The 2021 Big Sky Football Kickoff was held July 26 as head coaches and players met in person with media in Spokane, Washington.
HERO Sports’ Sam Herder was on site to chat with teams about the upcoming season.
Promising anonymity, he asked the head coaches for their favorite to win the FCS national title, the Big Sky title, how they would sum up the 2020-21 FCS season, and how they’ve addressed COVID vaccinations with their team.
Here are their answers:
Without picking your team, who is your favorite to win the FCS national title?
“You always have to feel good about the Bison. It was tough for them not having Trey. But you have to figure they’re going to reload. I think they’re the odds-on favorite.”
“Probably would hope it’s someone from our conference. But North Dakota State and James Madison are the two that everyone is chasing, the money they put into their programs more than anything.”
“North Dakota State. Because they are who they are.”
“James Madison. I just think they’ve been ascending since 2016. North Dakota State may have had a little dip, but not taking anything from them. Those are the two. And to Sam Houston’s credit last year, that was impressive. But it was in the spring and you don’t know how that plays out this fall.”
“Weber State. Jay does a great job.”
“It’s hard to go against North Dakota State. They lost their quarterback to the draft and that’s hard to come back from. But I’d assume they’ll be back this fall.”
“I don’t know how you pick anyone but North Dakota State until they don’t hold up. To me, they’ve earned that right. But I think there’s a handful, maybe five, and I think we’re one of them.”
“You have to favor Sam Houston. They won it in the spring and I’m a big believer in the favorite being the team that just won.”
“You have to say North Dakota State. You have to. In our coach’s meeting yesterday, we all talked about North Dakota State and JMU. So as far as the brass in our conference, that’s who they look at.”
“What’s funny is, Montana is actually best built to win it out of our conference, even though I picked Eastern to win our conference title. But I thought South Dakota State looked really good, so I’ll say South Dakota State.”
“James Madison. They’re the best talent we’ve played in my time here.”
“I would say Sam Houston. I was impressed how they’ve transformed. They were this team that had it figured out and were good on both sides of the ball, but then fast forward a few years and there were some lopsided losses as they became more offensive-oriented. But watching them this spring, they were particularly good up front on defense. I probably would have given the nod to South Dakota State had their quarterback not gotten hurt.”
Without picking your team, who is your favorite to win the Big Sky title?
“Probably would have to say Weber since they just won. And they don’t have to play us.”
“Eastern Washington. They have the best QB in the conference.”
“Weber State. Because they are who they are. They are the reigning champs, so you have to put them at No. 1.”
“I think it has to be Weber State.”
“Weber’s track record makes you lean that way. Barriere makes you think Eastern. Montana’s facilities makes you think Montana. Bozeman, same thing, but they have a new head coach. Idaho State can be dangerous. Can’t leave UC Davis out. Idaho is always a threat. Sac State, you have to respect Troy. Cal Poly, I might pick Beau in 4-5 years. But I’m picking Hauck. The Griz, I like their coaching staff and you have to like everything about them. I’ll go with Montana.”
“I would say Weber State. They’ve been very consistent and won it in the spring.”
“Probably have to go with Montana.”
“I’ll say Weber State just because they have earned that.”
How would you sum up the season that was 2020-21 for the FCS?
“Exhausting. Just exhausting. We talked to people that played fully in the fall and they told me it was exhausting. I thought that we could handle it in the spring. But it was hard on everybody.”
“It was challenging. I wish we would’ve played in the fall. But we weren’t allowed to. So getting the opportunity to play in the spring was awesome. So I’d say we were grateful. We were grateful to be able to compete.”
“I thought our conference did a really nice job. I thought it was great for the guys to be able to play some football and achieve some normalcy. I think to let them have some normalcy did a lot for their mental health.”
“Resilient. I was proud of the players for all the crap they had to go through. All of the testing protocols, mask-wearing, injuries that occurred, and the unknown of starting and stopping. Proud of our players and I know coaches across the country are as well.”
