CSN West Columnist
College Sporting News
And this year, the strong seem to get even stronger with the addition of four new schools to bring the football total to 13. By going to 13, the Big Sky will be the largest FCS conference.
The additions all come from the now defunct Great West Conference in Cal Poly, North Dakota, Southern Utah and UC Davis, and the BSC will seemingly look to follow the CAA model for playoff participants. The CAA with 12 teams, seemingly received four or five bids each year and with the Big Sky’s Gridiron Power Index, there is no reason to believe that this will not be the case in the future for this premier league in the West.
All teams will continue to play eight conference games and there will be just one division. Teams can also play conference teams in non-conference games, something that will occur three times this season. Teams will have two rival schools that will be on each year’s schedule but the others will be on a rotating basis.
For the teams that might make a run for the title are last year’s two playoff participants in Montana and Montana State, 2010 national titlist Eastern Washington and the last ever Great West champion North Dakota. Sacramento State and Cal Poly, along with arising Portland State should also be in the mix as well.
Montana State looked to be a top seed in the playoffs last year before losing to Montana in the final regular season game to send the Bobcats into the playoffs without a seed. MSU still defeated New Hampshire in the second round but then fell to top seeded Sam Houston State in the quarterfinals.
Still, head coach Rob Ash’s Bobcats look to be one of their best in school history in 2011, and the Bobcats seemingly have the talent to not only compete for a Big Sky title, but an FCS National Championship in 2012. MSU finished the 2011 season with a 10-3 record overall.
After a slightly disappointing sophomore season at least compared to his outstanding freshman campaign, quarterback DeNarius McGhee will lead the offense along with running back Cody Kirk who was second in the Big Sky in rushing with 1,351 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground in 2011. Also coming back for the Bobcats is Orenzo Davis, who sat out the 2011 season due to academic ineligibility.
McGhee still threw for 2,799 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore. Wide receiver Tanner Bleskin looks to be his top wide out after the loss of the top three pass catchers. He led the team with four catches for 40 yards this past spring game after 30 catches for 417 yards and three touchdowns last year.
The defense which was the top BSC squad in terms of both yardage and points last year, will have some holes to fill, but should led up front with defensive ends Brad Daly and Caleb Schreibeis and defensive tackle Zach Minter. The defense overall, however, should be headed by all-conference senior linebacker Jody Owens after his team-high 105 tackles from 2011.
Eastern Washington hopes to regain the magic of the 2010 season when the Eagles won the school’s first national title. Last year, a tough start with three road losses and then a home loss to co-champion Montana had the Eagles starting the season at 0-4. The Eagles, however, won six of their last seven games to finish at 6-5 overall. This year, the Eagles again play their first three games on the road with two being against FBS competition in Idaho and Washington State. Eight starters return on each side of the ball to help EWU back to the postseason.
If the Eagles can overcome the first three games, this team appears as if it will be in contention for the Big Sky Conference title and an FCS playoff appearance. The Eagles lose Payton Award winning quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell but bring in another state of Texas FBS transfer quarterback Kyle Padron, who comes to Cheney from Southern Methodist just as Mitchell did. Padron passed for 5,902 yards and 41 touchdowns in his 24-game career with the FBS Mustangs.
Padron will have two all-conference receivers in Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd to throw to. These two combined for 2,272 yards and 26 touchdowns through the air in 2011. Edwards alone caught 95 passes for 1,250 yards with 19 touchdowns last season. With this threesome, Eastern Washington's should be one of the best passing attacks not only in the Big Sky but the entire country.
The defense looks to replace the loss of some key contributors, including former All-Americans; safety Matt Johnson and tackle Renard Williams. The Eagles will look to T.J. Lee at cornerback who was first team all-conference in 2011 as the team leader on this side of the ball. Another leader on this side of the ball likely will be linebacker Zach Johnson, who was granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA. He missed 12 games because of injury in 2009 and missed seven in 2011. He was second team All-Big Sky during the EWU championship run in 2010.
In the past, Montana would be projected near the top but there are several question marks for the Grizzlies—mainly due to off-the-field issues. In a troubling offseason, the Grizzlies’ program finds itself with a new head coach and a new athletic director. Gone are 2011 Big Sky Coach of the Year Robin Pflugrad and Jim O’Day respectively. The reason for this seems to be due to allegations surrounding sexual assault allegations. The Grizzlies have named Mick Delaney as its interim coach. Montana will also have two new coordinators. Former Washington State quarterback Timm Rosenbach is the new offensive coordinator. Ty Gregorak, who served as the linebackers coach last season, is the new defensive coordinator.
