The University of North Dakota football program has been picked by coaches and the media as pre season Big Sky Conference champs for the upcoming 2017 season.

It was a surprise last year when UND won a share of the conference title (splitting it with Eastern Washington) and then advanced on into the FCS playoffs. It was the Fighting Hawks first playoff appearance in the history of their program.

This year, UND is ranked 5th in the nation in the FCS preseason poll. They received 15 first-place votes in the media poll and 6 first-place votes in the coaches poll. Both polls were identical throughout the top eight teams.

After losing to Richmond in the FCS playoffs last year, North Dakota has several players returning and on paper, they look dangerous on both sides of the ball. Offensively, running back John Santiago is back and on the defensive side, last year's Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, safety Cole Reyes returns. Reyes has also been selected as the Big Sky Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

Santiago, along with running back Brady Oliveira and offensive guard Damon Taylor also made the Big Sky preseason team on the offensive side. Defensively, UND adds cornerback Deion Harris on the conference's preseason team.

Fourth-year head coach, and last year's Big Sky Coach of the Year, Bubba Schweigert also returns.

The season opens for the North Dakota Fighting Hawks on August 31st at Utah.