The Big Sky Conference turned 50 this month.
Don't expect anyone to burst out of a cake, but schools are eagerly anticipating the start of the sports year, especially the start of football, the sport that generates the most interest and revenue for any league and campus.
The Big Sky, a mid-major conference with schools across the West, is known for its quality football, a reputation decades in the making. It launched Boise State and Nevada to the Division I-A (now Football Bowl Subdivision) ranks, and it helped save others on the brink of financial football collapse, such as Sacramento State, which passed a student referendum in 1995.
The Hornets joined the Big Sky mix in 1996, and UC Davis came aboard last fall for football, ensuring the rivalry with the Hornets has meaning beyond regional bragging rights (the Causeway Classic started in 1954).
Big Sky charter members are Idaho State, Montana, Montana State and Weber State. Northern Arizona, Eastern Washington, Portland State, Northern Colorado, Southern Utah, North Dakota and Cal Poly joined the conference over the years. (Cal Poly, like UC Davis, competes in the football-less Big West in other sports).
In the coming months, when the Big Sky unveils its 50 greatest men's athletes and moments and its 25 greatest women's athletes and moments, two names that should be on the list are Stacy Dragila and Charles Roberts.
Dragila, from Placer High School, started her pole vault career at Idaho State before winning Olympic gold in 2000.
Sac State's Roberts was a recruiting find from Southern California by then-coach John Volek in the mid 1990s. At 5-foot-6, Roberts was a dart and nearly impossible to corner. Roberts rushed for a record 409 yards against Idaho State in 1999 and set NCAA marks before embarking on a Canadian Football League career.
Sac State was picked to finish sixth this season in the media and coaches' polls, perhaps a bit low with the Hornets returning 15 starters under coach Marshall Sperbeck. On the national level, Sac State received votes in the Sports Network's Football Championship Subdivision poll.
Sac State will be led by three preseason All-Big Sky offensive picks guards Tyler Worthley and Gavin Farr and wide receiver Morris Norrise. The Hornets open camp Aug. 4 and begin the season Aug. 29 at San Jose State. In Week 2, the Hornets will go for the program's third consecutive victory over a Pacific-12 Conference team when they play at Arizona State.
The Aggies were picked to finish 11th in the media poll and 12th in the coaches' poll. UCD fullback Dalton Turay is a preseason all- conference pick for first-year coach Ron Gould, a longtime Cal assistant who takes over for retired Bob Biggs.
Cal Poly has a quarterback competition among four candidates, including former Bee Players of the Year Dano Graves, who led Folsom to the 2010 CIF State Division II title and transferred from Air Force, and Tanner Trosin, who followed Graves at Folsom and became the first athlete in state history to amass 6,000 total yards in a season. The Mustangs are picked to finish fourth in the Big Sky in the media and coaches' polls behind Montana State, Eastern Washington and Montana.
Cal Poly must replace tailback Deonte Williams (Pleasant Grove), who rushed for 1,506 yards and 12 touchdowns and is now with the Raiders. Lefi Letuligasenoa of Elk Grove returns as a starter on the offensive line.
Oregon cornerback Terrance Mitchell (Burbank) has been named to the Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe preseason watch lists. The Nagurski honor recognizes the most outstanding defensive player in the country; the Thorpe goes to the top defensive back.
Mitchell, who had 40 tackles and broke up eight passes last fall, is a fast-rising NFL prospect.