Coming off a semi-final playoff run, the biggest questions may not be the off-the-field issues but ones on the field. The Grizzlies lose nine starters on defense from 2011. Montana will also have to face former head coach Joe Glenn’s South Dakota team to begin the season and then travel to perennial FCS juggernaut Appalachian State to start the season. Despite the loses, the Grizzlies should have a solid linebacking corps with The linebackers for Montana will not only be the best in the conference, but one of the best in FCS football with John Kanongata'a, Brock Coyle, as well as Jordan Tripp returning from a medical redshirt season.
The biggest area of concern on the defense likely is the secondary especially with the loss of NFL drafted Trumaine Johnson to the NFL draft.
The offensive side will likely be one of the conference’s best running games led by the tandem of Peter Nguyen and Dan Moore. The question mark in the backfield will be at the quarterback position with the reported expulsion of last year’s starter Jordan Johnson and the transfer of Nate Montana. Trent McKinney is the likely hopeful to be the Griz signal caller this fall. He will have Sam Gratton as his experienced wide receiver.
Sacramento State started out last season with a bang by defeating FBS Oregon State in the season opener and the Hornets defeated Montana for the first time in their history. Sacramento State, however, finished the season at 4-7 overall. This year’s team will have just 12 starters and will also have to overcome two FBS opponents in New Mexico State and Colorado.
The returners on offense include all-Big Sky receiver Morris Norrise and a veteran offensive line consisting of Clay DePauw, Derek Stickney and Tyler Worthley. Coach Marshall Sperbeck has hired a new Offensive Coordinator in Paul Peterson who comes to the Hornets from Southern Utah. Peterson will work with several different quarterbacks this fall, including sophomore Garrett Safron and transfer Mason Magleby.
Safron appeared in five games last season where he threw for 394 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for 286 yards and three touchdowns. Magleby played his first two collegiate seasons at FBS Nevada. In 2011, he completed 10-of-11 passes for 109 yards and four touchdowns. Transfer A.J. Ellis from FBS Fresno State, will also add some veteran leadership for the team at running back.
On defense, linebackers Jeff Badger and Todd Davis will be joined by defensive backs Ryan McMahon and Osagie Odiase and defensive tackle Matt Lawrence as the team leaders. Davis (96), McMahon (86) and Badger (85) were the top three tacklers on the team from a year ago. The Hornet secondary should see a boost from FBS Nebraska transfer Dijon Washington.
The first of the Big Sky newcomers is North Dakota. The team soon to be formerly known as the Fighting Sioux had the biggest offseason news with the school’s nickname. The state of North Dakota held a referendum vote in June that will allow the school to retire the nickname after a state law required the former nickname to continue to be used.
On the field, UND won a share of the last Great West title a year ago with an 8-3 overall record, including winning their last four contests. This will be the first year that North Dakota will be eligible for the postseason after its transition from DII. UND will play just one FBS opponent in San Diego State.
UND offensively should be good with nine starters returning including All-Great West performers in wide receiver Greg Hardin and running back Jake Miller. The quarterback situation looks to go to FBS North Carolina transfer Braden Hanson, who played sparingly last year for the Tar Heels; throwing for 185 yards. Last year starter Joey Bradley will still look to battle Hanson for the signal caller position. The offensive line for UND should be headed by guard Joe Kleason.
Defensively, North Dakota will be less experienced with just five starters back but will be strong up front with two senior All-GWC Honorable Mention performers returning in end Ross Brenneman and tackle Devin Benjamin. The secondary will see another GWFC honoree in sophomore Daryl Brown returning.
Another BSC newcomer this year is Cal Poly. The Mustangs are fairly familiar with Big Sky opponents having played at least two BSC opponents each season for the past decade. One thing that should aid the Mustangs transition this year is that the team will not play either 2011 co-champions of Montana and Montana State. The bad news for Cal Poly, however, is only eight starters from last year’s co-Great West championship team return.
The Mustangs will lose both starting slotbacks and their fullback in their wing-t option offense, but should still put up huge numbers this season due to a strong offensive line with center Geoff Hyde and offensive guard Lefi Letuligasenoa. Slotback Deonte Williams looked the strongest in spring ball to be the top rusher in 2012. The Mustangs also will look to returning starting quarterback Andre Broadous to be a leader on the offensive side.
