SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Each day counting down to the start of the 2019 NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision season, HERO Sports tweets a photo of what it considers the best player wearing the uniform number of the days remaining.
On June 25, exactly 60 days prior to the opening of the football campaign, HERO Sports published a photo of Cal Poly offensive lineman Tyler Whisenhunt, "the best player who wears No. 60."
A senior this fall, Whisenhunt (pictured above), a second-team All-Big Sky selection last fall, helped the Mustangs to a No. 4 FCS ranking in rushing offense last year. The Mustangs also were No. 1 in time of possession and No. 5 in third-down conversion percentage.
Whisenhunt started all 11 games last fall as Cal Poly's right guard and will move to right tackle this fall, replacing Zach Shallcross. Whisenhunt has played in all 34 games, including 22 consecutive starts, in Cal Poly's last three seasons.
Whisenhunt is a graduate of California High School in San Ramon, Calif.
Cal Poly opens its 2019 campaign August 31 at home against the University of San Diego, with kickoff inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium set for 2:05 p.m.
In other Cal Poly football news:
• Wide receiver J.J. Koski (pictured at left) and defensive back Kitu Humphrey (pictured at right), both seniors, will represent Cal Poly at the 2019 Big Sky Conference Summer Football Kickoff next weekend in Spokane, Wash.
Koski (6-1, 195, Danville, Calif. / San Ramon Valley High School) was Cal Poly's top receiver each of the past two seasons, catching 33 passes last fall and 28 as a sophomore in 2017. A third-team All-Big Sky Conference selection last fall, he enters his final season as a Mustang with 79 career catches for 1,443 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Humphrey (5-10, 195, Los Angeles, Calif. / Long Beach Poly High School) recorded 67 total tackles (48 solo) as a junior last fall, breaking up nine passes and recovering a fumble. He has 161 career tackles, three sacks, 11.5 tackles for lost yardage and three interceptions along with 26 pass breakups.
Media members will have opportunities to conduct one-on-one interviews with head coaches, student-athletes and conference officials. Student-athletes will have a group outing on Saturday night and media day commitments Sunday and Monday. Root Sports will conduct its production interviews and creative services shoot Sundays. Monday's agenda includes head coach and student-athlete one-on-ones with the media, as well as live interviews on Pluto TV and WatchBigSky.com.
Student-athletes will also take part in social media segments, which fans can follow live on the Big Sky Conference Snapchat and Instagram accounts, and the Big Sky Football Twitter account.
• HERO Sports published its preview of the 2019 Cal Poly football season in June.
"Fair or not, predicting where a team is going to finish in the Big Sky standings is split between how talented that team is and which conference teams they're set to face," HErO Sports wrote. "With 13 teams in the league and the conference setting schedules years in advance, how tough your schedule is really comes down to the luck of the draw.
"Unfortunately for the Mustangs, they face all four Big Sky playoff teams from 2018: Weber State (non-conference matchup), Montana State, UC Davis and Eastern Washington. Add in FBS Oregon State and their schedule is the 17th toughest in the FCS.
"But there are also five conference games you look at and think 'those are definitely winnable for this team.' And as shown last year against Montana State, the Mustangs can push the top teams. For that reason, we see Cal Poly at least repeating its conference record of 4-4 and possibly get that above .500."
Cal Poly was 5-6 overall a year ago and finished tied for sixth place in the Big Sky with Montana.
HERO Sports predicts Cal Poly's Oct. 5 home contest versus Montana State as the key game on the Mustangs' schedule this fall.
"This was a narrow loss on the road last year for the Mustangs. With this game coming at home and it being the Hall of Fame Game, Cal Poly can grab the attention of the FCS with a win against a likely nationally-ranked Bobcats team that made the playoffs in 2018."
More quotes from the HERO Sports story:
"The Mustangs made a big step back in the right direction last season. After making the playoffs in 2016, Cal Poly experienced a disappointing 1-10 record in 2017. While the Mustangs failed to make the postseason last year, they were a factor in the Big Sky standings. They pushed Montana State (who went on to make the second round of the playoffs) to the brink with 21 fourth-quarter points in a 49-42 November loss. This is a program that has seen up-and-down seasons recently in terms of wins and losses. In 2019, the Mustangs want to take another step forward instead of backward.
"The defense was incredibly young in 2018. Expect big improvements on that side of the ball with 11 players returning who started five games or more. Matt Shotwell and Nik Navarro are a tremendous duo to anchor a defense at the linebacker position, combining for 173 tackles last year.
"Offensively is where more of the question marks are. Six players return who started at least five games. But the losses from last year are significant. In a triple-option offense where timing is key, the Mustangs lose All-American fullback Joe Protheroe, two-year starting quarterback Khaleel Jenkins and All-Big Sky center Harry Whitson. Having Third Team All-Conference wide receiver J.J. Koski back is a big boost to keep defenses honest. Three offensive linemen (Paul Trujillo-Langdon, Second Team All-Conference Tyler Whisenhunt and Apefai Taifane) have significant starting experience and we all know the importance of the big fellas in a run-heavy offense.
"But who will be toting the rock? After all, Protheroe was a workhorse with 252 carries in 2016 and 363 carries in 2018. (He suffered a season-ending injury in 2017.)
"If he can stay healthy, Trey Nahhas is set to take a lot of carries at the fullback position. Also keep an eye on Duy Tran-Sampson, who's just a sophomore but has a ton of potential. And as far as the engineer of the offense, Cal Poly has options (no pun intended) at the QB spot. Jake Jeffrey started six games in 2017 when Jenkins got hurt. Kyle Reid saw plenty of action late in games last year. And Jalen Hamler is just a redshirt freshman but a big-time recruit that has the coaches excited."
See the entire preview story by clicking here.
• HERO Sports ranked Cal Poly's 2019 football schedule as the 17th toughest in the Football Championship Subdivision this fall.
The Mustangs play one Football Bowl Subdivision school (Oregon State), four teams in the preseason top 25 and five teams who competed in the 2018 FCS playoffs.
Former Big Sky Conference member North Dakota has the toughest schedule in the FCS, according to HERO Sports, followed by Chattanooga and Missouri State.
Among Big Sky schools, Sacramento State has the ninth-toughest schedule, Southern Utah No. 12, Montana No. 16, Idaho State No. 19 and Northern Arizona No. 20. North Dakota State, which has claimed seven of the last eight FCS national titles, is No. 24 on the list.
For the complete story, click here.
• A pair of preseason FCS polls have been released and North Dakota State is not a consensus No. 1 selection. That's because the Bison return just seven total starters on offense and defense and has a new starting quarterback, head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator.
North Dakota State, which has won seven of the last eight FCS national titles, is ranked No. 2 in HERO Sports' preseason poll. James Madison is No. 1, followed by the Bison, UC Davis, Maine and South Dakota State. For other Big Sky schools, Eastern Washington is No. 7, Weber State No. 11 and Montana State No. 14.
Athlon Sports has North Dakota State No. 1, followed by James Madison and South Dakota State. Eastern Washington is No. 4, UC Davis No. 5, Montana State No. 8, Weber State No. 9 and Montana No. 23.
More preseason polls will be released in the next six weeks.