Weber State, SUU football: Wildcats, Thunderbirds hope to exceed expectations in Big Sky
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
PARK CITY — Weber State coach Jody Sears and Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb are very well-aware that their respective teams are picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Sky Conference football standings in 2013.
The preseason polls released Monday put SUU in ninth place in the 13-team league and the Wildcats in 11th in the coaches poll and 12th in the media poll. But the predictions mean little to the two coaches.
“I don’t care,’’ Sears said with a laugh when asked about preseason polls.
He said he remembers when he was in Washington in 1997 and Washington State was picked to finish last in the Pac-10. The Cougars went to the Rose Bowl. “I remember thinking, 'Those things don’t mean anything.'’’
“Polls are polls. It’s that time of year,’’ he said. “We’re 11th, 12th, so we’ve got a little motivating factor.’’
Lamb understands the polls — even if he doesn’t agree with them.
“We understand there are no trophies awarded for preseason polls and nothing to get too excited about,’’ he said. “But on the other hand, it’s an accurate representation of what our conference thinks of us. We’re not satisfied (to be picked ninth). We fully expect to win a conference championship.’’
The league favorite is Montana State, which has bumped longtime Big Sky champion Montana off the top pedestal in the league. Montana State has won three straight shared or outright championships. The Bobcats, led by two-time league MVP DeNarius McGhee at quarterback, are picked to win again this year.
But Weber State and SUU both expect to improve over last year when the teams were 2-9 and 5-6, respectively.
The Wildcats have a new offensive coordinator in Robin Pflugrad, who has experience in the Pac-12 at three different schools, most recently Oregon in 2008. He was also the head coach at Montana in 2010 and 2011.
“He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge,’’ said Sears. “He’s been an extremely successful coach. Adding him is huge. Our kids have really bought in.’’
Sears said senior Jordan Adamczyk, the backup quarterback for the past three years, has the inside track at the QB position. The Wildcats also have three returning starters on the offensive line.
Big things are expected from running back Bo Bolen, who came back from a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in January. The Colorado native was a second-team all-conference player as both a freshman and sophomore. He has rushed for 1,146 yards in two seasons and caught 23 passes for 525 yards.
Defensively, the Wildcats are led by linebacker Anthony Morales, who was third in the nation in tackles last year.
The Wildcats have a challenging schedule, beginning with FCS playoff contender Stephen F. Austin in the opener Aug. 31.
“We’re going to find out what we’ve got against a quality opponent,’’ Sears said. As for back-to-back games at Utah and Utah State, he said, “It’s an awesome opportunity for us, but huge challenges to go compete on a big stage in big venues.’’
Meanwhile, Lamb enters his sixth year as the SUU coach after turning around a program that went winless the year before he arrived.
Last year, in their first year in the Big Sky, the T-Birds were 4-4 in conference play, including big wins over Eastern Washington and Montana.
The strength of the team last year was the offense, led by quarterback Brad Sorensen, who threw for more than 9,000 yards in three seasons before being drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the NFL draft this past spring.
It will be tough to replace Sorensen, but the T-Birds picked up one of the top JC quarterbacks in the country in Aaron Cantu, who led the NJCAA in passing last year. Lamb said the T-Birds are “very excited about him.’’
SUU has a couple of top receivers in Fatu Moala and Griff McNabb, who both played for Utah before transferring. Moala, a Kearns High product, led the team with 65 receptions last year, while McNabb had 30.
On defense, the T-Birds return seven starters, including six who started as freshmen as well as a couple of players back from LDS missions.
“I’m pretty excited about our depth on defense,’’ said Lamb.
Linebacker Zak Browning, the Big Sky freshman of the year in 2012, is back, along with linebacker Matt Holley, who was the team’s defensive player of the year in 2010 before going on an LDS mission.
Other top players are defensive linemen Andrew Eide and James Cowser, defensive backs LeShaun Sims and Miles Killebrew The T-Birds also have a preseason All-America placekicker in Colton Cook, a senior from Bountiful. Cook, the inaugural Deseret News Mr. Soccer recipient in 2008, made 19 of 22 field goal attempts last year for the T-Birds.
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