The Montana Tech football team has been picked as the preseason favorite to win the Frontier Conference Championship, according to the coaches’ poll which was released on Tuesday afternoon.
The Orediggers, who won the conference title in each of the past two seasons, picked up five of the eight first-place votes, with Southern Oregon grabbing the other three. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.
If the Orediggers are going to live up to their preseason expectations, they’ll have to find a way to do it without start running back Nolan Saraceni.
Saraceni was a senior last season, which means Morrell and his coaching staff had to get an early start on finding a suitable replacement. Morrell doesn’t seem overly concerned with that task, telling those at Frontier Conference media day in Great Falls on Tuesday, that the Orediggers have depth at that position.
Offensive catalyst and quarterback Quinn McQueary will be back for his senior season which will undoubtedly lessen the blow from the loss of Saraceni.
The product of Manhattan High threw for more than 3,000 yards last season and spent countless hours of the current summer working hard on and off the field in hopes pushing the Orediggers beyond the quarterfinals of the NAIA playoffs.
Montana Tech’s previous two seasons ended with quarterfinal losses.
Eastern Oregon landed in the second spot in the poll, with Southern Oregon and Carroll College tied for No. 3.
Eastern Oregon, despite not getting any first-place votes, is coming off a successful season in it finished No. 4 in the nation.
If the Mountaineers are going to dethrone the Orediggers, they’ll have to do it without quarterback Zach Bartlow who also surpassed the 3,000-yard mark in passing.
Southern Oregon hopes to regain the success that it enjoyed in previous seasons before being undermined by injuries last season.
The Raiders will also have to make do without longtime coach Craig Howard, who suddenly died during the offseason.
Charlie Hall, who previously coaches at Ashland High School (Oregon), was hired in March to replace Howard. Hall played at Southern Oregon.
Montana Western, which ended the past two seasons in the NAIA Top 25 poll but without getting into the playoffs, was No. 5 in the coaches’ poll.
Head coach Ryan Nourse brought his usual dose of optimism to media day, which was livestreamed to interested parties. He is hoping to see his defensive unit continue its trademark approach to its games this season and is hoping for a big season from running back Hunter Thomsen. Thomsen ran for 809 yards last season but a lot of his touches came as a backup to Sam Rutherford.
College of Idaho and Rocky Mountain College were tied for the sixth position, with MSU-Northern in the final spot.
The Orediggers will begin their season on Aug. 31 when they host Carroll College’s Fighting Saints in a Thursday-night game.
Carroll College handed Montana Tech its only conference loss last season with a game-deciding field goal as time expired. The Orediggers won their next 10 games, which included a first-round triumph over Dickinson State in the NAIA playoffs.