The Cal Poly defense loses seven starters but will feature a linebacker-driven defense with Kenny Jackson and Johnny Millard. Jackson had 80 tackles with two interceptions and was first team All-GWFC in 2011. Millard also had a strong showing in 2011 with 82 tackles. Cornerback Bijon Samoodi will look to put up big numbers from the defensive backfield.
Coach Tim Walsh is entering his fourth season as the Mustangs’ head man. Walsh is no stranger to the Big Sky having guided Portland State in the Big Sky from 1996-2006. Walsh went 42-41 in Big Sky play while at PSU, guiding the Vikings to the 1999 playoffs.
Speaking of Coach Walsh’s former team, Portland State seems to be making a recovery from the Jerry Glanville experiment a few years ago. Nigel Burton enters his third season as the helm of the Vikings. Burton went 2-9 overall in his first season, but turned the Vikings around in 2011. PSU finished 5-3 in Big Sky play and 7-4 overall. Had the Vikings played a full DI schedule last year, PSU probably would have been in the postseason but one of their wins was over a non-DI school.
PSU again plays one non-DI team in NAIA powerhouse Carroll (MT) and also will play Big Sky newcomer North Dakota on the road along with a FBS road game at Washington. Bettering last year’s seven win mark will be tough given the Vikings schedule but they do have 13 starters back to build upon.
Offensively, PSU will see a new quarterback after the graduation of last year’s starter Connor Kavanaugh, who rushed for rushed for 1,060 yards in the Vikings’ Pistol offense last season. Junior College transfer Collin Ramirez will looks to be the front runner coming into fall practices for the starting spot.
On defense, the Vikings look to use their linebacking corps to lead the team. Second team All-Big Sky linebacker Ian Sluss, along with fourth-year linebacker Joel Sisler and Khalil Bass look to be the team leaders on this side of the ball.
One area that the Vikings will not having any questions will be on special teams with their place kicker. PSU returns consensus All-American kicker Zach Brown, who made 24-of-27 field goals last season and was 27-of-29 on extra points. Brown has made six field goals of at least 50 yards in his career.
The third of the new Big Sky teams is Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds have finally got into their geographically friendly conference for all sports after a number of attempts. SUU is picking a good time to get to the BSC with the way the program is going right now. A few years ago, one win might have been the highlight for this school but Coach Ed Lamb’s team has had back to back 6-5 seasons and last year pulled off a FBS upset over Nevada-Las Vegas. Another help for SUU coming into the Big Sky is that the Thunderbirds won all three contests against Big Sky completion a season ago.
This year, SUU will need to overcome two FBS opponents to start the season in Utah State and California.
The offense should continue to put up high numbers with returning All-American and Great West Player of the Year Brad Sorensen, who threw for 3,143 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. He will have two wide out targets in returning Fatu Moala and FBS transfer Griff McNabb from Utah. The T-Bird offensive line should be good with the returning starters Zach Brackus and Gavin Farr, as well as Dylan Fox, who was the team's starter at fullback before moving to center for the season-finale last year.
The SUU defense will be headed by defensive tackle Cody Larsen, who had 7.5 tackles for losses and six sacks among his 26 total tackles while dominating the interior line. Junior linebacker Chad Hansen should lead the linebacking group after he led the team with 104 tackles, including a team-high 53 solo stops a year ago.
The other Big Sky Utah squad is SUU rival Weber State and the Wildcats had a tremulous offseason. First former coach Ron McBride retired at the end of the 2011 season. WSU seemingly made a great hire in former Michigan State and WSU coach John L. Smith. Smith, however, decided to take the same job at FBS Arkansas after that school fired its prior coach Bobby Petrino.
WSU has hired Jody Sears interim head football coach. Sears is not new to the Big Sky Conference as he was the defensive coordinator at Eastern Washington from 2003-2007. He comes to Ogden from Washington State, where he was a defensive coordinator there. WSU will also have to overcome a rough start to their schedule in playing two FBS teams in Fresno State and Brigham Young and their home opener against Southland power McNeese State.
Offensively, the Wildcats will look to the rushing tandem of Josh Booker and Tevia Tolutau. Booker should continue building on his 701 yards and five touchdowns rushing from 2011. The offensive line should be led by guard Tytan Timoteo, who was second team all-conference in 2011.
The young defense in 2011 struggled last year but with that experience they should be better in 2012. The Wildcats should be strongest up front with defensive ends Trevor Pletcher and Caldwell Taylor along with defensive tackle Ryan Eastman. Linebacker Anthony Morales and safety Willie Okwuonu should also be the key players in their areas for the Wildcats in 2012.
