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SOU No. 1 in Frontier Conference preseason poll

The recent successes of the Southern Oregon University football team have enabled it to make a lot of claims over the last couple years, but never this: The Raiders are the Frontier Conference's preseason favorite.

That changed Tuesday evening, when SOU received six of eight first-place votes in a coaches' poll revealed at the Frontier's media day in Great Falls, Mont. Montana Tech, last year's conference champ, received one first-place vote and was second in the poll, and Carroll (Mont.) received the other first-place vote and was third.

Eastern Oregon and College of Idaho were picked fourth and fifth, followed by Montana Western, Rocky Mountain (Mont.) and MSU-Northern.

The Raiders — slated to return seven starters on defense and five on offense when practice opens on Aug. 12 — are coming off an 11-3 season and their second straight appearance in the NAIA title game. However, they've been runners-up in the Frontier each of the last two seasons and were 8-2 within the circuit in 2015. Their shot at winning it fizzled with a 21-17 home loss to Montana Tech in the penultimate game of the regular season, ending a seven-game winning streak but fueling another postseason run.

Montana Tech, which lost in the quarterfinals of last year's NAIA Championship Series after being picked sixth in the conference poll, most notably returns senior running back Nolan Saraceni, who last year led the nation with 1,683 rushing yards. Carroll had won the Frontier 14 times in 15 seasons before a slide last year's slide, which saw the Saints lose five of their final six games. Their hopes of returning to prominence rest with a young core.

Last August, Carroll edged SOU in the Frontier's preseason poll but SOU was still tied for No. 1 in the NAIA's preseason poll with Marian (Ind.). This year's NAIA preseason poll will be released on Monday. The first poll of the regular season will be released on Sept. 12, between SOU's second and third games.

The Raiders are 31-9 in the Frontier since joining in 2012, when their entrance was marked by a co-title with Montana Tech. They'll open the 2016 season on Sept. 3 at Frontier rival Eastern Oregon.