All-Conference

Skyline Sports mid-season All-Big Sky offensive selections

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Every team in the Big Sky Conference has played at least seven games, which means it’s officially past the halfway point of the football season. It’s been an unpredictable season as usual in the Big Sky. Unknown players have broken out, and some stars have gone down to injury or other unforeseen circumstances. With everything that’s changed, there’s no better time to update the preseason all-conference team.

This is Skyline Sports’ midseason all-conference team, looking at who would be in for recognition if the season ended today (before games on October 27). For each position, we’ll look at who was the preseason pick, if that’s changed, and the reasons why or why not, taking into consideration both individual production and team performance.

Quarterback

Preseason: Gage Gubrud, Eastern Washington

Now: Jake Maier, UC Davis

UC Davis quarterback Jake Maier/ by UC Davis athletics

When he’s played, Gubrud has still been probably the best quarterback in the Big Sky, completing 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,416 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions and running for another 169 yards. Even as Eastern as transitioned to a more run-focused offense, he’s shown that he’s kept the capability to decimate defenses, as against Cal Poly, when he was 21-for-27 in a 70-17 rout. Gubrud’s abilities in the run-pass option portion of EWU’s offense has also been a key to Eastern rushing for 255 yards per game.

But those three key words — “when he’s played” — open the door for other players to take Gubrud’s crown. He hasn’t played in each of Eastern’s last two games with an injury, which contributed to the Eagles dropping their first conference game two week against Weber State. His return is still uncertain, although the Eagles had their bye this week.

In the meantime, Maier has taken his star turn for the only undefeated team left in the conference. The junior, and defending conference newcomer of the year, leads the Big Sky with 2,160 passing yards, a 63 percent completion percentage and 21 passing touchdowns. He also has just three interceptions despite throwing it 308 times, by far the most in the conference. If Gubrud had played a full schedule, his numbers would probably be similar enough that the incumbent would win out. But his injury (and that of Case Cookus, Northern Arizona’s star, who’s likely out for the year) opens the door just enough for Maier. Idaho State’s Tanner Gueller also deserves a mention, as he’s second to Maier in just about every passing category. But Maier’s ability to operate the scheme offensive coordinator Tim Plough calls “an NFL offense at no huddle at a college tempo” gives him the nod at the midpoint of the season.

Apologies to: Gubrud, Gueller, Troy Andersen (Montana State), Dalton Sneed (Montana)

Running back                                                     

Preseason: James Madison, Idaho State; Antoine Custer; Eastern Washington; Joe Protheroe, Cal Poly

Now: Protheroe; Madison; Josh Davis, Weber State; Elijah Dotson, Sacramento State

Idaho State running back James Madison/ ISU athletics

We’re rolling Protheroe’s preseason spot at fullback in with the running backs, but don’t worry, Cal Poly’s spearhead still gets a nod. He’s averaging 133.3 yards per game, tops in the conference and top-five in the nation. With 147 yards in a 52-10 loss to Davis this week, Protheroe has five straight 100-yard games and is 65 yards away from his second 1,000-yard season.

Madison also keeps his spot, despite splitting carries with Ty Flanagan, as he’s fifth in the conference with 741 yards and leads the Big Sky with 10 rushing touchdowns in just seven games. The third spot was an agonizing decision between Dotson and Weber State’s fabulous freshman, Josh Davis. Like Gubrud, Davis gets slightly docked for missing one of the Wildcats’ games, although given it was their season-opening blowout loss to Utah, maybe that’s a point in his favor. In the end, Dotson’s insane production — he has 735 yards on 6.5 yards per carry — barely edges him out. Luckily, Davis is by far the best punt returner in the conference, so he’ll still have a spot on this team. And it’s hard to understate how essential the former Utah Gatorade Player of the Year’s 699 rushing yards has been to Weber’s otherwise average offense.

