First look: Bobcats 43, Central Arkansas 33

First look: Bobcats 43, Central Arkansas 33

SIDELINE STRATEGY: Bobcats offensive line coach Jason McEndoo huddles with MSU players during the first quarter against Central Arkansas on Saturday.

What a fiasco. Central Arkansas made a huge comeback in the fourth quarter against the Bobcats, but MSU held on for a 43-33 victory. The game was well in hand for MSU early, and that became dangerous as the Bears fought back.

Here is a quick recap of the game, which pushed MSU's record to 2-1 with Eastern Washington coming into Bozeman next week:

• KEY MOMENT: Inside Bobcat territory on a third-and-2 play early in the second quarter, Central Arkansas had its sights on a touchdown to pare an early 10-point deficit. MSU cornerback Deonte Flowers was 1-on-1 in coverage with wideout Dezmin Lewis. Quarterback Taylor Reed threw a perfect pass that would have been caught for a TD had Flowers, who was beaten initially, not recovered and made sure Lewis couldn't hold on to the ball. That led to a missed 33-yard field goal by Jace Denker and the Cats preserved their two-possession advantage.

• IT WAS OVER WHEN ... Bobcats running back Anthony Knight scored his second consecutive touchdown in the third quarter, this time a 5-yarder with 56 seconds on the clock to make the score 37-13. Knight scored from 10 yards out on the previous drive, and a key defense stop on UCA's ensuing series -- highlighted by Taylor Sheridan batting down a third-down pass at the line of scrimmage -- put Montana State in command. It was a crucial turning point after Central Arkansas had driven 98 yards for a TD to pull within 10 points earlier in the quarter. The Bobcats nearly blew it in the fourth quarter, but Knight's second TD was the perfect insurance. He finished with three red-zone touchdowns.

• TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Brian Flotkoetter. The senior wideout made several key plays, none bigger than a spectacular 46-yard touchdown catch over the top that put the Bobcats ahead 16-0 in the second quarter. Flotkoetter had gotten open behind two defenders, but was then interfered with by desperate Bears defensive back Artez Williams. Nevertheless, with Williams draped all over him, Flotkoetter hauled in the pass in over the shoulder and put MSU ahead by three scores. His final numbers: A career-high 9 catches for 132 yards and a TD.

September 13, 2014 6:55 pmLoading…
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Grizzlies in the NFL: Carpenter nails winning kick in OT for Bills

Grizzlies in the NFL: Carpenter nails winning kick in OT for Bills

Buffalo Bills kicker Dan Carpenter, who played at the University of Montana, celebrates after kicking a field goal during the first half of a game Sunday in Chicago.

How former Montana Grizzlies fared in the National Football League on Sunday:

Colt Anderson, special teams, Indianapolis Colts: Did not register a tackle in the Colts’ 31-24 loss to the Broncos.

Kroy Biermann, defensive end, Atlanta Falcons: The Hardin native registered three tackles and three assists in the Falcons’ 37-34 overtime win over the New Orleans Saints.

Dan Carpenter, kicker, Buffalo Bills: The Helena native hit field goals from 50 and 33 yards in regulation, then nailed the game-winning 27-yarder in overtime to give the Bills a 23-20 win over the Bears.

Brock Coyle, linebacker, Seattle Seahawks: The Bozeman product did not register a tackle in the Seahawks’ 36-16 win over the Packers on Thursday.

September 08, 2014 6:52 amLoading…
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First look: Bobcats 57, Black Hills State 10

First look: Bobcats 57, Black Hills State 10

HOME COOKING: The Bobcats got their first win of the season by beating Black Hills State in front of a gold-clad crowd.

On the first drive of the game, Black Hills State sent a hush through a packed house at Bobcat Stadium. Behind quarterback Ward Anderson, the Yellow Jackets converted three third-down plays, including a scramble by Anderson on a third-and-17 play. But MSU's defense eventually strengthened and forced a punt.

