SALT LAKE CITY — If the college football season is played in the fall of 2020, several local players will have a target on their backs.
That includes the entire Weber State football team.
For the first time in school history, the Wildcats were selected as the Big Sky preseason favorites, earning the majority of votes from league coaches and media as announced Thursday during the conference’s virtual media day kickoff.
Weber State, which has won three-straight Big Sky titles and advanced to the FCS semifinals last year en route to an 11-4 season, received seven first-place votes from the coaches and 28 first-place votes from the media.
“I’ve always said preseason rankings don’t mean a lot, but it’s nice to be recognized,” said Weber State head coach Jay Hill, who won AFCA regional coach of the year honors last year. “Hopefully this gets us excited for what we are working toward, which is to finish the season ranked No. 1, not just the preseason No. 1. We have had big expectations in our program the last few years, and I think our players have handled that very well. Now we have to take another step and find a way to raise those expectations even higher.”
Regular power Montana was second with three first-place votes from coaches and eight first-place votes from the media.
Weber State was also picked among the top teams in the nation by national preseason media publications. The Wildcats are ranked sixth in the FCS by Lindy Sports, fourth by Street & Smith’s, and sixth by HERO Sports.
The Wildcats return 17 starters from last year’s team, including 10 All-Big Sky honorees. That includes senior wide receiver and kick returner Rashid Shaheed, a speedy 6-foot, 180-pound NFL prospect who has caught 86 passes for 1,218 yards and 11 touchdowns in three seasons.
While the Wildcats will be breaking in a new quarterback, they’ll get some help on offense in the return of running back Josh Davis. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound junior from Alta High ran for 1,136 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2019 and is seeking his third-straight 1,000-yard season as a redshirt junior in 2020.
The Wildcats are currently scheduled to open the season — if there is a season — Sept. 5 at Wyoming. The 2020 home opener is Sept. 26 against UC Davis.
Also on Thursday, Utah State senior wide receiver and kick returner Savon Scarver was named the Mountain West preseason special teams player of the year.
Scarver, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound native of Las Vegas, was also named a first-team all-conference selection Wednesday, a year after he caught 24 passes for 271 yards. Scarver has five kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career, a mark that ranks tied for ninth in NCAA history.
Utah’s Devin Lloyd has been named to the Butkus Award watchlist, given to the nation’s best linebacker, in addition to the Wuerffel Trophy watchlist a year after leading the Utes with 91 tackles, in addition to 11 tackles for loss, six sacks and an interception. BYU’s Bracken El-Bakri and Utah State’s Justus Te’i are also among the Wuerfell Trophy watchlist, which bills itself as “college football’s premier award for community service.”
Utah wide receiver Britain Covey, Utah State wide receiver Deven Thompkins and BYU running back Lopini Katoa highlight the Paul Hornung Award watchlist, which is in its 11th season honoring the most versatile player in major college football.
Katoa, a junior from American Fork, was also named to the 2020 Doak Walker Award watchlist given to the country’s top running back for the second-straight year. The 6-foot-1 flex-back had 853 all-purpose yards, including 358 rushing, 288 receiving and 207 kick return yards in 2019.