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, G, 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 5-11, 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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8 things we learned from the Grizzlies' swing through Billings

8 things we learned from the Grizzlies' swing through Billings

SPREADING THE WORD: Montana athletic director Kent Haslam addressed a number of issues while in Billings on Thursday, including the construction of a new on-campus student-athlete academic center.

The Montana Grizzlies' annual Spring Tour through eastern Montana brought them to the monthly meeting of the Midland Roundtable at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center on Thursday. UM athletic director Kent Haslam, along with football coach Mick Delaney, men's basketball coach Wayne Tinkle and women's basketball coach Robin Selvig all addressed the crowd.

There were several revelations, eight of which I've highlighted below from my interviews with each guy. Take a look: 

8. Groundbreaking for the student-athlete academic center will begin in August.

Originally scheduled (tentatively) for May or June, Haslam said groundbreaking on UM’s long-awaited student-athlete academic center will happen in August.

“We want it completed by the fall of 2015,” Haslam said. “The goal is to make it functional and a long-lasting facility to be used for years; wide open spaces where student-athletes can stop by and do their studying.

May 01, 2014 9:45 pmLoading…
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Grizzlies fill in the gaps at offensive line

Grizzlies fill in the gaps at offensive line

Trevor Poole (72) paves the way for running back Travon Van during the Cat-Griz game last November. Poole, along with John Schmaing, is one of two returning starters to the Grizzlies offensive line in 2014.

Earlier in spring practice, Montana offensive line coach Scott Gragg had some very high praise for returning left tackle John Schmaing, telling GoGriz.com:

"If you look at just the grades, not necessarily production, John graded out better than our three starters who just left us from last year. He's a really consistent player. As a junior next year he's going to be the next guy that the NFL will have its eyes on. He's just becoming a very good player, and doing some really good things. It's neat to see a Montana kid playing as well as he is, and he's going to move into that leadership role for us on the offensive line. My expectations are super high for him."

That's important for the Griz, because Schmaing, a Billings Senior product, is the only returning offensive lineman entrenched at the same position he played last season. Trevor Poole also returns, but he's being moved from left guard to right tackle, where Gragg says he's more comfortable. Other than that, UM's offensive line will have a different look in 2014 than it did a year ago.

This chart breaks down the difference:

  2013 2014 (projected)
LT John Schmaing, So. John Schmaing, Jr.
 LG Trevor Poole, Jr. Jordan Hines, Sr.
C Kjelby Oiland, Sr. Logan Hines, Jr.
 RG William Poehls, Sr. Ben Weyer, So.
RT Danny Kistler, Sr. Trevor Poole, Sr.
April 16, 2014 7:48 pmLoading…
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The time is now for MSU quarterbacks

The time is now for MSU quarterbacks

QB COMPETITION: Dakota Prukop (5) is one of four quarterbacks vying for the starting job at Montana State.

It's not the only spring position battle at Montana State, but it's the most important one. And the question will be asked from now until fall camp: Who will be the Bobcats' next starting quarterback?

MSU won't be able to simply replace DeNarius McGhee. McGhee was a four-year starter who set several passing records and became the winningest QB in program history. He was the face of Bobcat Football. He helped put them back on the map.

After last season, coach Rob Ash declared the quarterback competition open for the taking as McGhee walked out the door. Instead of giving junior-to-be Jake Bleskin the reins, the Cats want to also give Tanner Roderick, Dakota Prukop and Quinn McQueary equal looks. Bleskin started two games and showed great ability when McGhee was hurt, but the job is not automatically his.

"We are officially opening up the position for a fair fight for all four guys -- Jake, Roderick, and McQueary and Prukop," Ash said at the time. "Jake obviously has the edge as far as experience and age and playing time, and we did have that conversation with Jake, too. Just for the sake of good competition we’re going to officially say it’s open right now. We’re going to rotate guys around and get a good look at everybody and see what happens. And they all know that and they’re very excited about it.”

It's a smart move. The competition is designed bring out the best in each guy. 

March 18, 2014 10:30 pmLoading…
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Transition time for Griz LBs

Transition time for Griz LBs

A NEW ERA: Former safety Herbert Gamboa (20) is one of several fresh faces being called on to step in and produce at linebacker in 2014.

Spring practice started at Montana on Saturday. The Grizzlies are bringing back 14 starters from last year's 10-3 team (7 offense, 5 defense, 2 special teams), and will again be in the conversation of Big Sky title contenders.