And when the Bobcats got the ball, they set the tone for the rest of the night. Here is a quick recap of Montana State's blowout victory in its home opener Saturday:

KEY MOMENT: Dakota Prukop wanted to play better and run the offense smoother than he did last week at Arkansas State. It was important for him to get off to a good start. And on MSU's third play from scrimmage, Prukop showed why he is so dangerous in the open field. Faking a zone-read handoff to Gunnar Brekke, Prukop raced 60 yards for a touchdown to put the Bobcats ahead early. Prukop took the snap, pulled the ball away from Brekke, skipped through the line and darted upfield. Prukop slipped at least three tackles as he weaved his way through the second level, and finally dove into the corner of the end zone. It was the kind of start Prukop and MSU's offense were looking for.

• IT WAS OVER WHEN: Prukop raced 57 yards for a touchdown with 12:34 remaining in the second quarter. Taking a shotgun snap, Prukop ran left and had the option to pitch the ball to running back Gunnar Brekke, but he instead kept it, turned up field, hurdled over teammate Mitch Griebel and raced untouched to the end zone. That made the score 25-0, and ended any hope for Black Hills State.

• TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: It's Prukop here. The sophomore from Austin, Texas, accounted for five first-half touchdowns (three rushing, two passing) and looked like the dual-threat quarterback the Bobcats are investing in. Each of Prukop's first five scores went for 30 yards or more, and three were longer than 40. He totaled 378 offensive yards, and averaged 13 yards per play.

September 06, 2014 10:05 pmLoading…
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Bobcats vs. Arkansas State: A closer look

Bobcats vs. Arkansas State: A closer look

The Bobcats lined up against Bowl subdivision foe Arkansas State on Saturday in Jonesboro, Ark. 

NOTE: The following is Phil Sites' account of the Montana State/Arkansas State game from Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro, Ark. Sites is a former Gazette sports staffer. Be sure to check out Phil's awesome photo gallery from the game.

JONESBORO, Ark. -- It’s Labor Day weekend and Americans all over this great nation celebrate with family barbecues, road trips and planting themselves in front of the TV to watch some tiny FCS school play to a packed FBS stadium.

Yes, it’s that time of year where college football fans country-wide explain the complexities of the subdivisions to the uninitiated, fielding questions like, “Who is App State?“, “What is a Chanticleer?”, and “They have football in New Hampshire?”

Essentially, the haves of NCAA’s more prestigious and rich bowl subdivision pay off the have-nots for the honor of taking them to task. The result is, well, that we end up with games like Montana State vs. Arkansas State.

So off we ship our Montana boys to a spot just southeast of the Ozarks, tucked away deep in catfish country (or shall I say catfish-and-a-beer country, a meal personally recommended to me by Charlie Welch, Sr., the father of the Arkansas State University president).

August 30, 2014 10:00 pmLoading…
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FCS vs. FBS: What does the future hold?

FCS vs. FBS: What does the future hold?

GOING BIG: Guarantee games like Montana's 2011 matchup with Tennessee are important both monetarily and for FCS exposure.

The evolution of college football -- from the Big Ten swearing off FCS opponents last year to the FBS's "Power 5" conferences gaining a large measure of autonomy from the NCAA earlier this summer -- is threatening to limit "guarantee" games going forward. The FCS-vs.-FBS matchups we're accustomed to (many of which are vital  for smaller schools to meet athletic budget demands) might be fewer and fewer in the coming years.

The Bobcats and Grizzlies are each playing FBS teams on Saturday. Montana is at Wyoming and MSU is at Arkansas State. Both are being paid in the $400,000 range.

The FCS's watershed moment, of course, occurred on Sept. 1, 2007, when Appalachian State stunned Michigan 34-32. On Sept. 11, 2010, James Madison shocked Virginia Tech 21-16. And on Aug. 31 of last year, Eastern Washington knocked off Oregon State 49-46. Those wins represent the only times FCS teams have beaten ranked FBS opponents. Will the FCS have those same opportunities five years from now?