Northern Arizona has had up and downs throughout Coach Jerome Souers' career. The Lumberjacks last made the postseason in 2003. A year ago NAU was just 4-7 overall.
NAU returns eight players on offense led by All-Big Sky first-team running back Zach Bauman after he led the BSC in rushing at 130.5 yards per game (fifth in the FCS) and ranked ninth in total offense and fourth in scoring. He rushed for 1,435 yards, the third-best total in school history, with 15 touchdowns, the second-best total in school history, while recording 1,787 all-purpose yards from scrimmage.
Also returning is All-Big Sky honorable mention quarterback Cary Grossart. Jake Hess, who named All-Big Sky second team at fullback, is back for his second season. Seniors Trey Gilleo, who was also an All-Big Sky honorable mention second selection, joins tackle Matt Wilson and guard Kyle Walker to anchor the offensive line. Wideouts Ify Umodu and Dejzon Walker both return after productive seasons in 2011.
The defense has seven starters returning and welcomes a pair of junior college lineman who joined the program in January. Senior safety Taylor Malenfant joins safety Robert Watson and cornerbacks Randy Hale and Robert Watson in the secondary among returners. Senior Jarrett Bilbrey is lone returning lineman to the mix. Linebackers Brandon Phillips and Craig Frum both got valuable experience last season as starters.
The last of the newcomers to the Big Sky is the UC Davis. While the Aggies will have a first with the joining the conference, it will also have a last in Coach Bob Biggs 20th and final season as the head coach in Davis. The Aggies hope to turn things around in Biggs’ final go around after a 4-7 record a year ago but they did finish the season wins against rivals Cal Poly and Sacramento State at the end of the season. He hopes 15 starters returning overall will help build on the strong finish.
Offensively, the Aggies will look to have a more explosive attack this year. To do this, they will need to have more production from quarterback Randy Wright (188 completions, 2250 yards and 14 TDs in 2011) and wide receivers Corey Galindo (25 catches, 334 yards and two TDs in 2011) and Tom Hemmingsen (50 catches, 622 yards, and 7 TDs in 2011). The Aggie offensive line will look to two All-Great West performers in guard Sean Davies and center Ray Wilburn to be the leaders up front.
The UC Davis defense internally nicknamed the Blue Force will look to be more forceful in 2012 after allowing 26.9 points per game. Linebacker Jordan Glass (68 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions in 2011), and junior cornerback Jonathan Perkins (28 tackles, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups in 2011) will look to be the leaders on this side of the ball.
Idaho State is another team that hopes to improve in 2012. The Bengals did improve to 2-9 after just a one win season in 2010. Coach Mike Kramer enters his second season in Pocatello and hopes to continue the rebuilding of the program much like he rebuilt two other Big Sky programs in Montana State and Eastern Washington in the past. ISU will have to overcome two FBS road games at Air Force and Nebraska to help with the rebuilding.
The Bengals will have an All-American wide receiver to lead the offense in Rodrick Rumble, who in 2011 became the first Big Sky player to catch 100 passes in a season. Rumble caught 112 passes for 1,348 yards with nine touchdowns a year ago. Another receiving threat for ISU will be tight end Josh Hill, who was second on the team in receptions with 48 for 407 yards.
Throwing them the ball will be quarterback Kevin Yost, who set the record for completions in a single season with 300 and was second all-time in single season pass attempts with 493. Yost also set the record for completions in a single game with 47 and tied for second all-time in single game pass attempts with 68 against Northern Colorado.
The Bengal defense will lose All-American linebacker A.J. Storms but return 10 starters. The leading returner will be senior cornerback Donovan Henley, who was on the All-BSC team a year ago. He will hope to lead a better performance on the defense that surrendered over 36 points per game a year ago.
Another team that hopes to turn things around is Northern Colorado. The Bears have not had much success since joining the Big Sky Conference in 2006. The Bears enters their second season under the direction of former standout football player Earnest Collins Jr. The Bears went winless in 11 contests in Collins’ first season. UNC’s best Big Sky season has been just a 2-6 (3-8 overall) mark in league play in 2010.
Junior wide receiver Jace Davis has returned to the team after missing a season to look to be an offensive leader. Davis caught 53 passes for 992 yards with seven touchdowns in 2010 when he was a First-Team All-Conference in 2010. His quarterback looks to be returning starter Seth Lobato.