But the most glaring aspect of this Griz team is what's missing, particularly at linebacker, where they say goodbye to standouts Jordan Tripp, Brock Coyle and John Kanongata'a and welcome in an entirely new group of starters charged with the task of replacing them.

Players leave ever season, but this is pretty unique. Right now, the depth chart lists junior Kendrick Van Ackeren as the starter on the weak side, junior Connor Lebsock or junior Herbert Gamboa on the strong side, and freshman Tucker Schye or junior Jeremiah Kose in the middle. Freshmen Connor Strahm and Zach Vis (didn't he come to UM as a receiver?) are also in the mix.

This, of course, is just the spring depth chart and is certainly subject to change. But you get the idea: It's a brand new era at linebacker in Grizville. And this crew will be under a microscope.

Tripp, Coyle and Kanongata'a combined to play 152 games and make 93 starts. That's a ton of experience lost. Tripp, of course, was a total beast, and remains on the NFL Draft radar. Coyle might have been the best linebacker in the league last year, despite his inexplicable omission from the All-Big Sky first team.

March 17, 2014 3:48 pmLoading…
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Huse, Bobcats hit bottom rung

Huse, Bobcats hit bottom rung

WHAT NOW?: Bobcats coach Brad Huse is 108-135 overall and 64-72 in Big Sky Conference games in his eight seasons in Bozeman.

Excluding the legendary Golden Bobcats of 1929, Montana State doesn’t have a history of national prominence in men’s basketball. They’ve been competitive, no doubt, but they haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1996, and have gone that far only three times in history.

Still, things haven’t been the same in recent years. In the eight seasons under coach Brad Huse, MSU is 107-134 overall and 64-72 in conference games. Hardly a picture of consistent winning. The Bobcats hit the low point of Huse’s tenure last week when they failed to qualify for the Big Sky’s postseason tournament.

Anybody can have a down year. It happens. But this was more than that. The Bobcats should be -- and typically have been -- a fixture at the Big Sky Conference tournament. It started out pretty well, but missing out on the tourney this year, of all years, is an unacceptable outcome. And it shouldn’t be excused as just a “bad season,” especially in a league with an RPI ranking well toward the bottom of Division I conferences. To have a bad year in the Big Sky in 2013-14, you had to be really bad. And this was supposed to be a breakout year, with the maturation of JC transfers like Flavien Davis and Antonio Biglow leading the way.

The finality of the Bobcats’ 14-17 (9-11) season puts a microscope on Huse. Last year, MSU went 13-17 and finished 10-10 in the league -- almost identical numbers -- and he was given a big vote of confidence by the university in the form of a two-year contract extension.

Huse is locked in contractually for next season at roughly $115,000 in base salary. If athletic director Peter Fields and, more importantly, university president Waded Cruzado want to make a coaching change now, they’d have to buy Huse out. And that's not happening.

March 11, 2014 8:41 pmLoading…
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Redskins blogger rips UM’s Coyle

Redskins blogger rips UM’s Coyle

Montana linebacker Brock Coyle (56) hits Montana State running back Chad Newell during the 113th Cat-Griz Game in November.

Apparently there are photos of former Montana linebacker Brock Coyle jumping flat-footed out of a swimming pool. It’s an impressive feat we’ve seen before, but count Brian Tinsman, a blogger for redskins.com, as one of those that is not impressed.

In fact, Tinsman comes down pretty hard on Coyle in a blog post on the NFL team’s official site, saying Coyle joined a group of players who “senselessly risked their lives and careers while exiting a backyard pool.”

Really?

Coyle risked his life by jumping out of a pool? Hardly. And if you’re buying what Tinsman is selling, Coyle doesn’t have an NFL career to risk anyway. Tinsman pointed out that the previous two players to show themselves jumping out of a pool combined to appear in five NFL games (all by Jarron Gilbert).

He might be right – ESPN.com ranks Coyle as the No. 24 inside linebacker in this year’s NFL draft – but that really isn’t the point. The point is that Coyle displayed his athleticism and strength by jumping out of a pool and a blogger on “the official site of the Washington Redskins” decided to rip him for it.

February 22, 2014 5:21 pmLoading…
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Notes and quotes from Signing Day

Notes and quotes from Signing Day

STOCKING UP: Montana's Mick Delaney (left) and Montana State's Rob Ash announced their recruiting classes on Wednesday.