Apologies to: Davis, Flanagan, Sam McPherson (Eastern Washington)

Wide receiver

Preseason: Keelan Doss, UC Davis; Emmanuel Butler, Northern Arizona; Andre Lindsey, Sacramento State; Alex Wesley, Northern Colorado

Now: Doss; Wesley; Mitch Gueller, Idaho State; Nsimba Webster, Eastern Washington

Eastern Washington junior wide receiver Nsimba Webster/ by Blake Hempstead

Doss’s stat lines are some of the most beautiful things in all of college football, just a constant stream of “11 catches for 150 yards, one touchdown” and “13 catches for 131 yards” (his actual lines from the Aggies’ last two games). He leads the conference and country in receptions per game by nearly three and easily keeps his spot on the team The reigning Big Sky Offensive MVP is averaging 50 less yards per game than he did a season ago, yet is still averaging 85 yards per game.

Wesley, meanwhile, has evolved from a boom-or-bust big-play receiver into an every-down threat. With 45 catches, he’s only 10 away from his full-season mark from a year ago, and has kept his explosiveness at the same time with over 20 yards per catch. He is 92 yards away from a second straight 1,000-yard season but he did not play in UNC’s 49-14 win over Northern Arizona, meaning he is likely a part of the 12 undisclosed players Bears’ head coach Earnest Collins Jr. suspended for missing curfew following Northern Colorado’s loss in Portland two weeks ago.

Gueller, like most of the Idaho State roster, has been a revelation this year, averaging 22.1 yards per catch and narrowly trailing Wesley for the conference lead in yards per game. Just a junior, he’s the only member of this foursome who’ll be returning next year. A first-team All-Big Sky selection last season, Gueller has 40 catches for 885 yards and six touchdowns.

Webster has had to deal with the quarterback situation at Eastern Washington, but has maintained his steady production. As an example, he led the Eagles in receiving in both Gubrud’s last start and Eric Barriere’s first, the latter a six-catch, 114-yard, one-touchdown demolition of Southern Utah.

Apologies to: Butler, Michael Dean (Idaho State), Jaelin Ratliff (Sac State), David Ungerer (Idaho), Samuel Akem (Montana)

Tight end

Preseason: Charlie Taumoepeau, Portland State; Wes Preece, UC Davis

Now: Taumoepeau, Preece

Portland State Charlie Taumoepeau/ PSU athletics

Taumoepeau has played in just five of seven games and still been by far the best receiver on the Vikings, and the best tight end in the league, with 15 catches for 420 yards and five touchdowns. But he’s been out for Portland State’s back-t0-back wins over Montana and Northern Colorado, entering this week’s bye.

No one else on Portland State has recorded even half of that yardage. Neither have any of the other Big Sky tight ends. Preece narrowly hangs on to his preseason spot by showing a nose for the end zone, with four touchdowns on 12 receptions and 153 yards.

Montana State’s senior tight end trio of Curtis Amos, Connor Sullivan and Wilson Brott have all been key to MSU’s rushing attack. Junior Latu, Weber State’s monstrous 6-foot-5, 295-pound blocking tight end, has also blown open plenty of holes but has caught one pass, a three-yard touchdown.

Apologies to: Matthew Kempton, Northern Arizona; Latu, Weber State

Offensive line

Preseason:

Offensive Tackle – Iosua Opeta, Sr., Weber State
Offensive Tackle – Marquez Tucker, Sr., Southern Utah
Offensive Guard – Noah Johnson, Jr., Idaho
Offensive Guard – PJ Nu’usa, Jr., Southern Utah
Center – Zach Larsen, Jr., Southern Utah

Eastern Washington center Spencer Blackburn/ by Brooks Nuanez

Now: Offensive tackle – Opeta, Chris Schlichting, Eastern Washington

Opeta’s pure physical gifts combined with his penchant for physicality has some NFL scouts projecting him as a Top 100 selection in next spring’s NFL Draft. He has been the lynchpin of Weber State’s offense. Schlichting, now injured EWU left tackle Tristen Taylor and Eastern center Spencer Blackburn have all been impressive cogs in Eastern’s surprisingly dominant rushing attack.

