BOZEMAN — Another preseason Football Champion Subdivision poll ranked Montana and Montana State in the top four.
UM is No. 3 and MSU is No. 4 in the Athlon Sports FCS Preseason Top 25, which was released Monday. It's similar to the Hero Sports preseason top 25, unveiled last month, with defending FCS champion North Dakota State at No. 1 and South Dakota State at No. 2. But the Hero Sports poll had MSU at No. 3 and UM at No. 4.
Returning talent is one of the main reasons why Athlon ranked the Grizzlies ahead of the 2021 FCS title runner-up Bobcats.
"Following back-to-back 10-win campaigns, the Grizzlies appear primed to claim their first Big Sky title since 2009," Athlon contributor Craig Haley wrote in the preseason top 25 article. "Linebacker Patrick O'Connell and cornerback Justin Ford (FCS-high nine interceptions) finished third and fourth, respectively, in the Buck Buchanan Award voting, and safety Robby Hauck, the coach's son, has a chance to reach 500 career tackles with 364 entering his senior campaign. Transfer quarterback Lucas Johnson went 8-1 as a starter at San Diego State last fall, while touchdown machine Marcus Knight (FCS-high 25 in 2019) returns from injury to team up with fellow running backs Xavier Harris and Junior Bergen."
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Haley also praised MSU's returning standouts, which is the Cats are still near the top of Athlon's rankings.
"The Bobcats and second-year head coach Brent Vigen have to replace key senior losses from their national runner-up squad, but equally important is quarterback Tommy Mellott's production following an ankle injury suffered in the defeat to North Dakota State," Haley wrote. "Mellott, the breakout star of the playoffs, can combine with tailback Isaiah Ifanse (1,623 yards as a junior, 3,461 in career) for a devastating ground duo. The defense has veterans in linebacker Callahan O'Reilly and defensive backs Ty Okada and Jeffrey Manning Jr., plus emerging standouts with defensive end Brody Grebe and cornerback Simeon Woodard."
The Athlon preseason top 25 includes three other Big Sky programs: Sacramento State (No. 6), Weber State (No. 13) and Eastern Washington (No. 15).
Missouri State is No. 5, Southern Illinois is No. 7, Villanova is No. 8, Kennesaw State is No. 9 and Stephen F. Austin is No. 10.