Bobcats coach Rob Ash addressed the issue during his press conference on Tuesday:

“They already are starting to decline some. The big five conferences are starting to play (fewer) FCS opponents, and starting to play more and more of the other conference teams in FBS and paying big guarantees to those teams. I like them. I think it’s very important. I think it’s a great motivator for our guys when we play an FBS team. It’s a good payday. There are a lot of pluses from the FCS side, and we’ll continue to (play) them as long as we’re allowed to."

August 27, 2014 7:52 pmLoading…
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2014 Big Sky position rankings: Quarterbacks

2014 Big Sky position rankings: Quarterbacks

ONE OF A KIND: With 75 career touchdown passes already, Eastern Washington junior quarterback Vernon Adams is 24 shy of setting the all-time Big Sky Conference record. But he wants a national championship.

NOTE: This is the ninth (and final) installment of a summer-long series projecting the Top 10 players at each position for the 2014 Big Sky Conference football season.

The Big Sky Conference is a league of quarterbacks. And one man stands above the rest: Eastern Washington's Vernon Adams. Adams (who they call "Big Play V.A.") was the runner-up for the Walter Payton Award last year, and is probably the favorite to win it in 2014.

As coach Beau Baldwin said about Adams last season, "This guy’s got the guts to go win games.” How far will Adams take the No. 1-ranked Eagles this season? Maybe all the way. But there are a bunch of other top QBs in the conference (there's nine others listed below) who may have something to say about it. Check out our final Top 10 list, and enjoy the season.

TOP 10 QUARTERBACKS

1. VERNON ADAMS, JR., EASTERN WASHINGTON 2013: 65.6%, 4,994 yds, 55 TD, 15 INT, 183.1 efficiency; 605 rush yds, 4 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Adams had the greatest statistical season of any quarterback in Big Sky history. The only thing missing was a national title (the Eagles lost to Towson in the semis). Adams won't necessarily be counted on to match last year's totals -- they're too mind-boggling. But he will be expected to make the same big plays, score lots of points and, if he can, lead EWU to Frisco and the national championship game. Expectations have never been higher. With Adams pulling the strings, you have to love their chances.

August 21, 2014 12:00 amLoading…
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What we learned at MSU's media day

Observations and quotes from Montana State's football media day, held Thursday morning at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman:

 The competition for the placekicking job remains open -- and remains underrated

You never think about the importance of a field goal kicker “until the first time a game is depending on a field goal,” Bobcats coach Rob Ash said. “It’s going to be huge.”

Ash has had solid kickers throughout his coaching career, be it Billy Cundiff at Drake or Jason Cunningham and Rory Perez at MSU. But as camp moves foward the placekicking duties are still up for grabs between three Montanans -- Luke Daly from Billings Central, Trevor Bolton from Great Falls High and Trevin Thompson from Helena High. The fact that nobody has taken the lead in the competition might be a bit disconcerting, but there’s still time.

“It’s a very big decision and the guys have been battling hard,” Ash said. “There’s been a lot of tension because they’re trying to figure out who’s going to get the job. At some point I have a feeling one of them is going to take a deep breath and relax and just start making field goals, and that will settle it. We’d like to pick one guy, get him the confidence and move forward. But we really don’t know for sure which way it’s going to go yet.

August 14, 2014 1:30 pm Video Loading…
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Former Griz LB Jordan Tripp turning heads at Dolphins camp

Former Griz LB Jordan Tripp turning heads at Dolphins camp

Jordan Tripp has caught the attention of Miami Dolphins coaches in practice, earning repetitions with the first-team defense. Tripp, a former Montana standout at linebacker, was selected in the fifth round of this spring's NFL draft.

It's still early on the NFL calendar, but Jordan Tripp is already making an impression with the Miami Dolphins.

Tripp, a Missoula Big Sky graduate and former Montana Grizzly, was selected by the Dolphins in the fifth round of this spring's NFL Draft. After a strong performance in Miami's first preseason game, Tripp has received repetitions with the starting defense in practice, according to the South Florida media.