Some leftovers from a busy Signing Day:

 Rob Ash wanted to make clear on Wednesday that new Bobcats running back and Nevada/Riverside JC transfer Anthony Knight is not a player of ill character and deserves his chance with MSU.

Knight was listed as part of 23 new football signings by Montana State on Signing Day. Knight originally intended to transfer to MSU last June, but was arrested on suspicion of attempted robbery and assault, along with a former Nevada teammate, in Reno. The district attorney’s office, though, found little evidence and chose not to press charges.

“He had some issues that were alleged a year ago, but what happened is they investigated that incident and he was falsely implicated," Ash said. "All the charges were dropped. We couldn’t find anything else in his background that gave us any reason not to recruit him. We are going to take him now, and he’s going to start in the fall.

“Anything that’s written or posted from this point forward about him relative to that incident would be really unfair to him. He wasn’t there. The charges have all been dropped. It was a case of wrong identity. So it just needs to be put to bed.”

February 05, 2014 8:30 pmLoading…
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Hope springs eternal on eve of Signing Day

Hope springs eternal on eve of Signing Day

NEW ADDITIONS: Quarterback Will Weyer (14) is expected to sign with the Grizzlies while linebacker Grant Collins (47) is supposed to ink with the Bobcats on Wednesday. They helped lead Bozeman to the Class AA championship this past season. 

I've never really bought into the Signing Day hype. It's a very important day for college football programs nationwide -- perhaps the biggest day of the offseason. They restock the shelves with new recruits who represent the hopes for success two and three years down the road.

But is it worth the buildup? The fact is, we just can't predict which players will emerge. Inevitably, one or two tagged as "can't miss" prospects simply won't pan out. And just as inevitably, one or two guys who walk on will make a big impact (think: Caleb Schreibeis or Marc Mariani). But we just won't know who until a couple years from now.

At Montana and Montana State, it's no different. And tomorrow, Mick Delaney at UM and Rob Ash at MSU will announce their 2014 recruiting classes. The Bobcats class this year will be bigger than Montana's based on available scholarships. Here is a peak at the verbal commitments made to each school as they stand on Signing Day Eve (based on published reports and/or social media information):

Grizzlies

NAME  POSITION  SCHOOL 
Will Weyer  QB  Bozeman (Bozeman, MT)
Alex Thomas DL/LB  CMR (Great Falls, MT) 
Carson King  LB  Beaverhead County (Dillon, MT) 
Kole Swartz  DE  Hellgate (Missoula, MT) 
Shayne Cochran LB  Culbertson (Culbertson, MT) 
Evan Epperly WR/DB Glacier (Kalispell, MT) 
Reese Carlson  WR  Gig Harbor (Gig Harbor, WA) 
David Reese  OL  Clackamas (Clackamas, OR) 
Evan Miksch  OL  Lake Stevens (Lake Stevens, WA) 
Caleb Lyons  ATH  Lakes (Lakewood, WA) 
Josh Buss  LB  Mountain View (Meridian, ID) 
Peter Brewer  LB  Los Alamos (Los Alamos, NM) 
Evan Defer LB/DL  Damonte Ranch (Reno, NV) 
February 04, 2014 6:00 pmLoading…
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First Cat-Griz matchup looming large

First Cat-Griz matchup looming large

RIVALRY RENEWED: Montana's Kareem Jamar drives between Montana State's Calan Coleman (left) and Marcus Colbert in a game last season. The first Cat-Griz matchup of this season is Monday in Bozeman.

After winning 50 games combined and making two NCAA Tournament appearances in the past two seasons, Montana is in the throes of a most trying season. The Grizzlies are 8-9 overall and just 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference. To put that in perspective, UM lost just two conference games combined the past two years.

At Montana State, the Bobcats were off to their best start in three years in the Big Sky but have since stumbled. A 4-1 league record turned into a 4-4 mark after three consecutive losses. The Cats are 9-10 overall.

Needless to say, Monday’s meeting between the Cats and Griz in Bozeman looms large. It’s the first of two scheduled games this year. Each team plays on the road this week against beleaguered Southern Utah (which is winless in the league and has one victory overall) prior to Monday’s tip-off, which means both should come in off a win.

The Grizzlies haven’t had a losing conference record this late in a season since 2007-08, when a 70-68 loss at Portland State dropped them to 3-5 on Jan. 31. But that Griz team rallied down the stretch, finishing 8-8 with a berth in the league tournament.

