The Montana Grizzlies have long been considered one of the gold standard programs at the FCS level since joining the Big Sky Conference. However, this decade the institution has been wrought with scandal.
Robin Pflugrad’s two-year tenure ended with the university having to vacate wins and a national semifinal appearance. The Grizzlies have been trying to rebuild ever since.
Bob Stitt was hired at the end of 2014 to bring the program back to greatness. Bringing the noted offensive genius aboard was lauded, but so far he has failed to find real success. Although he scored a victory over powerhouse North Dakota State in his first game, the Grizzlies have gone just 13-10 since then.
2016 Montana Football Season In Review
Montana’s 2016 season started off with a big road win over a Northern Iowa team that many expected to make a deep postseason run, and the Grizzlies blew out most of their early opponents. The lone loss was a one-point defeat at the hands of a good Cal Poly team as Montana began the fall at 5-1.
Everything fell apart after that, though.
A loss to Eastern Washington was not unexpected, but dropping games to conference middleweights like Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado and Montana State were stunning. Those losses cost the Grizzlies a playoff berth.
The quarterback play wasn’t an issue, as Brady Gustafson was the primary starter with Chad Chalich performing well when called upon. The two combined to complete two-thirds of their passes and averaged 326.5 yards per game through the air.
Running the ball was quite a bit more difficult for the Grizzlies, though. They were only able to average 4.4 yards per carry and failed to find success against the tougher teams on their schedule. Fumbles killed them as well, with 10 lost in 2016.
But there’s no question that Stitt’s offense is working, as Montana was seventh in the nation in total yards per game last season with an average of 482.2. The defense was also solid last fall.
The unit was in the top third in the FCS, allowing just 350.6 yards per game. The Grizzlies were one of the best at stopping opponents in the backfield, too, as they registered 89 tackles for loss.
2017 Montana Football Season Preview
Eight offensive starters return to this squad, but the Grizzlies are going to have a total unknown running the show. Both Gustafson and Chalich are gone, leaving the position wide open.
Reese Phillips had essentially won the job based on his performance throughout spring practice, but his performance in the spring game threw the competition open again. Philips threw four interceptions and raised questions as to whether or not he was ready to lead. Philips will compete with Gresch Jensen and Caleb Hill for the starting role.
Last year’s leading rusher graduated, leaving Jeremy Calhoun as the primary option. Calhoun was a dynamo when he was on the field, averaging 7.2 yards per carry last fall. He will be used out of the backfield as a receiver very often too. Last season, Calhoun was the team’s second-leading pass catcher.
Montana’s offensive line will be better with another year of experience. The Grizzlies had trouble opening up holes and struggled with pass protection in 2016. With a new quarterback, good offensive line play is paramount.
2017 Montana Football Schedule
September 2: Montana vs. Valparaiso
September 9: Montana at Washington
September 16: Montana vs. Savannah State
September 23: Montana vs. Eastern Washington
September 30: Montana at Portland State
October 7: Montana at Idaho State
October 14: Montana vs. North Dakota
October 28: Montana at Weber State
November 4: Montana vs. Northern Arizona
November 11: Montana vs. Northern Colorado
November 18: Montana at Montana State
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
To re-establish themselves as the team to beat in the Big Sky, the Grizzlies are going to have to defeat Eastern Washington. The Eagles have dominated the conference this decade and will be a tough team to topple once again.
Montana gets to play Eastern Washington at a very fortuitous time. The Eagles play a hellacious September schedule and will go through the ringer before traveling to Missoula to face the Grizzlies. EWU starts the season with a road trip to Texas Tech, a home game against North Dakota State, and a cross-country road trip to Fordham leading up to the battle for the Governors Cup. The Grizzlies have a great chance to get a big win and are a good choice in FCS Pick ‘Em Contests this week.