Offensive Guard: Johnson, Idaho; Jake Parks, UC Davis

Injuries at the position across the league, including to Nu’usa, has left thin talent at the position. Johnson has one of the most complex jobs in the league in Idaho’s strong-side, quick-side scheme in which they move Johnson from the left to the right side of the line and back.

Parks was the prized recruit of Dan Hawkins’ second recruiting class at Davis. The 6-foot-3, 290-pounder chose the Aggies over multiple FS offers. His physicality has helped Davis ad a productive run game — Tehran Thomas rushed for 101 yards and Ulonzo Gilliam added 95 yards against Cal Poly — to an already explosive passing offense, making the Aggies one of the most potent offenses in college football.

Center: Spencer Blackburn, Eastern Washington; Dallen Collins, Idaho State

Both EWU and ISU’s passing games are trigged by stout rushing attacks because of the stout RPO elements in each attack. The pre-snap read abilities of these two centers combined with the versatile blocking talent of each post-snap have helped drive two of the top offenses in the league.

Apologies to: Brian Fineanganofo, Idaho State; Harry Whitson, Cal Poly; Mitch Brott, Montana State; Larsen, SUU; Taylor Tuiasosopo, Montana State

Kicker & Kick returner

Montana State kicker Tristian Bailey (23) kicks a 35-yard field goal to give MSU its final lead against Western Illinois August 30/by Brooks Nuanez

Preseason: 

Placekicker – Trey Tuttle, So., Weber State
Return Specialist – Rashid Shaheed, So., Weber State

Now: Kicker – Tristan Bailey, Montana State

Bailey and Montana kicker Tim Semenza are two of four kickers in the league tied with 10 made field goals. The two Treasure State kickers have each only missed one attempt. Bailey gets the nod because of the distance of his makes along with the timeliness. Semenza has attempted two kicks over 40 yards, making one. Bailey is 3-of-4 from over 40, including a 47-yard make at the halftime buzzer, a game-tying 50-yarder with eight minutes left and a game-winning 35-yarder in MSU’s 26-23 win over Western Illinois. Bailey also hit a 42-yarder that proved to be the final margin in a 24-23 win over Idaho.

Apologies to: Semenza, Trey Tuttle (Weber State), Roldan Alcobendas (Eastern Washington)

Now: Return Specialist – Shaheed

Shaheed is the king of this post until otherwise dethroned. One of the fastest players in the league, Shaheed is averaging 40 yards per return on nine returns this season. He had a 39-yard return in WSU’s 34-24 win over Montana State Saturday. His 100-yard return for a touchdown in a 45-28 win over Northern Colorado was his third return for a touchdown in just his 15th career game.

Apologies to: No one. Shaheed has no peer, although Montana freshman Malik Flowers looks like a budding star.

All-Purpose

Troy Andersen, Montana State — There was no all-purpose player on the all-league preseason team. And Andersen is a running back or a linebacker or an athlete (whatever you want to tag him as) trying to play quarterback. But there’s no doubt the Dillon native is one of the biggest game changers and one of the most electric athletes in the conference regardless of position.

Andersen has rushed for 566 yards (141.5 yards per game) and seven touchdowns in Big Sky play alone. He has rushed for 778 yards and is tied with Madison with a league-leading 10 touchdowns. He has six touchdowns of more than 25  yards this season, including four of 59 yards or more. Andersen is third in the league in total rushing yards despite having just five carries in very limited action against South Dakota State and Wagner.

The offensive line picks courtesy of Colter Nuanez of Skyline Sports. Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved. 

About Andrew Houghton

Andrew Houghton grew up in Washington, DC. He graduated from the University of Montana journalism school in December 2015 and spent time working on the sports desk at the Daily Tribune News in Cartersville, Georgia, before moving back to Missoula and becoming a part of Skyline Sports in early 2018.

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