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Montana linebacker Jace Lewis is tackled after intercepting a Portland State pass on April 17 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula.

MISSOULA — The hype surrounding Montana this football season has been recognized around the Big Sky and on the national scene.

The Griz were ranked in the top 11 of four national polls. They also had five players 11 preseason All-American awards and nine players earn 14 preseason All-Big Sky awards.

"It shows progress that people see us in that light," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said in July at the Big Sky Football Kickoff in Spokane. "We're excited for the season, certainly, and I'm glad that others kind of feel about us the way we feel about ourselves right now."

Rankings

The Griz were ranked No. 9 in the Stats Perform FCS Preseason Top 25, which is recognized as the primary poll because the national media vote in it. Weber State was the top Big Sky team at No. 6, Eastern Washington was 11th, Montana State 12th and UC Davis 23rd. UM had finished the 2019 season ranked No. 6 in this poll and was No. 7 in the fall 2020 preseason poll.

The Griz also checked in at No. 9 in the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) FCS Coaches Preseason Top 25, the secondary poll. Weber State led the Big Sky teams at No. 6, Montana State was No. 11, Eastern Washington was 14th and UC Davis 21st.

Hero Sports placed Montana ninth in its FCS preseason power rankings. Weber State and Montana State tied for seventh, Eastern Washington was slotted 16th and Sacramento State was tied for 23rd.

The lowest the Griz checked in at was No. 11 in the Athlon Sports preseason FCS poll. Weber State was No. 6, Montana State No. 8, UC Davis No. 17 and Eastern Washington No. 19.

UM was tabbed second in both Big Sky preseason polls, one by the coaches and one by the media. Weber State topped both polls, while Eastern Washington was third in both and MSU was fourth in both.

Awards

Senior linebacker Jace Lewis was named to three preseason All-American lists and landed on the watch list for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is awarded to the top defensive player in the FCS. The Townsend native, who's wearing the No. 37 legacy jersey, was selected as a preseason first-team All-American by Hero Sports and Phil Steele and was a preseason second-team All-American by Stats Perform. He also made the league's preseason All-Big Sky team and Phil Steele's preseason All-Big Sky first team. He was selected by Hero Sports as the best player in the FCS wearing jersey No. 34, the most recent number he's worn in a game.

Senior wide receiver Sammy Akem made two preseason All-American teams and landed on the watch list for the Walter Payton Award, which is given to the top offensive player in the FCS. He was named a preseason second-team All-American by Stats Perform and Hero Sports. He also was selected for the league's preseason All-Big Sky team and made Phil Steele's preseason All-Big Sky first team. He was picked by Hero Sports as the best player in the FCS wearing jersey No. 18.

Junior safety Robby Hauck made two preseason All-American lists, being a second-team choice by Hero Sports and a third-team pick by Stats Perform. He was also on the league's All-Big Sky preseason team and Phil Steele's preseason All-Big Sky first team. He was recognized by Hero Sports as the best player in the FCS wearing jersey No. 17.

Senior long snapper Matthew O'Donoghue was named a preseason second-team All-American by Phil Steele and a preseason third-team All-American by Stats Perform. He made the preseason All-Big Sky team and Phil Steele's preseason All-Big Sky first team.

Junior Malik Flowers was named a preseason third-team All-American by Stats Perform and Hero Sports. Stats Perform listed him as a kick returner, while Hero Sports picked him as a return specialist. He made Phil Steele's preseason All-Big Sky second team.

Senior left tackle Conlan Beaver made the league's preseason All-Big Sky team and Phil Steele's preseason All-Big Sky first team. He was chosen by Hero Sports as the best player in the FCS wearing jersey No. 78.

Junior running back Marcus Knight was named to Phil Steele's preseason All-Big Sky third team.

Senior right tackle Dylan Cook, from Butte, was named to Phil Steele's preseason All-Big Sky third team.

Senior safety Gavin Robertson was named to Phil Steele's preseason All-Big Sky third team.

Senior linebacker Pat O'Connell, from Kalispell, was recognized by Hero Sports as the best player in the FCS wearing jersey No. 58.

Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at frank.gogola@missoulian.com.

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