"It's a broad spectrum. The more knowledge you can bring to the game the more reliable you're going to be," Tripp, who is playing both inside and outside linebacker, told the Sun-Sentinel. "My comfort level is only getting better and better. I'm just taking advantage of the reps they give me and focus on making new mistakes, not the same ones again, and learning from those mistakes."

Tripp became a favorite of multiple NFL draft experts last spring as one of the small-school prospects to watch. His pro-day measurements impressed scouts, but it was his leadership and playmaking ability at Montana that really stood out.

The skill and motivation he showed in Missoula, which ultimately earned him the coveted No. 37 Grizzly jersey, have apparently put Tripp in position to grab one of Miami's three starting linebacker spots -- a rarity for a rookie, let alone a small-school player drafted in the fifth round.

August 14, 2014 1:00 pmLoading…
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2014 Big Sky position rankings: Running backs

2014 Big Sky position rankings: Running backs

MAKE WAY: UC Davis running back Gabe Manzarares won the Big Sky Conference's Newcomer of the Year Award last season. Will he go out the same way he came in? 

NOTE: This is the eighth installment of a summer-long series projecting the Top 10 players at each position for the 2014 Big Sky Conference football season.

The loss of Kristaan Ivory puts a damper of Cal Poly's hopes going forward. Ivory was a returning 1,000-yard rusher and was picked for the preseason All-Big Sky Conference squad, but this week he found himself in hot water over an alleged robbery -- and suspended indefinitely from the team. The Mustangs won five conference games last season, but what happens now?

Even without Ivory, there's a treasure trove of talent returning at the running back position in the Big Sky: Manzanares, Forte, Canada, Johnson, Finney, Bolen ... and several others you don't know but should by season's end. 

TOP 10 RUNNING BACKS

1. GABE MANZANARES, SR., UC DAVIS 2013: 259 car, 1,285 yds, 5.0 avg, 10 TD; 27 rec, 385 yds, 14.3 avg, 1 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: No back averaged more all-purpose yards per game than Manzanares, and only one (NAU's Zach Bauman) had more carries. A JC transfer, Manzanares emerged as a tough runner who took on a heavy workload and kept on ticking. He also proved to be a solid receiver out of the backfield -- a versatile threat. Coach Ron Gould mentored some big-time ground-gainers during his long tenure as the running backs coach at Cal -- Marshawn Lynch and Jahvid Best among them. Manzanares is Gould's latest protégé. 

August 13, 2014 11:00 pmLoading…
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2014 Big Sky position rankings: Wide receivers

2014 Big Sky position rankings: Wide receivers

MORE OF THE SAME?: Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp took the Big Sky Conference by storm as a freshman in 2013. He and quarterback Vernon Adams are after similar results this year.

NOTE: This is the seventh installment of a summer-long series projecting the Top 10 players at each position for the 2014 Big Sky Conference football season.

Who saw Cooper Kupp coming? The Eastern Washington receiver was the breakout freshman player in the Football Championship Subdivision last season, establishing himself as one of the top playmakers in the country. He and quarterback Vernon Adams were an invincible combo in 2013.

The league lost a handful of quality wideouts from last year -- Greg Hardin, Luke Austin, Ashton Clark, Tanner Bleskin, Morris Norrise -- but the breadth of talent returning, which includes Kupp, is staggering. Will Kupp hold his position as the Big Sky's best? Or will someone else take the mantle?

TOP 10 WIDE RECEIVERS

1. COOPER KUPP, SO., EASTERN WASHINGTON 2013: 93 rec, 1,691 yds, 18.2 avg, 21 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: The sequel is never as good as the original, so it will be interesting to see how Kupp performs this season after winning the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in the FCS in 2013. What do you do for an encore? The statistics were staggering, but what really stood out were the explosives: Kupp made 11 catches of 40-plus yards, and had five touchdowns of 50 or more yards. By year's end he'd set six FCS receiving records. There's no reason to think Kupp won't be Vernon Adams' favorite target again, or that they won't rekindle the magic. 

