored

Junior-to-be Joe Protheroe was the only Mustang selected to the preseason all-conference teams that also were released this week in Park City.

The 6-foot, 225-pound Protheroe was a unanimous choice at fullback after earning first-team all-conference honors and being named an FCS All-American during his breakthrough sophomore season.

The Concord native and Clayton Valley Charter High graduate rushed for 779 yards and six touchdowns despite missing two games with undisclosed injuries. Protheroe was particularly effective early in the year and delivered 100-yard performances against Montana, Arizona State, Montana State and Eastern Washington.

“He’s good inside the tackles, but he is also good on the perimeter,” Walsh said. “… He’s very instinctive in how he runs, and I think that’s what makes him valuable. Plus, he’s 225 pounds, and he’s pretty tough.”

Eastern Washington wide receiver and three-time All-American Cooper Kupp, the 2015 FCS Offensive Player of the Year, was named the Big Sky’s preseason offensive player of the year for the second consecutive season. Montana defensive end Caleb Kidder was selected as the Big Sky preseason defensive player of the year.

Defending champion Southern Utah led all teams with five preseason all-conference picks, while Northern Arizona and Weber State each had four players earn that recognition.

Tough sledding

Walsh was asked about the difficulty of Cal Poly’s conference schedule, which kicks off at home Sept. 24 against a Montana team the Mustangs have upset two years in a row.

That contest marks the beginning of a key three-game stretch for Cal Poly that also includes trips to North Dakota (Oct. 1) and Portland State (Oct. 15), two teams that expect to be in the mix for a conference title come November.

“I think those three games — for all three of us, all three opponents as well — it’s going to size up exactly who we are in the Big Sky,” Walsh said.

The back half of the schedule seems more manageable, with three of the final five games being played inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium and a marquee Nov. 5 matchup against Eastern Washington.

Big Sky Football Preseason Coaches Poll

1. Northern Arizona (8) ………………….. 132

T2. Portland State (2)……………………… 121

T2. Montana …………………………………….. 121

4. Eastern Washington (2) ……………. 112

5. North Dakota (1) ………………………….105

6. Weber State …………………………………..83

T7. Southern Utah …………………………….73

T7. Montana State …………………………….73

9. Cal Poly ………………………………………… 66

10. Northern Colorado ……………………. 43

11. Sacramento State ………………………. 30

12. Idaho State …………………………………..24

13. UC Davis ……………………………………….23

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