“The best way to say it is crazy. Something I don’t want to experience ever again.”
“I think hindsight is easy, but we should have played in the fall. But that’s in the rearview mirror and we’ve got to go and look forward to this fall, and it’s going to be fun. I mean, thank goodness. I don’t know if our department can withstand another year of not playing. All of our doors are shut if we don’t. So we’ve got to go and play and have a normal season.”
“I think it was a good thing we got to play in the spring. Those games for our team were the best thing we could do. We established who we are. Without those games, I don’t think we’d have the level of confidence we currently have going into the fall.”
“I would say it was great commitment and sacrifice by our players. Unless you went through it, no one has a clue how much they sacrificed to play the game they love.”
How have you addressed COVID vaccinations with your team?
“Everybody has to make their own choice and be accountable to that choice, and understand what the ramifications are. They need to know what the ramifications are. That may be missing some games or missing some reps. And hey, just like the North Carolina State baseball deal, they had guys that were vaccinated that still were positive and couldn’t play. Nothing is guaranteed. They can do what they want and understand the ramifications.”
“I’m for it. We’re not going to make anyone do it. I just try to advise them that it’s the best thing for them to do.”
“My players know I feel strongly that they should get vaccinated. But I think it’s a social thing. I understand those that don’t want to do it. It’s not FDA-approved. It’s still early on. I get it. But I was vaccinated to try and be some type of example for our team.”
“It’s not an easy thing to address because you want to respect everyone’s opinions. My biggest thing is no one in here is making the rules, but these are the things that are going to impact if we play or not. It’s like being mad at the speed limit. It’s the reality and we may not play or have a season if we don’t go in this direction.”
“Same thing as anything else, honestly. Rules are rules. So if there are forfeitures on the horizon, I mean we all knew the rules going in. Rules are rules. Everyone can have an opinion. I’m fine with opinions. But as long we have the rules, we’re going to do our best to follow those rules.”
“All I’m telling them is what could happen. We’re going to educate them. We’ll tell players that they could miss games. Coaching staff-wise, same thing. I can’t make you get it. But I pay you to coach. If you’re not at a game coaching over a choice you made, on paper, you fire that guy. Those are harsh words, but it’s happening already. I saw it with the (Minnesota) Vikings. It’s going to be a different puzzle this season. I heard one team, they didn’t say who, in our conference is only at 30 percent. I know we’re more than that, but I don’t think we’re at 80 percent yet.”
“I don’t have anything to say about that. It’s a personal choice, so I can’t tell anybody what to do. It’s whatever you want to do.”
“We just talked about it recently. Obviously, I want all of our guys to be vaccinated. It gives us the best shot to play and have less distractions. But you have to understand that people don’t feel the same way about a lot of different topics. I hope that was the message that got across that yes, I would like for you to be vaccinated, but it’s your decision.”
“I think to this point, it’s been more about encouragement. It’s been about here are the opportunities in our city where you can get vaccinated. Now, it’s getting to the point with the NFL laying their rules out, I think institutionally and as a conference, we’re starting to look more at rules. I think kids respond to rules more than speculation. That’s going to be our last-ditch effort, to say here’s how it’s going to look, guys. You can be on this side or this side, and while it’s your choice, here’s how it’s going to look if you’re not vaccinated.”
“We’ve educated them. We’re probably one of the more vaccinated teams in the league. But we still have to make some progress. We just need to keep educating them. It’s their decision. It’s a family choice. They just need to understand the potential consequences of being unvaccinated.”
“I think it’s their personal business. I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business. It’s up to them. That’s their business and their personal choice. They’re all smart and well-educated individuals.”
“I spoke to the team and I’m a believer that the vaccine can keep the country safe. It’s a personal choice, though. But I believe we’ll be 100 percent vaccinated soon, so we’ll be ready to go.”
NEXT: FCS Jersey Countdown