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THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: Some questions as Big Sky football media days near

| July 22, 2021 1:30 AM

Following a year's hiatus, the Big Sky Football Kickoff is scheduled to return this Sunday and Monday in its intended form in Spokane.

The hope is that the season that this media day event is intended to promote actually begins a few weeks after the event.

That didn't happen last year.

In 2018 and ’19, the first two years the Big Sky Football Kickoff was held in Spokane, media shuffled around from table to table, from coach to coach, then from players to players, for brief chats.

It was kind of like the sports version of speed dating, though we were allowed to record the interactions.

LAST YEAR, due to COVID-19, the Big Sky Football Kickoff was done virtually, with a group of coaches at a time on a video chat with someone from the Big Sky office as a moderator.

It was sort of like Hollywood Squares, but without Paul Lynde in the center square.

The conference did the best it could, but as you recall, the season didn't follow the Kickoff — because of the pandemic, the first games weren't actually played until February.

And not all the teams played then, anyway.

STILL, THERE will be plenty of questions at this year's event.

Among them ...

• Will this finally be the year the Idaho Vandals make it to the FCS playoffs? This is the fourth year for the Vandals back in the Big Sky, after 22 seasons in the FBS.

Idaho has been competitive in its return, but I think fans have expected more. The Vandals have beaten Eastern Washington, consistently one of the top teams in the league, each of the last two seasons. But Idaho then always seems to lose a game or two that it needs to win to make the playoffs, and eventually falls short.

• If your return to the place you helped put on the FCS map, as was the case with former Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin this spring, occurs before 0 fans because of the pandemic, does it really count as a return home?

Of course, since Baldwin's current team, Cal Poly, suffered a 62-10 beatdown on the red turf in Cheney, maybe the now second-year Mustangs coach, who coached the Eagles from 2008-16, figured the less people that saw it, the better.

• Also, how good will EWU be this year, now that national player of the year candidate Eric Barriere decided to return for another season as quarterback of the Eags?

• For the three teams that opted not to play last spring — Montana, Montana State and Portland State — will they be fresher because they didn't play six regular-season football games? Or will those who played — including Idaho and EWU — be more in a groove by playing games in the spring instead of going through spring practice?

• And finally, is anyone going to miss Jeff Choate more than those in the media? He was often unfiltered and "good copy," as they say in the business. But now the former St. Maries High star, who later was football coach and athletic director at Post Falls High, is now co-defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach at Texas, having been passed over for the head coaching job at Boise State.

In four years in Bozeman, Choate led Montana State to the FCS playoffs twice. And just as important — perhaps even more important — he beat Montana all four seasons.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter @CdAPressSports.