(STATS) - The usual wackiness of the Big Sky football race likely has everybody confident heading into the 2017 season.
The three teams that qualified for the FCS playoffs in 2015 didn't make the cut last year. The four that earned their way into last season's tournament, including co-champs Eastern Washington and North Dakota, didn't make it the year before.
So most teams feel they have the chance for a big season in 2017.
That includes the players named to the preseason all-conference team, released Monday at the 13-team conference's Big Sky Kickoff media festivities in Park City, Utah. All but Idaho State had a player on the team, with North Dakota leading the way with six selections, Weber State gaining four and Eastern Washington, Montana and Northern Arizona tying for the third-most with three each.
Yet as the players accepted their individual accolades, they preferred to keep the focus on potential team accomplishments.
"As a player, I'd rather win the Big Sky (title) than win the defensive player of the year award," Montana State inside linebacker Mac Bignell said.
"Everybody around the program is highly confident," said Northern Colorado special teams standout Hakeem Deggs. "They're starting to believe in us, they're starting to see that we actually can contend in the Big Sky. They're starting to take us a big more seriously."
Not surprisingly, Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud, last year's Big Sky co-offensive player of the year with his former teammate Cooper Kupp, and North Dakota safety Cole Reyes, the conference's reigning defensive player of the year, were the preseason recipients of those same honors.
As they led their respective teams to a share of the Big Sky title a year ago, Gubrud passed for an FCS single-season record 5,160 yards and was responsible for 53 total touchdowns, while Reyes collected 70 tackles and intercepted three passes.
"I couldn't accomplish any of this without great teammates and coaches," Gubrud said. "A big part of it are the players around me - they are the main reason I have had so much success. It's an honor and I thank the Big Sky for the preseason award, but now I have to go out and prove them right. I always have something to prove and the team has something to prove, and we're going to go out and do that."
"My teammates look up to me and I want to give them that comfort of having leadership on and off the field," Reyes said. "I think that we'll take a big step for our team if we have good leadership. That's what showed last year; we had really good leadership, and you see how that paid off for us."
The Big Sky Kickoff will conclude Tuesday, when the preseason coaches and media polls will be announced.
BIG SKY CONFERENCE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TEAM=
Offensive Player of the Year - Gage Gubrud, QB, Eastern Washington
Defensive Player of the Year - Cole Reyes, S, North Dakota
QB - Gage Gubrud, Eastern Washington
WR - *Emmanuel Butler, Northern Arizona
WR - Keelan Doss, UC Davis
WR - Jerry Louie-McGee, Montana
OT - David Reese, Montana
OT - Randin Crecelius, Portland State
OG - Tyler Strank, Northern Arizona
OG - Demon Taylor, North Dakota
C - Joey Kuperman, Cal Poly
TE - *Andrew Vollert, Weber State
RB -*John Santiago, North Dakota
RB - Brady Oliveira, North Dakota
FB - Joe Protheroe, Cal Poly
DT - Robert Torgerson, Southern Utah
DT - Anthony Del Toro, Portland State
DE - Albert Havili, Eastern Washington
DE - Ben Sorensen, Sacramento State
OLB - Mike Needham, Southern Utah
OLB - Josh Buss, Montana
ILB - Mac Bignell, Montana State
ILB - Landon Stice, Weber State
CB- Deion Harris, North Dakota
CB - Taron Johnson, Weber State
S - *Cole Reyes, North Dakota
S - Mitch Fettig, Eastern Washington
PK - Griffin Roehler, Northern Arizona
P - Jacob DeMaio, Weber State
RS - John Santiago, North Dakota
ST - Hakeem Deggs, Northern Colorado
* - unanimous selection