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Montana linebacker Caleb McSurdy, right, celebrates with teammate Bryan Waldhauser after sacking NAU quarterback Chasen Stangel in the first half Saturday. Photo by MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian Michael Gallacher/Missoulian

The Montana Grizzlies aren't always the pick, it just seems that way.

The Griz came in third in voting by the Big Sky Conference football coaches and the media in the annual preseason polls released Tuesday.

Defending Division I football champion Eastern Washington is picked to finish first in both polls, and defending Big Sky champion Montana State is the consensus pick to finish second.

It's the lowest the Griz have been ranked by the media since 1992, when they were predicted to finish third; the coaches haven't picked them this low since 1991, when Montana was No. 4 in both polls.

Montana had been either first or second in each poll from 1993 on, and first in every poll other than 1997 (Northern Arizona) and 2005 (Eastern Washington).

"It's really pretty close to what I expected," said second-year Griz coach Robin Pflugrad, who guided UM to a 7-4 mark last season, 5-3 in the Big Sky. "I think primarily historical date is what goes into it, and they look at who has what coming back.

"With Eastern Washington having so many players back, including an outstanding quarterback, that's where they should be."

Pflugrad in fact gives both Montana State, with super sophomore QB DeNarius McGhee, and Sacramento State, positive reviews.

Montana tied for third in the league last year with the Hornets, "who have a quarterback (Jeff Fleming) who had a really good last five games," Pflugrad noted.

The Griz open at Tennessee of the Southeastern Conference on Sept. 3 and then host Cal Poly and Eastern Washington ahead of a road game at Sacramento State on Sept. 24.

That early schedule will decide a lot, and senior defensive end Ryan Fetherston is ready to go against the grain.

"The guys, you know, have to take it with a grain of salt," Fetherston said of the polls. "The season hasn't even started yet. And how we get into it is going to determine that.

"I think the team will take it as fuel for the fire. We have to concentrate on Tennessee first and then we'll get into the conference season and see how it goes."

"It'll be a motivating factor," added defensive tackle Bryan Waldhauser. "But I don't think we needed a poll for that - they (Eastern and MSU) beat us last year and that's motivation enough.

"You can't deny it - (the Bobcats) beat us and Eastern won the national championship. If we're going to get back on top, it's on us."

Pflugrad and the Grizzlies open camp on Aug. 8, but most of his team has been in Missoula this summer participating in volunteer workouts: Lifting, 7-on-7, offensive line vs. defensive line.

"A lot of guys are putting in a lot of time and effort," Waldhauser said. "It's been good for the young guys, and for a lot of us ‘old' guys it's about making sure we're at our full potential for the season."

"The goal is not what happened last year," said Fetherston, who saw UM miss the FCS playoffs for the first time since 1992. "We'll take each opponent on knowing that each opponent is going to bring their best.

"The ultimate goal is the national championship but there's goals in between that and right now."

"Hopefully it brings back memories of last year good and bad," Pflugrad said. "We won a few close games and lost a few close ones too. I think they realize there's parity and how important every single football game is."

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 523-5247 or at fneighbor@missoulian.com.


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