August 07, 2014 2:00 amLoading…
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2014 Big Sky position rankings: Tight ends

2014 Big Sky position rankings: Tight ends

ADDED DIMENSION: After spending most of his time blocking for star running back Zach Bauman, R.J. Rickert may get the chance to stretch his legs a little bit more in 2014.

NOTE: This is the sixth installment of a summer-long series projecting the Top 10 players at each position for the 2014 Big Sky Conference football season.

We've talked before about how the rise of the Oregon-style spread offense has changed the role of the "classic" tight end in college football. The position is definitely evolving. Still, despite the lack of a household name, most teams in the Big Sky still use tight ends -- and use them to their advantage.

Who will make the biggest impact in 2014? These 10 guys are a good bet to do most of the work. And it's not easy to find 10 guys:

TOP 10 TIGHT ENDS

1. R.J. RICKERT, SR., NORTHERN ARIZONA 2013: 22 rec, 246 yds, 11.2 avg, 1 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Rickert caught at least one pass in NAU's final seven games last year, which was part of a six-game winning streak that earned the Lumberjacks a playoff berth. Rickert's numbers haven't been eye-popping, but NAU relied heavily on running back Zach Bauman, and Rickert did his job blocking down low. Bauman, incidentally, was the team's leading receiver last year with 44 receptions. But Bauman's gone, and coach Jerome Souers has said he thinks his team can be better in the passing game. That could translate into a bigger year statistically for Rickert.

July 31, 2014 12:30 amLoading…
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2014 Big Sky position rankings: Offensive line

2014 Big Sky position rankings: Offensive line

CLEARING A PATH: The beefy Cornelius Edison helped turn Portland State into a top-three rushing team in the nation last year. There's more where that came from.

NOTE: This is the fifth installment of a summer-long series projecting the Top 10 players at each position for the 2014 Big Sky Conference football season.

Cal Poly led the nation in rushing last season and Portland State ranked third. Individually, PSU's D.J. Adams and Northern Arizona's Zach Bauman both ranked in the top 10 nationally in ground yards, while five others eclipsed the 1,000 mark. And quarterbacks had big seasons also. Yes, the Big Sky sure got its money's worth out of its offensive linemen last season. 

But many of the big names are gone, including the entire group that was named first-team all-conference last season. A new year calls for a new crew to take over as the best in the league. Here are 10 to watch:

TOP 10 OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

1. CORNELIUS EDISON, C, SR., PORTLAND STATE 2013: 12 starts, third-team All-Big Sky. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: This will be Edison's third year as a starter, and so far he's been a major reason why the Vikings have become one of the very best rushing teams in the FCS. Last year PSU averaged nearly 278 rushing yards per game -- third-most in the nation -- and averaged a league-best 6.0 yards per carry. The Vikings do lose D.J. Adams, who was one of the best backs in the league the past couple years, but with the 6-3, 295-pound Edison helping to create holes they should have no trouble finding ways to churn out yards and production again this year.

July 24, 2014 2:15 amLoading…
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2014 Big Sky position rankings: Defensive line

2014 Big Sky position rankings: Defensive line

UNHERALDED: After a huge season in which he helped take Southern Utah to the playoffs for the first time ever, James Cowser looks to dominate again in 2014.

NOTE: This is the fourth installment of a summer-long series projecting the Top 10 players at each position for the 2014 Big Sky Conference football season.

The Big Sky Conference continues to be a breeding ground for great defensive linemen -- and Buck Buchanan Award winners. Montana State defensive end Brad Daly, after sharing the league's defensive player of the year award with Cal Poly tackle Sullivan Grosz, won the Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in the FCS in 2013.

It was the Bobcats' second straight Buchanan win (D-end Caleb Schreibeis won it the year prior), and served as the Big Sky's sixth Buchanan since 2003. Five of those, by the way, were defensive linemen. Who's next?

