CEDAR CITY, Utah, Aug. 10 - Defending Great West Conference champion Southern Utah has been selected by the league coaches to repeat as GWC champion in 2011.
The Thunderbirds were undefeated in conference play in 2010 and finished the season with a 6-5 overall record. SUU, which is under the leadership of 2010 GWC Coach of the Year and Eddie Robinson Award finalist Ed Lamb, garnered two first-place votes and tallied 20 points in this year's poll.
Southern Utah, which will have to find an answer to replace a standout receiving corps that included Fesi Sitake and 2010 GWC Offensive Player of the Year and two-time all-American Tysson Poots, returns three consensus first-team All-Great West Conference selections and another six who received first-team honors from either the Coaches or the Media, including preseason All-America honorees Brad Sorensen (QB) and DE Tyler Osborne. Sorensen is listed on the 2011 Payton Award Watch List and has been named a Top-10 quarterback by The Sports Network. Lamb, who is in his fourth season at the helm, will lead the Thunderbirds in their opener on September 3 at South Dakota State.
Cal Poly was second in the poll for the second straight year. The Mustangs finished just behind Southern Utah with 19 points and tied the Thunderbirds in first-place votes with two. Cal Poly, which features Buck Buchanan Award candidate Asa Jackson (CB) and first-team All-GWC honoree Mark Rodgers (SB), enters the 2011 season looking for its fourth GWC title after finishing third last season with a 2-2 conference record. The Mustangs, under the direction of third-year head coach Tim Walsh, ended last season with a 7-4 overall mark and were ranked 24th in the final The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top 25 poll. Cal Poly opens on September 3 at San Diego State.
Finishing third in the GWC poll was 2009 champion UC Davis with 17 points and one first-place vote. The Aggies were second a year ago with a 3-1 GWC record and a 6-5 overall mark. Veteran Coach Bob Bigs is in his 19th year as the Aggies' head coach after serving as an assistant at the school for 15 seasons. He returns eight starters on offense, including first-team All-GWC center Ray Wilburn and 2010 GWC Rookie of the Year Randy Wright (QB), and eight starters on defense. The Aggies also return first-team all-conference kicker Sean Kelley and will open the 2011 campaign on September 1 at Arizona State.
South Dakota came in fourth with 13 points in the poll after finishing the 2010 season with a 1-3 GWC record. Coach Ed Meierkort will lead the Coyotes in his eighth season after a 2010 campaign that included a win over Big Ten member Minnesota en route to a 4-7 season. All-America offensive tackle Tom Compton and two-time All-GWC first-team honoree Chris Ganious will return on offense. Cole Zwiefelhofer, the 2010 GWC Special Teams Player of the Year, also returns after a stellar sophomore campaign that garnered him All-America accolades. The Coyotes open their season on September 3 at Air Force and host defending FCS champion Eastern Washington on September 10.
Rounding out the poll was North Dakota with six points. The Fighting Sioux kick off their season on September 1, when they host Drake for a Thursday night contest. Coach Chris Mussman, in his fourth season at UND, returns seven offensive starters, including all-conference WR Greg Hardin, and a defense led by All-GWC linebacker Dan Hendrickson, which includes five returning starters.
The race for the 2011 GWC championship begins on October 1 when Southern Utah hosts North Dakota.
2011 Great West Conference Preseason Football Poll
1. Southern Utah (2) 20 pts.
2. Cal Poly (2) 19 pts.
3. UC Davis (1) 17 pts.
4. South Dakota 13 pts.
5. North Dakota 6 pts.