Northern Colorado’s defense will be led by junior Clarence Bumpas. He recorded 145 tackles, finishing fourth in the nation in tackles per game with an average of 13.2. He had at least 10 tackles in nine of the Bears’ 11 games. Sophomore defensive end Devontae Chapple is another emerging leader after recorded 44 tackles and 8.5 those for loss a season ago.
The Bears special teams will be headed by returner Dominic Gunn, who broke both the single season and career kickoff return records at UNC during the season and ranked second in the conference with 25.9 yards per return.
BIG SKY PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Montana State
2. Eastern Washington
4. Sacramento State
5. North Dakota
6. Cal Poly
7. Portland State
8. Southern Utah
9. Weber State
10. Northern Arizona
11. UC Davis
12. Idaho State
13. Northern Colorado
BIG SKY TOP PERFORMERS
Offensive Player of the Year:
DeNarius McGhee, QB, Montana State, Jr.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Jody Owens, LB, Montana State, Sr.
Biggest Shoes to Fill:
Trumaine Johnson, CB, Montana
BIG SKY GAMES OF THE WEEK
South Dakota @ Montana, Sept. 1
Old Grizzly Coach Joe Glenn brings in his new Coyote team to Missoula. Can he manage an upset over his former team?
Montana @ Appalachian State, Sept. 8
These two juggernauts of the FCS meet in Boone. How close will this game be between the Grizzlies and Mountaineers?
UC Davis @ South Dakota State, Sept. 15
Two former Great West members meet in Brookings. Can the Aggies pull off a win over the Jackrabbits?
UC Davis @ Cal Poly, Sept. 22
The Battle for the Golden Horseshoe is in San Luis Obispo this year. Will the winner of this game will have an edge in the Big Sky race.
Montana @ Eastern Washington, Sept. 29
This is another early season rivalry that will start to figure out the Big Sky contenders when the Eagles host the Grizzlies.
Idaho State @ Portland State, Oct. 6
The winner between the Bengals and Vikings just could sneak into the Big Sky and postseason mix.
Eastern Washington @ Montana State, Oct. 13
The Bobcats and Eagles both will be looking to get to the top of the Big Sky standings by winning this game.
Montana @ North Dakota, Oct. 20
This may be the biggest home game in the DI history of the Grand Forks. Can UND handle the mighty Grizzlies in this contest?
Cal Poly @ Sacramento State, Oct. 27
These two California rivals meet as conference foes for the first time since both were members of the now defunct America West Conference in 1995.
Montana @ Weber State, Nov. 3
Will the Wildcats still be in the race at this point in the season or will this be a warm-up contest for the Grizzlies?
Southern Utah @ Northern Arizona, Nov. 10
These two squads are the closest geographical rivals to each other. Will the game become a true rivalry now that both are Big Sky members?
Montana State @ Montana, Nov. 17
This should continue to be the best way to end the Big Sky schedule. Will this year's battle in Missoula be another classic between these two rivals?
BIG SKY FOOTBALL MEMBERS
Cal Poly Mustangs
Location: San Luis Obispo, CA
Stadium: Alex G. Spanos Stadium (11,075 Capacity)
Head Coach: Tim Walsh (17-16, CP & 134-98 overall) 4th Season
Who's Gone: FB Jake Romanelli, OT Art Munoz, OG Scott Winnewisser, RB Mark Rodgers, NT Erich Klemme, CB Asa Jackson, S Greg Francis, DE Kyle Murphy.
Who's Back: QB Andre Broadous, RB Deonte Williams, WR Lance Castaneda, WR Willie Tucker, WR Brandon Michalkiewicz, OC Geoff Hyde, OG Lefi Letuligasenoa, DT Sullivan Grosz, LB Kennith Jackson, LB Johnny Millard, CB Bijon Samoodi, P Paul Hundley.
Historical Fact: Cal Poly won the Division II national title in 1980 by defeating Eastern Illinois 10-3. The Mustangs also beat I-AA champion Boise State that year.
Last Season: The Mustangs finished 6-5 overall but were co-champions of the Great West Conference with a 3-1 league mark.
This Season: Cal Poly hopes the move to the Big Sky will help get it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Eastern Washington Eagles
Location: Cheney, WA
Stadium: Roos Field (8,600)
Head Coach: Beau Baldwin (33-16, EWU, 43-19 overall), 5th Season
Who's Gone: OT Gabriel Jackson, QB Bo Levi Mitchell, OC Chris Powers, DB Alden Gibbs, DT Charles Moetului, DT Renard Williams, S Matt Johnson.