TOP 10 DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

1. JAMES COWSER, DE, JR., SOUTHERN  UTAH 2013: 78 tkl, 19 tfl, 10½ sacks, 8 qbh, 2 ff, 2 fum rec, 1 int. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: How Cowser wasn't a first-team All-Big Sky selection after last season is a mystery. How he wasn't a unanimous preseason pick for 2014 is also puzzling. Helping SUU to a surprising playoff berth, Cowser had more tackles than any Big Sky lineman last year, and his sacks and tackles-for-loss totals were second only to Buchanan Award winner Brad Daly. With linebacker Zak Browning gone, Cowser will command more attention from offenses, and that might tamp down his numbers. But his impact, which is significant, won't decrease. 

July 17, 2014 12:45 amLoading…
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2014 Big Sky position rankings: Linebackers

2014 Big Sky position rankings: Linebackers

TACKLING MACHINE: Linebacker Ronnie Hamlin (39) was injured during Eastern Washington's run to the 2010 national championship. Hamlin wants to taste a title before he's done.

NOTE: This is the third installment of a summer-long series projecting the Top 10 players at each position for the 2014 Big Sky Conference football season.

Southern Utah takes a major hit this year with the loss of first-team All-Big Sky linebacker Zak Browning, who has left the team to embark on a two-year Mormon mission. Not great timing for a program that made the playoffs last year.

Browning certainly isn't the first player to make such a commitment (and he won't be the last). The reverse of SUU's situation is Eastern Washington's fortune of getting Ronnie Hamlin back for a sixth year. So the Eagles' D hangs on to one of its fixtures while the Thunderbirds lose one of theirs. With Browning out and Hamlin returning, here are the 10 linebackers to focus on entering the 2014 season:

TOP 10 LINEBACKERS

1. RONNIE HAMLIN, SR., EASTERN WASHINGTON 2013: 140 tkl, 6 tfl, 2 sacks, 2 ff, 1 fumble rec, 2 int, 2 pass def, 1 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: As if Eastern Washington needed any more star power, Hamlin is back after being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Hamlin has already made 37 starts and has racked up 361 career tackles, and enters 2014 just 71 tackles shy of breaking the all-time school record set by former Buck Buchanan winner and fellow linebacker J.C. Sherritt. EWU has played 11 playoff games since 2009 (the year Hamlin arrived on campus). There should be more coming, especially with Hamlin wreaking havoc.

July 10, 2014 1:50 amLoading…
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2014 Big Sky position rankings: Defensive backs

2014 Big Sky position rankings: Defensive backs

A FRESH START: Eastern Washington free safety Tevin McDonald missed nearly half of last season with a leg injury. But he's back for bigger things in 2014.

NOTE: This is the second installment of a summer-long series projecting the Top 10 players at each position for the 2014 Big Sky Conference football season.

With Vernon Adams, Cooper Kupp and Co. coming back to Eastern Washington lock, stock and barrel, every defensive back in the Big Sky Conference is on alert. The Adams-to-Kupp combo was the scourge of the league last year, and the Eagles put up an astonishing 58 passing touchdowns.

But it's not just Adams. The Big Sky brings back a number of quality QBs, including Montana's Jordan Johnson and Sac State's Garrett Safron among others. So defenses will be tested through the air again in 2014, no doubt. Here are 10 DBs to watch this fall. As was the case in this space last year, the "pass def" statistic is combined between pass breakups and passes defended into one number.

TOP 10 DEFENSIVE BACKS

1. TEVIN MCDONALD, S, SR., EASTERN WASHINGTON 2013: 48 tkl, 2½ tfl, 1 int, 5 pass def, 1 ff. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: McDonald came to Eastern Washington in 2013 from UCLA, where he was a two-year starter, but he struggled through injuries and didn't put up the kind of stats he did with the Bruins. He missed EWU's final six games but was still named third-team All-Big Sky. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound McDonald, the son of six-time NFL All-Pro Tim McDonald, is an unquestioned talent. If he stays on the field he has what it takes to be the Big Sky's best defensive back. He's just one more stud on a team with serious national championship aspirations.

