The Montana Grizzlies and Montana State Bobcats have some work to do as the new football season approaches, according to the preseason media and coaches polls.
The preseason polls, released last week, have North Dakota tabbed as the team to beat in the Big Sky Conference this season. The league’s coaches and media outlets selected the Fighting Hawks to repeat as Big Sky champs.
Montana was selected to finish sixth out of 13 teams in both polls. Montana State was selected eighth in both polls.
North Dakota returns several key contributors from the 2016 season, including safety Cole Reyes and running back John Santiago. Reyes is the Big Sky’s reigning defensive player of the year and was selected as the Big Sky’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. The Fighting Hawks also return the Big Sky’s Coach of the Year, as Bubba Schweigert returns for his fourth season in Grand Forks.
The Big Sky’s other 2016 co-champion, Eastern Washington, finished second in both the coaches’ and media poll. EWU received first-place votes in both polls but will be entering a rebuilding year with first-year coach Aaron Best and without star receiver Cooper Kupp. The Eagles still return several impressive contributors, including quarterback Gage Gubrud, the Big Sky’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
Montana finished the 2016 season with a 6-5 record after dropping four of their last five games. The team missed out on the playoffs for only the third time in the past 24 years. The team has multiple preseason all-conference players, including Jerry Louie-McGee, a sophomore receiver, and linebacker Josh Buss.
The Griz begin the season at home against Valparaiso on Sept. 2.
Montana State finished the 2016 season at 4-7 overall and 2-6 in the Big Sky. Bobcats quarterback Chris Murray was the league’s Freshman of the Year selection a year ago. The Bobcats kick off the season at Washington State on Sept. 2.