2016 Big Sky Preview: Montana

2015 Record: 8-5 (6-2)

Key Returners: Brady Gustafson, Caleb Kidder, John Nguyen, Yamen Sanders

Key Losses: Daniel Sullivan, Jamaal Jones, Ellis Henderson, Ben Roberts, Tyrone Holmes

The Montana Grizzlies got a new head coach last year and picked up right where they left off, back in the playoffs under new head coach Bob Stitt. The Griz, 8-5 last season, started their season with a thrilling last second win over North Dakota State in Missoula, and ended their season on the opposite side of that, a loss in Fargo to the Bison. The Griz are picked to finish second in the Big Sky this season, behind Northern Arizona. Montana will rely on a senior quarterback and a lot of wide receivers who saw limited playing time last season. They don’t return many starters from a defense that finished in the top half of FCS last season. Needless to say, there will be a lot of new faces on both sides of the football for the Griz.

The Griz finished 28th in the country in total offense, averaging 42.2 points per game. When Bob Stitt was hired at Montana he promised a fast paced, run as many plays as possible offense. The Griz were one of four teams to run more than 1000 plays last season. The Montana defense was 57th in the country last year, allowing 380 yards per game. The Griz were +4 in touchdowns last season. The Griz had a couple of puzzling losses last season, to Weber State and Cal Poly, that didn’t help their defense. Montana finished even on the turnover margin last season. Another wrinkle to the Bob Stitt offense was the number of times he went for it on fourth down last season. Montana went for it 38 times and converted 18 of those, good enough for a 47% success rate, 64th in the country. Only Colgate, Cal Poly, and Montana State went for it on 4th down as many times as Montana did last season. All three teams converted at a higher rate than the Griz.

The Griz return the preseason Big Sky defensive player of the year candidate, Caleb Kidder, on defense. Kidder finished last season with 82 tackles, ten tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. The Griz will need to figure out how they are going to replace their three senior receivers who put up all-time numbers for the Griz. The graduation of Ellis Henderson, Jamaal Jones, and Ben Roberts might slow the Griz down as they will need to rely on a group of fairly green receivers to get them through the year. During spring football a few receivers made themselves known and could step up pretty quickly to help the passing attack. Senior quarterback Brady Gustafson returns this season looking to build on his Griz career. Last season Gustafson passed for 1984 yards and 12 touchdowns in seven games for the Griz. Montana will return their top two rushers from last season, John Nguyen and Jeremy Calhoun. Nguyen rushed for 855 yards and three touchdowns. Jeremy Calhoun 291 yards and nine touchdowns.

The Griz schedule has them playing at home once before October, a home contest with Saint Francis. They will travel to Northern Iowa and Cal Poly. Other highlights feature trips to Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington, as well as a home contest with Montana State in the annual Brawl of the Wild. The schedule should set them up nicely for a playoff seed if they can take advantage of the teams on their schedule. Getting through Northern Iowa on the road is going to be a tall task for the Griz, a team that could legitimately win the Missouri Valley. The potential Big Sky game of the year could be the October 22nd date the Griz have in Flagstaff to take on Northern Arizona. That game could very well determine who the Big Sky sends to the playoffs as an auto-bid.

9/3/2016     Saint Francis
9/10/2016     at Northern Iowa
9/24/2016     at Cal Poly
10/1/2016     Southern Utah
10/8/2016     Mississippi Valley State
10/15/2016     Sacramento State
10/22/2016     at Northern Arizona
10/29/2016     at Eastern Washington
11/5/2016     Idaho State
11/12/2016     at Northern Colorado
11/19/2016     Montana State

Written by 

I'm a Wyoming native living in Missoula, Montana. I'm the owner of, a fan site for the Wyoming Cowboys. Now that I live in the heart of the Big Sky Conference I write about things that focus on those teams. I watch and read a lot of college football, probably more than is healthy. Hit me up on the Twitters @MrTitleist or @WyoNationDotCom Go Pokes, Go Griz!

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