July 03, 2014 1:15 amLoading…
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MSU hoops going big early in 2014-15

MSU hoops going big early in 2014-15

THE LION'S DEN: Members of Kentucky's previous national championship teams re-raise the banners during "Big Blue Madness" at Rupp Arena. The Bobcats will play UK at Rupp on Nov. 23.

Montana State’s women released their basketball schedule on Tuesday, and there are a couple big non-conference games listed: at Boise State on Nov. 14, Gonzaga at home on Nov. 21, Wyoming at home on Dec. 6, and at Washington State on Dec. 20. Oh, and the doubleheaders have been reinstated for the Cat-Griz men’s and women’s games on Jan. 17 (in Missoula) and March 7 (in Bozeman).

But there’s bigger news on the horizon. MSU’s men’s schedule has yet to be released, but word out of the athletic department is that there will be some cool non-conference matchups for 2014-15, in particular games at UCLA of the Pac-12 on Nov. 14 and at iconic Rupp Arena to face SEC power Kentucky the day after the Cat-Griz football game (Nov. 23).

Those games, in fact, are bookend contests on a season-opening, five-game road trip that will take the Bobcats from coast to coast. Here’s how that trip will shake out:

• Nov. 14 at UCLA

• Nov. 17 at Grand Canyon

July 01, 2014 5:30 pmLoading…
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2014 Big Sky position rankings: Special teams

2014 Big Sky position rankings: Special teams

GOING THE DISTANCE: Montana State's Shawn Johnson was the only player in the Big Sky to return both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns last year.

NOTE: This is the first installment of a summer-long series projecting the Top 10 players at each position for the 2014 Big Sky Conference football season.

Special teams are never the focal point ... until they lose a game for you. I went back and counted, and 11 games last season were decided by three points or fewer, including Eastern Washington's 49-46 win at Oregon State on Aug. 31.  

EWU's win in Corvallis didn't end with a game-winning field goal or another special teams play (instead, QB Vernon Adams ran one in from 2-yards out with 18 seconds left), but a few did. Southern Utah kicker Colton Cook hit two game-winners last season, and that helped the Thunderbirds make the FCS playoffs for the first time. Here's are 10 to watch in 2014:

TOP 10 SPECIAL TEAMERS

1. SHAWN JOHNSON, KR/PR, SR., MONTANA STATE 2013: 22 KR, 31.0 avg, 100 long, 2 TD; 16 PR, 13.9 avg, 82 long, 1 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2014: Johnson was the only player in the league to return both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns last season, and his 31.0-yard average on kickoffs led the Big Sky (by far) and ranked fourth in the FCS. Coach Rob Ash has said that MSU's offense will revolve more around Johnson, but that he'll also still be used fully in the return game. Johnson wasn't healthy from all the hits he took toward the end of the 2013 campaign, but there isn't a better return man in the league. The Cats should stick with him as much as possible.

June 26, 2014 2:15 amLoading…
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5 insights from MSU's Rob Ash

5 insights from MSU's Rob Ash

'AN EXCITING TIME': Bobcats coach Rob Ash said the turmoil of last November is a distant memory. "We want to try to create a new identity for this team," Ash said.

A large contingent from Montana State's athletic department made a swing through Billings on Tuesday, football coach Rob Ash among them. I was able to catch the coach for a few minutes to ask him about the Bobcats' quarterback situation, offensive continuity going into their second year under coordinator Tim Cramsey, Brian Flotkoetter's health and ability to become the No. 1 receiver, special teams decisions, building on an identity as a team, and a lot more. 