Right now UM is struggling with defense and rebounding. The Griz allow about 71 points per game, and teams are shooting nearly 49 percent against them. Those stats rank in the bottom half of the league. And they are the second-worst rebounding team in Division I -- lumped in with the likes of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and the University of Denver -- ranking 350th out of 351 teams with an average of just 22.4 boards per game. The low point came when Montana had just 11 rebounds in a home loss to Northern Colorado 10 days ago. It was a game in which big men Eric Hutchison and Andy Martin played a combined 18 minutes and had one rebound between them.

January 28, 2014 3:59 pmLoading…
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Turning the tide at MSU. For now, at least

Turning the tide at MSU. For now, at least

KEY CONTRIBUTOR: Montana State hasn't relied on just one or two players this season. Senior forward Flavien Davis paces the Cats in scoring at 10.9 points per game.

I was skeptical when news broke last April that Montana State had given men's basketball coach Brad Huse a two-year contract extension. In the previous seven seasons with the Bobcats, Huse's record was 93-117 overall. In Big Sky Conference games it was 55-61. Did he deserve it, I wondered?

This season is off to much better start, so it looks like the tide could be turning. Huse and athletic director Peter Fields, for now, are proving me and anyone else who questioned the contract extension wrong.

The Bobcats are just 8-6 overall entering Saturday's game at Eastern Washington. But check out their record in the league: MSU is 3-0 and tied for first place. It's their best start in conference play since the 2010-11 season.

How have they done it? It's interesting to note that the Cats don't really have a consistent go-to scorer. Forward Flavien Davis leads the team at 10.9 points per game, and he's the only player that average double-digit points. But Davis, guard Marcus Colbert, big man Paul Egwuonwu and forward Calan Coleman combine to make up a little more than 51 percent of the scoring.

MSU has shot a little better than 50 percent from the floor in its three conference games, which ranks second in the league. Davis averages 13.3 points in conference games, which ranks in a tie for 16th in the league. Guard Michael Dison is the only other Bobcat in the top 25 at 11.0 points per conference game.

January 10, 2014 5:58 pmLoading…
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Grizzlies 2014: Five players to watch

Grizzlies 2014: Five players to watch

THE MIDDLE: Caleb Kidder (44) has been solid at defensive tackle for the Grizzlies. He'll be asked to do even more as a starter next season.

Jordan Johnson is back next year. As are Jordan Canada, Travon Van, Ellis Henderson, Jamaal Jones and several solid linemen. Offensively, the Grizzlies look well-stocked personnel-wise.

Defensively it's not as clear cut. Montana loses three starting linebackers (Jordan Tripp, Brock Coyle, John Kanongata'a), a top interior lineman (Alex Bienemann) and two key players in the secondary (Anthony Goodwin, Bo Tully). There are a lot of shoes to fill.

So here's a list of five Grizzlies to keep an eye on this offseason and into the 2014 campaign. These are not Montana's "best" players going into next year, they're simply the ones with the most to gain.

5. K BEN WORST: The coaches' confidence in the kicking game totally vanished at the end of the season. You don't think that was important? If the Griz would have had a reliable field goal kicker at the end of the year, they would have had a much better chance to beat Coastal Carolina in the playoffs. If Worst still has the kicking job by the time the next year rolls around, it'll be imperative that he rediscovers his confidence and consistency, assuring the coaches that they can call on him when needed without hesitation. Worst certainly has the leg to be solid. Either way, the kicking game should be a huge (and underrated) priority from now until August.

4. DT CALEB KIDDER: Kidder already had an impact last year. He played in every game, earning two starts, and finished the season with 40 tackles and 3½ sacks. Kidder has been solid, but will be called on to do even more as a junior next season while replacing Alex Bienemann in the starting lineup. Kidder isn't the biggest DT in the world at 260 pounds (Bienemann ran at about 285) but he has great length at 6-foot-5 and can really move. Plus, he'll be paired with 305-pounder Tonga Takai in the middle, which takes some of the pressure off. Kidder figures to be one of the most important players on defense next year.

December 28, 2013 6:30 pmLoading…
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Cat-Griz Insider Blog

The Cat-Griz Insider blog is the one-stop spot on the Web for all the news and opinions pertaining to Montana Grizzly and Montana State Bobcat athletics. Comments are open!

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Greg Rachac

Sportswriter for The Billings Gazette covering Montana and Montana State athletics in addition to various high school sports.

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