The UND football program is entering its second and final season of conference limbo in 2019.
The Fighting Hawks will play a Big Sky Conference schedule, technically as an independent, for the last time before joining the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020.
UND coach Bubba Schweigert said most of his program’s operations go unaffected while playing without a league home. However, UND and Schweigert have already made some changes in Year 2 of independent status.
This summer, unlike the 2018 offseason, Schweigert attended the Big Sky’s officials meeting last weekend in Salt Lake City.
UND athletic department officials also attended Big Sky meetings in Spokane recently.
“Even though we’re independent, we’re playing your league schedule and are a factor in the race,” Schweigert said. “We wanted to make sure we were represented at the conference meetings.
“(Year 1 as an independent) was a little different but mostly it’s the behind-the-scenes stuff. Our preparation is always the same. I thought our guys handled it well. You don’t get player of the week honors, but we just don’t focus on those things as a whole, anyway.”
Schweigert said he attended the officials meetings hoping to get clarification on the three main rule tweaks coming for 2019. Those changes include banning two-man wedge blocks on kickoffs, outlawing any blindside blocks and tweaking the replay procedure.
On Monday, the Big Sky released its preseason media and coaches polls, as well as the league’s all-conference team.
As an independent, UND is ineligible for those polls and honors.
In 2019, UND will play the Big Sky coaches’ polls No. 1 (Eastern Washington), No. 2 (UC Davis), No. 3 (Weber State), No. 5 (Montana State), No. 7 (Idaho State), No. 9 (Cal Poly), No. 12 (Southern Utah) and No. 13 (Northern Colorado).
The Hawks also play Drake, North Dakota State and Sam Houston State in non-conference play.
It’s a schedule the website Hero Sports has labeled the toughest in the nation. UND will play six teams from the final 2018 Top 25 and five teams from the 2018 FCS Playoffs.
“It’s a big opportunity to play a lot of teams expected to be at the top of their conferences,” Schweigert said. “It’s sure exciting to see a real great opportunity for a number of huge victories in 2019.”
UND will have a rare two bye weeks in 2019, opting to stick with 11 games despite the NCAA allowing 12 games this upcoming season.
UND will have a bye week Sept. 21, as well as Nov. 2.
“We feel like they come at good times in the season,” Schweigert said. “We felt it was the right thing to do with how the schedule was setting up.”
Big Sky Conference
Preseason coaches poll
1. Eastern Washington (10 first-place votes) 140 points; 2. UC Davis (2) 127; 3. Weber State 124; 4. Montana (1) 104; 5. Montana State 100; 6. Northern Arizona 88; 7. Idaho State 72; 8. Idaho 65; 9. Cal Poly 56; 10. Portland State 42; 11. Sacramento State 40; 12. Southern Utah 38; 13. Northern Colorado 19
1. Eastern Washington (25 first-place votes) 536 points; 2. UC Davis (13) 510; 3. Weber State (4) 472; 4. Montana State 417; 5. Montana (1) 396; 6. Northern Arizona 302; 7. Idaho State 285; 8. Idaho 248; 9. Cal Poly 196; 10. Portland State 178; 11. Southern Utah 160; 12. Sacramento State 125; 13. Northern Colorado 90
Offensive MVP -- Jake Maier, QB, UC Davis
Defensive MVP -- Dante Olson, LB, Montana
QB: Jake Maier, Sr., UC Davis
WR: Mitch Gueller, Sr., Idaho State
WR: Samuel Akem, Jr., Montana
WR: Jared Harrell, Jr., UC Davis
OT: Mitch Brott, Sr., Montana State
OT: Chris Schlichting, Sr., Eastern Washington
OG: Noah Johnson, Sr., Idaho
OG: Ty Whitworth, Jr., Weber State
C: Zach Larsen, Sr., Southern Utah
TE: Charlie Taumopeau, Sr., Portland State
RB: Josh Davis, So., Weber State
RB: Elijah Dotson, Jr., Sacramento State
FB: Troy Andersen, Jr., Montana State
PK: Trey Tuttle, Jr., Weber State
RS: Rashid Shaheed, Jr., Weber State
DT: Jalen Goss, Sr., Northern Arizona
DT: Kenton Bartlett, Sr., Portland State
DE: Adam Rodriguez, Sr., Weber State
DE: Jonah Williams, Jr., Weber State
OLB: Auston Tesch, Sr., Weber State
OLB: Bryce Sterk, Sr., Montana State
ILB: Dante Olson, Sr., Montana
ILB: Kody Graves, Sr., Idaho State
CB: Khalil Dorsey, Sr., Northern Arizona
CB: Greg Filer, Sr., Montana State
S: Adkin Aguirre, Sr., Idaho State
S: Brayden Konkol, Sr., Montana State
P: Cade Coffey, Jr., Idaho
ST: Jace Lewis, Jr., Montana