UC Davis will open fall football practice Friday and Sacramento State will hit the field Tuesday, with the programs carrying a similar theme into summer drills.
Each school hopes to prove Big Sky Conference preseason prognosticators wrong.
Sac State was picked seventh in the 13-team conference in both the coaches’ and the media preseason polls. UCD was tabbed 11th by the media and 12th by the coaches.
Eastern Washington, the two-time defending conference champion, and Montana State were selected as the top teams in both polls. Montana State was picked to finish first and Eastern Washington second in the coaches’ poll. Eastern Washington placed first and Montana State second in the media poll.
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Sac State went 7-5 overall and 4-4 (seventh place) in the Big Sky in Jody Sears’ first season as coach in 2014. It was the first seven-win season for Sac State since 2000.
The Hornets return All-Big Sky preseason selectees Darnell Sankey at inside linebacker, Nnamdi Agude at wide receiver and Brad Cornish at kicker. All are seniors.
Sac State returns 40 lettermen, including eight offensive and seven defensive starters, and its kicker and punter. Redshirt sophomore Daniel Kniffin (Rocklin High School) is the front-runner to start at quarterback.
All-Football Championship Subdivision wide receiver DeAndre Carter, an undrafted free agent trying to earn a job with the Baltimore Ravens, and four-year starting quarterback Garrett Safron, who broke virtually all of Sac State’s major passing records, are the team’s biggest losses among the 24 departed lettermen.
Sac State will have five home games this season at Hornet Stadium: Sept. 5 against Eastern Oregon (nonconference), Sept. 26 vs. Eastern Washington, Oct. 3 vs. Northern Colorado, Oct. 24 vs. Idaho State and the Causeway Classic vs. UCD on Nov. 21. The Hornets play at Washington of the Pacific-12 Conference on Sept. 12, their only game against a Football Bowl Subdivision school.
UCD enters its fourth season in the Big Sky and third under coach Ron Gould. The Aggies are trying to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2014 season in which they finished 2-9 overall and 1-7 (last) in the Big Sky.
Gould emphasized conditioning, training, concussion care and nutrition in the offseason. Innovative John Krasinski was hired as the Aggies’ conditioning coach, and the players now practice on a new synthetic turf field at Aggie Stadium that officials say is faster than the old surface.
UCD returns 66 lettermen, including five offensive and nine defensive starters, and the kicker and punter. Back is junior quarterback Ben Scott (Vanden), who threw for 1,734 yards and 19 touchdowns last season.
Among the 21 lettermen lost were All-Big Sky first-team offensive tackle Ian Joseph (El Dorado) and third-team running back Gabe Manzanares, one of many starters who missed time because of injury last season.
The Aggies will have five home games: Sept. 12 vs. South Dakota (nonconference), Oct. 3 vs. Montana, Oct. 10 vs. Northern Arizona, Oct. 24 vs. Southern Utah and Nov. 14 vs. Cal Poly. UCD will play nonconference games at FBS schools Nevada on Sept. 3 and Hawaii on Sept. 19.
Foreign legion – Three players who helped the Sac State and UCD men’s basketball teams to winning seasons in 2014-15 have signed professional contracts with overseas teams.
UCD forward Josh Ritchart (Forest Lake Christian) will play for Bambitious Nara in the 22-team Japan League. The 6-foot-9 Ritchart averaged 11.8 points as the Aggies won their first Big West Conference men’s regular-season basketball title.
The Sac State guard duo of Mikh McKinney and Dylan Garrity will play for European teams.
McKinney, the Big Sky Player of the Year, signed with the Port Antwerp Giants of the Belgium first division. McKinney averaged 19.2 points and 4.9 assists as Sac State finished 21-12, the Hornets’ best Division I mark. Joining McKinney will be former Ponderosa High standout Brad Waldow, a 6-10 forward who averaged 19.0 points and 9.1 rebounds for Saint Mary’s last season.
Garrity, a four-year starter who received All-Big Sky honors every season, will play for S.C. Lusitania Expert of the Portuguese Basketball League. He is the Hornets’ career leader in assists (527) and games played (119).
Paid parking – Sac State will charge a parking fee for the first time at home football games this season. Cars and trucks will cost $10 and RVs $25. Current students, faculty and staff with a valid parking pass will not be charged.
Sac State is the last Division I school in California to charge football fans to park.
Big Sky Conference preseason football polls
1. Montana State (6)134
2. E. Washington (6)133
3. Montana (1)121
4. Cal Poly111
5. Northern Arizona95
6. Idaho State90
7. Sacramento State66
8. Southern Utah64
9t. Portland State51
9t. North Dakota51
11. Weber State43
12. UC Davis33
13. Northern Colorado22
1. E. Washington (17)553
2. Montana State (17)541
3. Montana (5)492
4. Idaho State (5)446
5. Cal Poly (1)433
6. Northern Arizona (1)399
7. Sacramento State278
8. Southern Utah255
9. North Dakota226
10. Weber State160
11. UC Davis145
12. Portland State133
13. Northern Colorado127
First-place votes in parentheses. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team.