Who's Back: WR Nicholas Edwards, CB T.J. Lee III, WR Greg Herd, OT Will Post, DE Paul Ena, S Jeff Minnerly, P Jake Miller, LB Zach Johnson.
Historical Fact: EWU is home to two Buchanan Award winners (J.C. Sherritt in 2010 and Greg Peach in 2008) and two Payton Award Winners (Erik Meyer in 2005 and Bo Levi Mitchell in 2011) in the past seven seasons.
Last Season: The Eagles lost their first four games but wound up finishing 6-5 overall after winning the national championship in 2010.
This Season: Coach Baldwin's team will look to get back to the playoffs and will look to how the 2011 season to go into the 2012 season.
Idaho State Bengals
Location: Pocatello, ID
Stadium: Holt Arena (12,000)
Head Coach: Mike Kramer (2-9, ISU, 79-84 overall), 2nd Season
Who's Gone: LB A.J. Storms, P David Harrington, OT Braeden Clayson, DT Jordan Monga, LB Basim Hudeen.
Who's Back: WR Rodrick Rumble, TE Josh Hill, CB Donovan Henley, QB Kevin Yost, RB Daniel McSurdy, WR Luke Austin, LB Mitch Beckstead, DB Anthony Boyles.
Historical Fact: Idaho State won the FCS 1981 national title with a 34-23 victory over Eastern Kentucky.
Last Season: ISU finished just 2-9 in Coach Kramer’s first year in Pocatello.
This Season: The Bengals hope to turn things around in the second season under Kramer but will have to overcome two FBS opponents to improve.
Location: Missoula, MT
Stadium: Washington-Grizzly Stadium (25,217)
Head Coach: Mick Delaney (interim) (0-0, UM & overall), 1st Season
Who's Gone: OT Charles Burton, DE Ryan Fetherston, WR Jabin Sambrano, DE-Bobby Alt, WR Antwon Moutra, FS Mike McCord, OC-Stephen Sabin, DT Bryan Waldhauser, OT Jon Opperud, LB Alex Shaw, LB Caleb McSurdy, CB Houston Roots, CB Trumaine Johnson, K/P Brody McKnight.
Who's Back: WR Sam Gratton, FS Bo Tully, TE-Greg Hardy, OG Danny Kistler, OG Kjelby Oiland, LB Jordan Tripp, RB-Dan Moore, RB- Peter Nguyen, LB-John Kanongata’a.
Historical Fact: The Grizzlies have appeared in seven national title games and won two titles in 1995 and 2001.
Last Season: The Grizzlies went to the semi-final round of the DI playoffs before falling to Sam Houston State after missing the postseason in 2011 for the first time since 1992.
This Season: Montana had a tremulous offseason where both Coach Robin Pflugrad and their AD Jim O’Day were fired. Interim head coach Delaney hopes, however, to continue the Griz winning ways despite these distractions.
Montana State Bobcats
Location: Bozeman, MT
Stadium: Bobcat Stadium (17,777)
Head Coach: Rob Ash (39-21, MSU, 215-119-5, Overall), 6th Season
Who's Gone: WR Elvis Akpla, K Jason Cunningham, LB Clay Bignell.
Who's Back: WR Tanner Bleskin, RB Orenzo Davis, OT Steven Foster, RB Cody Kirk, WR Everett Gilbert, QB DeNarius McGhee, OC Shaun Sampson, S Steven Bethley, S Joel Fuller, CB Sean Gords, CB Darius Jones, DT Zach Minter, LB Na’a Moeakiola, LB Jody Owens, LB Caleb Schreibeis, P Rory Perez.
Historical Fact: The Bobcats are the only school to win a national football title at the NAIA, Division II, and Division I levels. Their FCS title came in 1984 in a 19-6 victory over Louisiana Tech.
Last Season: The Bobcats tied for the Big Sky title a year ago but lost their quarterfinal playoff to Sam Houston State.
This Season: The Bobcats look to finish 2012 like 2011 but to have more playoff success.
Location: Grand Forks, ND
Stadium: Alerus Center (12,283 Capacity)
Head Coach: Chris Mussman (23-20, UND & Overall) 5th Season
Who's Gone: WR Chris Anderson, DE Broc Bellmore, WR Drew Daggett, LB Johnnie Daniels Jr., QB Brent Goska, DB Dominique Hawkins, LB Dan Hendrickson, DB Mitch Kudrna, OT Connor McKendry, OG Brandon Quesenberry, FB Catlin Solum.
