Welcome to Point/Counterpoint! Our FCS Debate Club publishes every Friday throughout the summer. Two of our three lead writers will take opposing viewpoints and argue about an issue of national significance in the realm of FCS Football. When it's all said and done, you can vote on who you think is right.
Question Six: Should Eastern Washington be Considered the Clear-Cut Favorite to Win the Big Sky in 2018?
Chase Kiddy: Yes, EWU Is the Prohibitive Favorite
Let's start with an interpretation of "Clear-Cut Favorite." In my mind, language such as this suggests that Eastern Washington should be unassailable in its status as favorite. In other words, it would be at least a little bit crazy to even suggest another team as the favorite. Obviously, this doesn't mean the Eagles are guaranteed a conference championship, but from a preseason, on-paper standpoint, there should be clear separation.
I think the answer is yes, and the evidence meets a requisite level of overwhelming. The Big Sky will be a deep conference with roller coaster ups and downs all year, yet the Eags got more than twice as many first-place votes in the Coaches Poll as any other team at Media Day. Their biggest competition, according to the poll, is Weber State. However, the Cats have to replace huge portions of their team, so a lot of that appears to be taking Weber on faith.
Eastern Washington? It brings back as many starters as any team west of the Mississippi.
Now, somewhere around here, EWU doubters are going to bring up the fact that the Eagles didn't make the playoffs last year. That's not a totally unreasonable data point to examine, but it's also more subjective than you might realize. For example, if the Eastern administration had eschewed an out-of-conference matchup with North Dakota State and opted for a matchup with, say, Butler, then Eastern Washington is an 8-3 playoff team that never gets snubbed in the first place.
In a league dominated by offensive juggernauts, Eastern Washington has the First-Team quarterback (Gage Gubrud) and runningback (Antoine Custer Jr.). It returns an entire offensive line. It doesn't play Montana and gets upstart UC Davis, defending champion Southern Utah and newcomer Idaho all at home.
No team is guaranteed success in the Big Sky, particularly this season. But it's pretty clear that the Eagles are the team to beat, at least in the preseason. If not them, then who?
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Sam Herder: No, It's Closer than You Think
EWU was voted No. 1 in the Big Sky preseason polls by the media and coaches. The Eagles also landed at No. 4 in HERO Sports’ national Top 25 poll. What that shows is when asked who’s going to win the Big Sky this year, a lot of people say EWU.
But I don’t necessarily think they are the “clear” favorite. The Eagles are the popular vote because they have the least amount of questions surrounding their team and the most returning starters. However, to say they are the “clear” favorite is saying this team is head and shoulders above the competition. That’s not the case, especially for a team that didn’t even make the playoffs in 2017.
The Big Sky race is going to be incredibly tight. Every team appears to be improving from last year along with the addition of Idaho from the FBS. The conference is so up in the air that eight different teams received at least one first-place vote in the media’s preseason poll.
Looking at the schedule, I see five 50/50 games for the Eagles (at Montana State, vs. Southern Utah, at Weber State, vs. Idaho and vs. UC Davis). Just looking at the Big Sky in general, I see 9-10 teams who could realistically make the playoffs. That’s just too many quality teams to pick one and say they are the “clear” favorite to win the conference title.
If someone asks me who’s my favorite to win the Big Sky, I’d say EWU. But if I were to place a bet on EWU vs. the field, I’d take the field. That level of uncertainty means the Eagles shouldn't be considered an overwhelming favorite.
What do you think?