Eastern Washington’s first game action since winning the FCS championship will be its inaugural matchup against Washington at Seattle's Husky Stadium on Sept. 3.

It’s a must-watch game for Evergreen State football fans; seven players -- four Eagles and three Huskies -- are on various preseason watch lists:

• Eastern Washington quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and wide receiver Brandon Kaufman are on the 20-player watch list for the Walter Payton Award, given annually to the top FCS player.

• EWU safety Matt Johnson and defensive tackle Renard Williams are on the 20-player watch list for the 2011 Buck Buchanan Award, given to the top FCS defensive player.

• Washington running back Chris Polk, who is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery on Thursday, is on the watch list for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award as well as the Maxwell and Doak Walker awards.

Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian has not ruled out Polk possibly playing in the season opener, but said this was the best time to have the procedure done. “We don’t know. It depends on his body and how he recovers,” said Sarkisian, who finished 7-6 last year, including a 19-7 victory against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, UW’s first bowl since 2002. “But I think for the long haul of this thing it was the right thing to do.

“It’s not serious but I just didn’t want it to linger and I thought the doctors handled it really well, and let’s just do it now so we are not dealing with this thing come October, November,” Sarkisian added. “It potentially could be a couple of weeks but I think he already feels good about it.”

The Walker Award is given annually to the nation’s top college running back; the Maxwell Award has been presented to the nation’s top player since 1937.

WATCH LISTS
AWARD PLAYER SCHOOL
Bednarik DL Alameda Ta’amu UW
Buchanan S Matt Johnson EWU
  DT Renard Williams EWU
Camp RB Chris Polk UW
Groza K Erik Folk UW
Maxwell RB Chris Polk UW
Nagurski DL Alameda Ta’amu UW
Outland DL Alameda Ta’amu UW
Payton QB Bo Levi Mitchell EWU
  WR Brandon Kaufman EWU
Walker RB Chris Polk UW

• Huskies defensive lineman Alameda Ta’amu is on the Nagurski, Bednarik, Outland watch lists.

The Bednarik Award is given to the best defensive player in the country; the Outland Trophy goes to the nation’s best interior linemen on both sides of the ball; the Nagurski Award is presented to the best defensive player in college football.

• UW kicker Erik Folk is on the watch list for the Lou Groza Award, presented annually to the nation’s top kicker.

As for the teams, Eastern Washington edged Montana State as the preseason pick by both the coaches and the media to win the Big Sky title.

The Eagles open the season with three consecutive road games, including non-conference games at Washington and South Dakota, then the Big Sky opener at Montana, which last season failed to advance to the FCS playoffs for the first time since 1992.

“We know darn well that it is hard,” EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said of replicating the success his team had in 2010. “It is hard work in the offseason. It’s hard work to win the non-conference games we have on our schedule. And it’s hard to win any Big Sky Conference game, let alone trying to win the league title.

“It starts over again no matter what it says on paper and whatever comments are made that we look better entering 2011 than we did in 2010,” added Baldwin, whose team returns 15 starters and 52 lettermen from last season’s team that finished 13-2.

“That doesn’t matter in terms of the success we have on the field. Our players are very mature in handling that and understand we still have to work hard and look for short-term goals.”

Washington was picked to finish third -- behind Oregon and Stanford -- in the North Division in the inaugural Pac-12 preseason poll.

Sarkisian, entering his third season at the Huskies' helm, said one of his preseason goals is continuing the physicality with which UW won the final four games of 2010. "We've got to play lower football, better pad-level football, to be the physical football team I think we can be," he said.

Information in this article was compiled from the respective schools' athletic department websites.