Who's Back: QB Joey Bradley, OL Darren DeNeui, WR Greg Hardin, OL Joe Kleason, OL Emmett Lynch, WR R.J. McGill, OL Ian McGurran, RB Jake Miller, TE Seth Wisthoff, LB Damon Andrews, DL Devin Benjamin, DL Ross Brenneman, DB Daryl Brown, DL Jay Nelson, K Zeb Miller, P Brett Cameron.
Historical Fact: UND changed the Fighting Sioux nickname in 1930. Prior to that UND was known as the Flickertails. This past summer, the state of North Dakota residents voted to retire the nickname in a referendum .
Last Season: In what will be their final season known as the Fighting Sioux, in their final DI transition season as a DI team, finished 8-3 overall and were co-champions of the Great West.
This Season: This year's team hopes to build upon last year’s team in the first DI postseason eligible season.
Northern Arizona Lumberjacks
Location: Flagstaff, AZ
Stadium: Walkup Skydome (10,000)
Head Coach: Jerome Souers (76-82, NAU & Overall), 15th Season
Who's Gone: DE Isaac Bond, OC Alex Mott, WR Khalil Paden, OG Dwight Boyd, TE Brian Riley, LB Scott McKeever, ST Ben Bachelier.
Who's Back: OT Trey Gilleo, OG Kyle Walker, QB Cary Grossart, RB Zach Bauman, FB Jake Hess, DT Tim Wilkinson, CB Anders Battle.
Historical Fact: NAU has won two Big Sky titles in its history (1978 & 2003)
Last Season: The Lumberjacks dipped to 4-7 overall after two 6-5 seasons in the prior two seasons but six of the seven losses were by eight or less points.
This Season: Coach Souers team will hope to turn those close losses into victories in 2012.
Northern Colorado Bears
Location: Greeley, CO
Stadium: Nottingham Field (8,500)
Head Coach: Earnest Collins Jr. (0-11, UNC, 8-23 Overall) 2nd Season
Who's Gone: OL Lee Barbiasz, OC Alex Shapiro, WR Patrick Walker, FS Elliott Dorsey, NG Marcus Felker, DE Nick Hernon, DT VJ Holmes, S Chuks Nweke, CB Brandon Owens, P Cameron Kaman.
Who's Back: OL Nick Candler; WR Dominic Gunn, RB Quentin Hildreth, QB Seth Lobato, WR Chris Morris, OL Jake Solomon, TE Doug Steele, WR Dimitri Stimphil, WR Jace Davis, LB Clarence Bumpas, DT Devontae Chapple, LB Cameron Friend, S Marcel Gibbons, CB Courtney Hall, K Dave Eden, K Mason Puckett
Historical Fact: The Bears won two DII national titles in 1996 and 1997. UNC’s last playoff season was in 2002 in DII and has never made the postseason in FCS.
Last Season: Northern Colorado finished winless for the first time since 1920.
This Season: Coach Collins hopes to turn things around in Greeley like he turned Alcorn State around before coming back to his alma mater last year.
Portland State Vikings
Location: Portland, OR
Stadium: Jeld-Wen Field (18,627)
Head Coach: Nigel Burton (8-13, PSU & overall) 3rd Season
Who's Gone: RB Cory McCaffrey, S DeShawn Shead, OT Dustin Waldron, DT Myles Wade, QB Connor Kavanaugh. S/RS DeShawn Shead.
Who's Back: K Zach Brown, LB Ian Sluss, LB Joel Sisler, LB Khalil Bass, WR Justin Monahan, WR Nevin Lewis, TE Gage Loftin, TE Kalua Noa, OL Mitch Gaulke, OG Kyle Ritt, OC Mitch Van Dyk, OL Joey Esposito, DL Julious Moore, DL Bryant Long, CB Mike Williams, P Thomas Duyndam.
Historical Fact: PSU was an NCAA I-AA member from1978-80, then moved back to Division II in 1981, where it competed through the 1995 season. PSU made eight Division II playoff appearances from 1987 to 1995.
Last Season: The Vikings finished 2011 with a 7-4 record but two wins were over sub-DI competition to keep PSU from playoff consideration.
