As most suspected, Montana's season-opening football game later this month will feature the preseason's top-ranked team in the nation coming to Missoula.
The four-time defending national champions from North Dakota State topped the first STATS FCS top 25 poll of the year as it was released Monday morning. They drew 144 of the 147 total first-place votes to carry the No. 1 ranking into Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Aug. 29 against Montana, slotted 13th in the poll.
As they have in each of the past three Augusts since coming off the school's first FCS title, the Bison were picked as preseason favorites by a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters and writers. NDSU was a near unanimous selection as only Illinois State, which lost to the Bison 29-27 in January's national final, drew any other first-place votes.
Illinois State got the other three to take the second-place spot. The Bison totaled 3,671 points to the Redbirds' 3,423.
In the the STATS poll (formerly The Sports Network), a first-place pick is worth 25 points, a second-place 24, all the way down to one point for a 25th-place vote.
Montana, which was picked just slightly higher, 12th, in the preseason FCS coaches' poll last week, piled up 1,710 total points. The Griz were the third Big Sky Conference representative behind sixth-place Eastern Washington (2,830) and No. 11 Montana State (2,038).
Idaho State (627) also made the top 25 in 22nd place with Big Sky mate Cal Poly (189) just outside in 28th. Northern Arizona (74) also drew a few votes to make it up to No. 32.
Montana's schedule will feature five teams ranked in the preseason top 25 and seven of the top 32 overall.
After facing No. 1 NDSU, the Griz host Cal Poly (Sept. 5), travel to No. 15 Liberty (Sept. 19) after a week off and then entertain Northern Arizona for homecoming (Sept. 26). Montana finishes out on a similarly slogging stretch, traveling to Idaho State (Nov. 7), hosting Eastern Washington (Nov. 14) and finishing out at Montana State (No. 21) in the annual Brawl of the Wild.
The rest of the poll's top five included Sam Houston State (3,264), Villanova (3,249) and Coastal Carolina (2,900). After EWU in sixth was Jacksonville State (2,705), Chattanooga (2,590), New Hampshire (2,570) and Northern Iowa (2,212).