Only one program has won national championships at three levels of college football.
Montana State won the 1956 NAIA Championship, the 1976 Division II Championship, and the 1984 Division I-AA (FCS) Championship.
The Bobcats have had some trouble in recent years keeping up with the heavyweights in the Big Sky, though, much like in-state rival Montana. The school hired Jeff Choate to try to turn things around, but last year’s 4-7 campaign was the Bobcats’ worst record since 2000.
Choate still has a lot of support, though. He played at Montana Western and was an assistant coach for Boise State, Washington State and Washington, so he knows the area and how to recruit it. If he puts together another losing season, though, that support will be tested.
2016 Montana State Football Season In Review
When looking at the Bobcats’ results from last season, it’s not hard to see why the fanbase is so optimistic. Montana State’s first four losses were by six points or less, including to FBS foe Idaho, and the school ended strong with wins over UC Davis and Montana to close out the season.
The win over Montana was particularly important. Not only did it snap a three-game losing streak to its arch-rival, but it set the tone for what the Bobcats want to do as an offense this season. They ran for 368 yards in the game, setting the record for the most yards that Montana has ever allowed in a home contest. And for quarterback Chris Murray, it was a coming-out party.
He ran for 142 yards and two touchdowns in the season finale and cemented his status as Big Sky Freshman of the Year. He took over the job in the final five games of the season and was a handful for defenses on the ground. Through the air he wasn’t so sharp, completing just 44.8 percent of his passes and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, but he was a playmaker with his legs.
Mitchell Herbert was the team’s most productive receiver last year by a wide margin. He led the squad in every major receiving category and averaged 18.3 yards per reception. Herbert was a key piece for a team that struggled to throw the ball with neither Murray nor early season starter Tyler Bruggman completing more than half of their passes.
Defensively, the Bobcats were right in the middle of the pack. They allowed 388.6 yards per game and were led by linebacker Mac Bignell. He recorded 14.5 tackles for loss in 2016.
2017 Montana State Football Season Preview
This offseason, Choate has been busy trying to develop Murray as a quarterback. Last season, he was used primarily as a runner out of the spread-option look. Choate has been experimenting with different schemes to throw defenses off-balance and create better situations for the young signal caller.
Choate has indicated that he wants to have Murray under center more and run the ball between the tackles behind an experienced offensive line. Nick LaSane looks to be the starter at running back and is a powerful rusher that will lower the pads and get the tough yards. Look for more I-formation out of Montana State this season.
Herbert is back as the team’s top option at receiver and has had a full offseason to work with Murray. That’s good news, because Murray is never going to complete a high percentage of passes with his unorthodox throwing style. Herbert will have a better idea of where his quarterback wants him to be when scrambling, though, and that will lead to more catches.
The focus for the defense will be on how to create more pressure. Bignell returns and should be a disruptor once again, but the Bobcats were only able to tally 15 sacks last season. Aside from Bignell, the player with the second-most sacks on the team tallied just two, so the defense has to get to the quarterback more often.
2017 Montana State Football Schedule
September 2: Montana State at Washington State
September 9: Montana State vs. South Dakota State
September 23: Montana State at North Dakota
September 30: Montana State vs. Weber State
October 7: Montana State vs. Portland State
October 14: Montana State at Eastern Washington
October 21: Montana State at Northern Colorado
October 28: Montana State vs. Idaho State
November 4: Montana State vs. Kennesaw State
November 11: Montana State at Northern Arizona
November 18: Montana State vs. Montana
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
The schedule is pretty tough for the Bobcats, as many of their most difficult games are on the road. It’s front-loaded with the best opponents coming in the first half of the season and gets considerably easier after the halfway point.
Keep that in mind in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests over the second half of the season. There’s a chance that the Bobcats can run the table over their last five games and should at least finish with a winning record. They may be undervalued if they have a rough start.