I've parsed part of our conversation down to five components. Here is what Ash had to say:

• When the coaches pick a quarterback, he'll be THE guy: Ash said he's not into shuffling quarterbacks, or using one during the first quarter and another in the second, etc. He affirmed that when MSU decides on a starter -- be it Jake Bleskin, Dakota Prukop, Tanner Roderick or Quinn McQueary -- the coaches will stick with the pick. But the competition will be open when fall camp starts, so we're still two months away from knowing who it'll be.

“I’m not so worried about it because we have talent there," Ash said. "We are going to pick a quarterback and we’re going to go with him, and we’re not going to mess around with it. The passing game is big for this offense. One thing that I like about (Tim) Cramsey’s offense is that we can use lots of different types of people. We can use (Gunnar) Brekke and (Chad) Newell and Shawn Johnson out of the backfield, we can use tight ends, lots of different guys. You don’t have to have that prototype drop-back pass game. You can use all kinds of different methods to throw the football, and I think that will end up being the right way to go.”

• The Bobcats have "flushed" last year, opting instead to create the concept of a "new team" for 2014: Yeah, last year's ending was forgettable. Before floundering down the stretch and losing their final three games, the Cats were in great position to again make the playoffs. But it all vanished in November. Ash said the disappointment lingered during the winter, but was replaced with a fresh approach once spring ball began. 

June 10, 2014 11:00 pmLoading…
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Could Grizzly LBs Tripp, Coyle get drafted?

Could Grizzly LBs Tripp, Coyle get drafted?

Linebacker Jordan Tripp could hear his name called during the 2014 NFL Draft.

If you like to see Montana represented in the NFL — and who doesn’t? — the NFL draft is a good place to start. This year’s draft is next weekend, and a couple more Grizzlies have a good chance of hearing their name called sometime Saturday.

The first round is scheduled for Thursday night, the second and third rounds are Friday, and the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds are Saturday.

The highest-ranked prospect from Montana, according to national pundits, is UM linebacker Jordan Tripp.

NFL.com projects Tripp to come off the draft board somewhere in the fifth or sixth round. Gil Brandt, who was part of the Dallas Cowboys’ front office for many years and now contributes to NFL.com, thinks more highly of Tripp, ranking him the 125th best player in the draft.

“Tripp has a chance to be a late third-round draft choice,” Brandt wrote after the Grizzlies’ pro day in March.

May 08, 2014 4:00 pmLoading…
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Wayne Tinkle to Oregon State? Let the speculating continue

Wayne Tinkle to Oregon State? Let the speculating continue

OSU OPENING: Montana men's basketball coach Wayne Tinkle was mentioned on Monday as a possible candidate for the coaching vacancy at Oregon State.

Craig Robinson may be President Obama's brother-in-law, but one thing he is not is the head men's basketball coach at Oregon State. Not anymore. Robinson was fired Monday after going 94-105 in six seasons.

When the firing was announced, potential coaching candidates were mentioned on a number of media outlets, including Wayne Tinkle. The Oregonian specifically mentioned Tinkle, Montana's coach for the past eight seasons, as one of five possible candidates, and also points out a couple interesting connections, including one with with former Griz assistant Freddie Owens, who was on Robinson's staff this year at OSU.

Former UCLA (and Northern Arizona) coach Ben Howland, who once guided the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours, was also mentioned as a candidate on a CBS Sports blog

Of course, this is nothing new. Tinkle's name has been mentioned in connection with a number of openings in recent years, including at Fresno State and, more recently, Washington State. Tinkle has strong recruiting ties in the west, has the energy and personality to invigorate a stagnant program, and he's a proven winner. He is 158-91 (.635) at Montana, and has taken the Griz to three NCAA tournaments. But does Oregon State need to make a splash by hiring a coach with a bigger name?

One X-factor could be Tinkle's son, 4-star recruit Tres Tinkle of Hellgate High. If the Beavers were to ever hire Wayne Tinkle, they may get a package deal and come away with a player that is now ranked 78th nationally in the 2015 recruiting class by 247sports.com. 

May 05, 2014 6:23 pmLoading…
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