Preseason polls are always interesting. Many people say they don’t put much stock into them, yet it always turns into a debate when released. When it comes to the FCS Preseason Top 25, there are a couple methods voters use. They either take last year’s playoffs results as a measurement to where they vote teams. Or they look ahead and predict which teams are actually going to be better than the others.
The latter, in my opinion, is much better. The defending national champions don't have to be voted No. 1. And a team that made the quarterfinals doesn’t have to be voted in the Top 10. For the 2018 season, though, it’s quite obvious reigning champs North Dakota State and runner-ups James Madison will be voted No. 1 and 2. But who exactly deserves to be No. 3?
Some may say Sam Houston State or South Dakota State because they made the 2017 semifinals. Others might say quarterfinalists Kennesaw State should be No. 3 because the Owls bring back more than SHSU and SDSU. Or how about Weber State, who played JMU the toughest in the playoffs before the title game? Some may even do their homework and realize a team who didn’t even make the playoffs last year potentially has the third best chance to win a national title. Eastern Washington sure looks to be solid. Or how about Jacksonville State, who has been bounced out of the playoffs early the last couple years but brings in some pieces that could get the Gamecocks back to Frisco?
Those are six worthy teams to be voted preseason No. 3. Or maybe they’re not worthy, depending on how you feel a preseason poll should be voted. So let’s discuss each team.
We’ll break them down in six articles and explain why they deserve to be No. 3 and why they don’t. Then a seventh article will give fans a chance to give their thoughts with an opportunity to vote for the most deserving team. Because even if preseason polls don’t matter in the long run, people sure like to voice their opinions on them. [divider]
Why the Eagles deserve to be preseason No. 3
I like to think of preseason polls as rankings of who is most likely to win a national title, 1-25. It’s why the three-time defending national champs NDSU was voted No. 2 in most 2014 preseason polls. The Bison lost a huge senior class with starters all across the board, not to mention most of their coaching staff. Coincidentally enough, EWU was a popular No. 1 vote that summer.
The Eagles missed out on the playoffs last year at 7-4 and 6-2 in the Big Sky. Human nature suggests it’s hard to put them as the third best team, but the Eagles certainly have a case for it. EWU is the type of program to not stay down for too long. After a 6-5 2015 season, the Eagles went 12-2 with a trip to the semifinals the next year.
Last year was Aaron Best’s first as head coach. He’ll have a majority of the starters back, most notably quarterback Gage Gubrud and defensive tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli. With that many players coming back and a senior class of more than 25, EWU should be right in the discussion as a top team in the FCS.
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Why they don’t
As stated above, it is tough to hype up a team that didn’t play in the postseason. While the Eagles did win seven games, none of them were overly impressive. Their two best wins were probably against Montana and Montana State, two teams who also didn’t make the playoffs.
A 56-10 loss to Texas Tech showed the gap in talent has grown between EWU and FBS teams. And a 40-13 home loss to NDSU the week after showed how far off the Eagles were from being a top team.
Sure, they have a lot coming back this year and likely will be a better overall team. But good enough to surge all the way to No. 3 past the teams that made the semifinals or even the quarterfinals? That might be giving them a little too much credit.
EWU just might not be there yet. Best’s team is still probably suited to throw the ball 40 times a game. His system wants a more balanced approach, though, which he tried at the start of 2017. Those two opening losses probably made EWU realize the best way to win is to make the most of its roster.
How will Best toe that line of implementing his kind of offense while still utilizing the talent he has? Maybe the Eagles are still a year or two away from making some serious noise.