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Big Sky Media Days Notebook: Aaron Best and Beau Baldwin virtually reunite

UPDATED: Mon., July 27, 2020

Big Sky virtual media days – the video conference version of the annual event that was slated to be at the Davenport Hotel in Spokane before the coronavirus pandemic – presented a reunion of sorts.

Eastern Washington head coach Aaron Best and his former boss – new Cal Poly head coach Beau Baldwin – were paired together alongside Idaho coach Paul Petrino in their virtual media session, answering submitted questions approved by the conference.

Baldwin, who led EWU to a 2010 national title, brought up the time he and Best, his former offensive line coach, turned a walk-on tight end into a center.

Best joked about how assistant coaches weren’t allowed to bring in take-out food to hotels during the Baldwin era and how he’s happy EWU doesn’t have Cal Poly on the 2020 schedule.

Baldwin, who left EWU in 2016 for the Pac-12 as the offensive coordinator at California from 2017-2019, also brought up his most productive player, former EWU star and current Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp.

“He was not only a great player, but basically my life coach,” Baldwin said about Kupp. “I used to tell my (EWU) staff that he was more mature than all of us put together. “

“I never believed you, coach,” Best replied.

EWU’s Barriere earns league’s respect EWU dual-threat quarterback Eric Barriere – a third-team All-Big Sky Conference pick the previous two seasons – was named the league’s preseason offensive player of the year.

Coaches and players from around the league praised Barriere’s dynamic play during the video conference, and Barriere, a fifth-year senior, appreciated the kudos.

“It fuels me a lot. It shows that they respect my game,” Barriere said. “It shows that I am a talented player who busts his butt for his team and tries to give them everything I have. It pushes me and makes me hungrier.”

Barriere is 16-7 as a starter with 6,300 passing yards and 1,219 rushing yards with 56 career passing touchdowns, 17 rushing touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

EWU was picked fourth in both Big Sky preseason polls released last week.

No “sense of leadership” held back VandalsWhen Idaho dropped down from the Football Bowl Subdivision to the Football Championship Subdivision in 2018, Idaho was expected to be one of the league’s better programs.

Instead, the Vandals have a combined Big Sky record of 6-10 in two seasons.

Idaho was picked eighth in Big Sky preseason coaches poll last week and ninth by the media despite having one of the most experienced and talented defenses in the league.

Christian Elliss, a preseason All-Big Sky linebacker, talked about why Idaho wasn’t a factor in the league title chase in 2018 and 2019.

“Honestly, I would say it’s a sense of leadership, a sense of someone taking command and be able to drive our team forward,” Elliss said. “There were definitely some leadership issues that I know coach (Paul Petrino) and some of the others leaders on the team have been focusing on, so hopefully this year we’ll turn it around.”

Hauck ready to roll, coronavirus or not Montana reached the FCS quarterfinals for the first time since 2009 last season, dating back to Bobby Hauck’s first stint in Missoula.

Hauck, entering the third season of his second Grizzlies stint, has quickly helped the program get back to its winning ways.

Montana was picked second in the Big Sky preseason coaches and media polls – assuming there is a 2020 season.

Hauck was forthright about his thoughts concerning coronavirus-induced shutdowns.

“The coronavirus isn’t going anywhere,” Hauck said. “Half-measures don’t work. My opinion is we either go or we don’t go. We shut the country down, which I don’t think is feasible financially, personally. Then the other side of it is we go or we don’t go. If you’re uncomfortable, don’t play, don’t coach, don’t go to the games. If you’re comfortable, go. Let’s roll.”

QB battle looms at Montana StateSt. Maries High graduate and former Post Falls High coach Jeff Choate took Montana State to the FCS semifinals in 2019, his fourth year on the job.

The Bobcats were bounced from the playoffs the past two seasons by FCS juggernaut North Dakota State, winners of eight of the past nine national titles.

If Montana State wants to get to Frisco, Texas – home of the FCS national title game – it will need more consistency at quarterback.

The Bobcats return starter Tucker Rovig, who completed 172 of 279 passes for 1,969 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions for a physical, run-heavy Bobcats team.

To help bolster the position, Choate recently added transfer Matt McKay, a former four-star recruit who started five games at North Carolina State last season.

“I know firsthand that having gone to Fargo (to play North Dakota State) the last two years and having played exceptional quarterbacks that, if we want to take that next step, we’re going to have to have better quarterback play,” Choate said.

Sustaining success in a pandemicSacramento State head coach Troy Taylor – EWU’s offensive coordinator in 2016 – helped the Hornets share the 2019 Big Sky title, his first season on the job.

He earned Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year honors for swiftly turning the struggling program into a winner.

It’s been an odd offseason for Taylor, though, going beyond the restrictions caused by the pandemic.

Quarterback Kevin Thompson – the 2019 Big Sky Offensive MVP – graduate transferred to Washington in June, a big reason why the Hornets were picked fifth in the preseason Big Sky coaches and media polls.

Sacramento State still has enough talent to compete for a title. The Hornets had six players on the preseason All-Big Sky teams, including speedy running back Elijah Dotson.

“We don’t feel like we’re on the top. Every day we’re trying to fight and crawl to be consistent,” Taylor said. “Honestly, I think the biggest challenge is having to come in here the year before and building a culture and not seeing your guys for a number of months. It feels very uneasy, there’s just a strange feeling about it.”

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