This Season: PSU hopes to duplicate or exceed that record and make it to the FCS playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Sacramento State Hornets
Location: Sacramento, CA
Stadium: Hornet Stadium (21,195)
Head Coach: Marshall Sperbeck (24-32, CSU-S, 133-85 Overall) 6th Season
Who's Gone: DT Zack Nash, OT Nate Doverspike, CB Kyle Monson, DE David Coleman, S Joe Larche,
Who's Back: WR Morris Norrise, LB Todd Davis, OL Clay DePauw, OL Derek Stickney, OL Tyler Worthley, LB Jeff Badger, DB Ryan McMahon, DB Osagie Odiase, DT Matt Lawrence.
Historical Fact: The Hornets have three postseason years in their history; Pasadena Bowl, loss to Grambling St. 34-7 in 1968, Camellia Bowl, lost to Montana St. 28-7 in 1964, and a 2-1 record in the 1988 DII playoffs, reaching the semi-finals that year.
Last Season: The Hornets finished the 2011 season with just a 4-7 overall mark but the highlight was a win at FBS Oregon State and the team’s first ever win over Montana.
This Season: Coach Sperbeck hopes his team can better the mark from last year but will have to do so with just 12 returning starters.
Southern Utah Thunderbirds
Location: Cedar City, UT
Stadium: Eccles Coliseum (8,066 Capacity)
Head Coach: Ed Lamb (21-23, SUU & Overall) 5th Season
Who's Gone: RB Austin Minefee, RB Deckar Alexander, WR Brady Measom, WR Jared Ursua, DL Tyler Osborne, DB Erron Vonner, DB Dion Turner.
Who's Back: QB Brad Sorensen, LB Chad Hansen, K Colton Cook, OL Zach Brackus, OL Gavin Farr, OL Dylan Fox, WR Fatu Moala, FS Brennan Fjord, DE Jeff Tukuafu, P Brock Miller.
Historical Fact: The 2010 Great West crown was the Thunderbirds first ever outright conference title at any level in which SUU has played.
Last Season: The Thunderbirds finished the season at 6-5 but were just 1-3 in Great West play.
This Season: Coach Lamb hopes to continue and improve as SUU moves into Big Sky play this year but will have to do it with just 10 starters returning but one big one in QB Brad Sorensen leading the team.
Weber State Wildcats
Location: Ogden, UT
Stadium: Stewart Stadium (17,500)
Head Coach: Jody Sears (interim) (0-0, WSU & Overall) 1st Season
Who's Gone: OG J.C. Oram, LB Nick Webb, OT Caleb Turner, DT Pete Rolf, LB Mo Neal,
Who's Back: FB Tevia Tolutau, OG Tytan Timoteo, RB Josh Booker, DE Trevor Pletcher, P Josh Kealamakia, WR Shaydon Kehano, OC Tyson Tiatia, TE Brian Jankowski, QB Mike Hoke, DT Ryan Eastman, DE Caldwell Taylor, LB Anthony Morales, S Willie Okwuonu, S Tony Epperson, DE Trevor Pletcher.
Historical Fact: QB Jamie Martin won the Payton Award in 1991 and played in the NFL from 1993-2008.
Last Season: In Coach Ron McBride’s last season heading the Wildcats, WSU finished 5-6 but did win their last two games.
This Season: The Wildcats looked as if they had an old coach in John L. Smith coming back to Ogden but he instead took the job at FBS Arkansas. Instead, Jody Sears will be the coach this year as the Wildcats return 15 total starters.
UC Davis Aggies
Location: Davis, CA
Stadium: Aggie Stadium (10,849 Capacity)
Head Coach: Bob Biggs (140-78-1, UCD & Overall), 20th Season
Who's Gone: DE Tommy Grillo, DB Patrick Shelton, OT Robert Ayotte
Who's Back: WR Tom Hemmingsen, OG Sean Davies, OC Ray Wilburn, DL Bobby Erskine, DB Kevyn Lewis, LB Byron Gruendl, LB Jordan Glass, P Colton Schmidt, QB Randy Wright, CB Jonathan Perkins.
Historical Fact: The Aggies were a DII power, playing in the national title game in 1981, a loss to then Southwest Texas State. UC Davis moved to the DI ranks in 2002 but still holds the DII record of 18 playoff appearances.
Last Season: The Aggies finished just 4-7 overall but UC Davis did defeat the three FCS California schools of San Diego, Cal Poly, and Sacramento State.
This Season: UC Davis hopes to win more than just against their California rivals in what will be Coach Biggs last season in Davis. He announced his retirement after the 2012 season.