The Montana Grizzlies were picked second in the 2016 Big Sky Conference preseason football polls, the conference announced Tuesday at its annual football kickoff event in Park City, Utah.
The Griz landed in the No. 2 spot after votes by both the media and league coaches. The Montana State Bobcats were picked seventh in the coaches’ poll and eighth in the media poll.
Montana received seven of the 25 first-place votes in the media poll. Northern Arizona was tabbed as the conference’s preseason favorite in both polls, receiving eight first-place votes in both.
Last season Bob Stitt led the Griz to an 8-5 overall record, 6-2 in conference, and extended Montana’s all-time playoff appearances to 23, most in the FCS.
“It’s fun for the fans to be able to look at those polls and see where we stand, but it doesn’t really matter until the end of the season,” said Stitt.
“We have a lot of confidence coming out of spring football, but until you go out and actually play some people, you’re not really sure how you’re going to stack up in the league.”
The Griz are returning 28 lettermen and five all-conference selections. Caleb Kidder earned the Big Sky Preseason Defensive Player of the Year award, as voted on by a select group of media.
The Bobcats finished out of the conference title hunt for the first time in a decade last year, lost the team’s starting quarterback to a transfer, and transition to a new head coach, Jeff Choate.
Northern Arizona is returning the FCS freshman of the year in quarterback Case Cookus. Cookus threw for 3,117 yards in 2015, while throwing 37 touchdowns. The sophomore is also a preseason All-Big Sky selection at quarterback, after being named a first-team All-Big Sky quarterback in 2015. The Lumberjacks last qualified for the FCS postseason in 2013, when the team finished in second place in the Big Sky.
Eastern Washington received first-place votes in both polls, and the Eagles return wide receiver Cooper Kupp, the reigning STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year, and a two-time Big Sky Preseason Offensive Player of the Year selection.
Defending Big Sky champion Southern Utah was selected to finish seventh in both polls. The Thunderbirds begin a new chapter under head coach Demario Warren
Eastern Washington received five first-place votes and 269 points in the media poll to finish third in the voting. The coaches picked the Eagles to finish fourth, earning a pair of first-place votes and 112 points in the polling.
2016 Big Sky Conference Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. Northern Arizona (8) 132
t2. Portland State (2) 121
t2. Montana 121
4. Eastern Washington (2) 112
5. North Dakota (1) 105
6. Weber State 83
t7. Southern Utah 73
t7. Montana State 73
9. Cal Poly 66
10. Northern Colorado 43
11. Sacramento State 30
12. Idaho State 24
13. UC Davis 23
2016 Big Sky Conference Preseason Media Poll
1. Northern Arizona (8) 287
2. Montana (7) 283
3. Eastern Washington (5) 269
4. North Dakota 262
5. Portland State (3) 252
6. Weber State 174
7. Southern Utah 162
8. Montana State 157
9. Cal Poly 153
10. Northern Colorado 111
11. Idaho State 58
12. UC Davis 56
13. Sacramento State 50