Montana earned automatic berth in NCAA Division I-AA Football Championship. Idaho earned at-large berth in NCAA Division I-AA Football Championship.
Rankings from NCAA Division I-AA poll (released before championship playoffs)
Led by junior quarterback Ken Hobart, the Vandals finished 8-3 in the regular season and 5-2 in the Big Sky in a three-way tie for first, and qualified for the post-season for the first time in school history. Idaho defeated rivalBoise State for the first time in six years, the first of twelve straight over the Broncos. The Vandals also defeated Idaho State, the defending conference and national champions; the consecutive intrastate games were both on the road.
Idaho rebounded from the previous season, in which they were preseason favorites, but finished 3-8 overall and winless in conference play under fourth-year head coach Jerry Davitch. The 1981 team lost their final six games, finishing with a fifth consecutive loss to Boise State.
The Vandals won all six home games in 1982 and finished at 9-4 overall. The nine victories were the most in school history, later surpassed only by the 1988 and 1993 teams, both of which won 11 games and reached the I-AA semifinals.
After recent Big Sky domination by Boise State, Idaho State, and Nevada-Reno, the 1982 season finished with three other teams at the top at 5-2; Idaho, Montana, and Montana State. After Idaho finished the regular season with a conference loss at Reno, Montana was declared the conference champion as it defeated the other two. (Montana State was the odd team out, as the Bobcats lost to both Montana and Idaho.) Montana and Idaho were both selected for the first time to participate in the Division I-AA playoffs, newly expanded to 12 teams for the fifth season of I-AA. Although the Grizzlies (6-5, 5-2) were the conference champions due to their 40-16 win over Idaho in Missoula in mid-October, the Vandals were chosen by the NCAA to host the late November game, primarily due to their indoor stadium. Idaho won the rematch 21-7, played before a sparse afternoon crowd in Moscow two days after Thanksgiving, and advanced to the quarterfinals on the road against eventual champion Eastern Kentucky. EKU was a I-AA finalist the previous three seasons; they won the title in 1979, but lost to Big Sky champions Boise State in 1980 and Idaho State in 1981. Down by a large margin early, Idaho mounted a comeback and nearly became the third team from the state to defeat EKU in the playoffs in as many years. The Vandals were well into EKU territory with 31 seconds remaining, but came up 8 points short after a controversial interception.