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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

2022 football preview: Defections rocked the FCS, but Big Sky rolls along with a winning mix

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

In the last year, three of the top teams in the Football Championship Subdivision announced their intentions to ascend to the Bowl Subdivision, something that could be seen as a considerable blow to the competitiveness at the FCS level.

Yet at the summer Big Sky football meetings, coaches from the league – which dropped to 12 football members after Southern Utah left to join the Western Athletic Conference – were not concerned about the viability of football at their level. If anything, they vouched for its solidity.

Last season, the Big Sky sent five teams to the playoffs, and Montana State reached the championship game. Matching those markers is the benchmark now for the conference.

Chart toppers: Sacramento State, Montana, Montana State.

The Hornets went 8-0 in the Big Sky last year but didn’t have to play Eastern Washington or Montana State (they did beat Montana, in Missoula). They utilize two quarterbacks, Jake Dunniway and Asher O’Hara, and last year fielded one of the top three defenses in the Big Sky.

Montana overcame inconsistent quarterback play last year with a strong defense, and much of that defense returns this season, led by the senior duo of Robby Hauck and Patrick O’Connell, who are both on the watchlist for the Buck Buchanan Award.

Montana State returns starting quarterback Tommy Mellott, who led the Bobcats to three playoff victories last season. The sophomore quarterback and Isaiah Ifanse, the Bobcats’ senior running back, landed on the preseason watchlist for the Walter Payton Award.

Breakthrough hit: Portland State.

The Vikings return two of the top defensive players in the FCS in safety Anthony Adams and end VJ Malo. If sophomore quarterback Dante Chachere can ably replace David Alexander, an experienced Vikings team should push for a playoff spot.

Falling down the charts: Weber State.

The Wildcats nearly clawed their way back into playoff contention last season after losing four of their first six and finished 5-3 in conference play. While their nonconference schedule isn’t as daunting this season, the Wildcats’ Big Sky schedule sure is. The three teams they won’t play are Northern Colorado, Cal Poly and Idaho, which combined for just six conference wins last season. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for a team seeking to replace half its defensive starters.