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In the FCS Huddle: Great (West) respect among Big Sky brethren

Two of the new standouts in the Big Sky Conference, Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen and North Dakota defensive end Ross Brenneman, have laughed off some good-natured ribbing at the Summer Kickoff media day festivities.

Each got married earlier this year, unlike the bachelor boys who are the other 11 players representing their teams in the new 13-member FCS super conference.

"It's funny because I think we have pretty different perspectives," Brenneman said Monday.

Brenneman and Sorensen play on two of the four new teams in the Big Sky, and it's also funny how the newcomers seem to have different perspectives than the old guard. Each is impressed by the other, and those from the former Great West Conference believe that moving into the Big Sky is a little jump in class, while some of the returning standouts have enough respect for Cal Poly, UC Davis, North Dakota and Southern Utah, that they don't see a step up.

A step up? "You know, I think so," Brenneman said. "I think the biggest thing for us is having consistency in our scheduling tough opponents. In the Great West, we were only five teams. So that's only four games a year, which is pretty challenging to schedule teams. Now we're in the Big Sky, you've got tough teams week-in and week-out."

Maybe not? "It's two good conferences merging, that's how I see it," said Portland State left tackle Kyle Ritt.

The Great West, though short-lived with an eight-year run, was always respected on a national level. Two years ago, Cal Poly knocked off Big Sky power Montana when the Grizzlies were ranked No. 1 in the FCS. Last year, the Great West was even more impressive against the Big Sky, winning six of the nine meetings, including Southern Utah going 3-0 against its future conference rivals.

Southern Utah may be more than two months away from playing its first Big Sky game, but the Thunderbirds already boast the conference's preseason offensive player of the year in Sorensen, an NFL prospect. That's saying a lot considering Montana State returns a two-time Walter Payton Award finalist in quarterback DeNarius McGhee.

"I think it's big-time for the conference to add in that depth. Some good teams," said the preseason defensive player of the year, Montana State linebacker Jody Owens. "You know, we have Sorensen over there. He's a big-time player. We're just adding some good players and then get more teams into the playoffs."

The Big Sky's hope is that it can secure a 14th member eventually and the teams can be split into two seven-team divisions. They will continue to play eight conference games, and because of that, commissioner Doug Fullerton estimates there will be enough good teams with good records to have four or five annually qualify for the FCS playoffs.

Defending co-champions Montana and Montana State as well as Eastern Washington should fare well when the Big Sky preseason poll is released Tuesday, but the newcomers will help underscore the depth of the conference race.

"I think it's great. It's going to incorporate more competition," Ritt said. "I think with so many teams, and so many good teams coming in, it's going to be an all-out battle for the top spots in the Big Sky this year."

"We'll never overlook a team, even if it's D-II, D-III," Northern Arizona running back Zach Bauman said. "I know that everybody has athletes."

The players representing their teams at the Big Sky Summer Kickoff are Bobby Erskine, UC Davis defensive end; Andre Broadous, Cal Poly quarterback; Nicholas Edwards, Eastern Washington wide receiver; Kevin Yost, Idaho State, quarterback; Greg Hardy, Montana tight end; Owens, Montana State linebacker; Brenneman, North Dakota defensive end; Bauman, Northern Arizona running back; Clarence Bumpas, Northern Colorado linebacker; Ritt, Portland State left tackle; Jeff Badger, Sacramento State, linebacker; Sorensen, Southern Utah quarterback; and Mike Hoke, Weber State quarterback.