Unless they get some help down the stretch, the Montana Grizzlies’ record run of Big Sky Conference championships will end.
Montana has won or shared 12 straight Big Sky titles, just two shy of the all-time Division I record established by Oklahoma from 1946-59.
The Griz started their streak in 1998, and eventually set the league mark for consecutive championships.
But with a 6-3 overall record and a 5-2 mark in the Big Sky, Montana cannot win the title outright this year.
The only way the Griz can earn a share — and increase their streak to 13 seasons — is if they beat Montana State in the 110th meeting between the rivals on the last day of the regular season, and if Idaho State upsets Eastern Washington.
The first part of that equation is doable. Montana has beaten Montana State in every game but one at Washington-Grizzly Stadium since it opened in 1986, and has lost to the Bobcats only three times overall in that 24-year span.
The second part, however, might be a bit of a pipe dream.
Eastern Washington is 7-2 overall and 6-1 in the Big Sky, and has won five straight games entering this week’s non-conference matchup with Southern Utah. But Idaho State (1-8, 0-6) has won just six games in four seasons under coach John Zamberlin, and is 4-25 in league games since 2007.
It’s simple: unless ISU pulls off a massive upset, Montana’s streak dies.
The Eagles will gain the Big Sky’s automatic bid to the playoffs with a win over Idaho State and if the Griz beat the Cats. But MSU (8-2, 6-1) owns the tiebreaker over Eastern Washington because of a 30-7 victory over the Eagles on Sept. 25.
So if the Cats beat the Griz, they’ll earn the auto bid to the postseason. They’d win the league outright with a win over UM plus an Idaho State victory over EWU.
Did you get all that?
Montana State has a bye this week, while Montana hosts non-conference opponent North Dakota on Saturday.
What more can be said about Denarius McGhee? Montana State coach Rob Ash said last week that he was running out of superlatives for his freshman quarterback.
McGhee was stellar once again on Saturday, throwing for 325 yards and a late touchdown to help MSU rally for a 24-10 victory over league rival Weber State.
For his effort, McGhee earned the Big Sky Conference offensive player of the week award for the third time this season.
It was McGhee’s third consecutive 300-yard game, and the victory was his eighth as a starter, the most ever by a freshman at MSU. McGhee’s 2,802 yards and 20 touchdowns lead the league, as does his 156.5 efficiency rating.
His pass yardage total is already the 10th-most in MSU history.
McGhee might be the frontrunner to take home the Big Sky’s offensive MVP award. Former Northern Arizona QB Jason Murrietta was the last freshman to do it when he won the honor in 2003.
McGhee isn’t the only first-year player making a big impact for the Bobcats
Freshman linebacker Aleksei Grosulak continues to shine. Grosulak totaled a career-high 18 tackles against Weber State, which was good enough to win the national freshman of the week award from The Sports Network.
Grosulak, a former standout at Billings Central, had two tackles for loss with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. His forced fumble with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter was recovered by MSU cornerback Arnold Briggs, and it led to an Orenzo Davis touchdown run and a 17-7 lead for the Bobcats.
Grosulak’s performance also earned him the league’s defensive player of the week award, his second of the season.
And then there’s freshman wideout Tanner Bleskin.
Bleskin, a Great Falls CMR product, caught the go-ahead touchdown from McGhee in the fourth quarter on Saturday, one play after getting his bell rung on a helmet-to-helmet hit from Weber State linebacker Anthony Morales.
Bleskin is third on the Bobcats in catches (30) and fourth in receiving yards (457).
Freshman punter Rory Perez, meanwhile, is one of the unsung heroes of MSU’s season. Perez averages 38.2 yards per punt, but his ability to put significant hang time under the ball has helped the Bobcats lead the league in net punting — and lead the nation in punt return coverage.
Montana State moved up one spot No. 11 in the newest FCS Top 25 poll, unveiled on Monday by TSN. The Griz remained at No. 13.
Eastern Washington jumped up one spot to No. 5 coming off a bye.
The rest of the top five looks a whole lot different. Appalachian State (8-1), after an overtime loss to Georgia Southern, dropped two spots to No. 3. Jacksonville State (8-1) fell four spots to No. 6 after losing to Eastern Kentucky.
Villanova (6-3) plummeted six spots to No. 9 following a loss to Rhode Island.
William & Mary (7-2) took over the No. 1 spot, while Delaware (8-1) jumped three spots to No. 2. Wofford (8-1) took over the No. 4 ranking.
On a side note, we have our first FCS playoff qualifier. Robert Morris (8-1) earned the automatic bid from the Northeast Conference after beating Central Connecticut State on Saturday.
This is the first year the NEC has an auto bid in the newly-expanded FCS postseason. The Colonials came in at No. 25 in the poll this week.
Around the league
Northern Colorado punter Cameron Kaman won the Big Sky’s special teams player of the week award. Kaman punted six times for an average of 48.3 yards in the Bears’ 21-14 loss to Northern Arizona on Saturday. Kaman had a 72-yarder that pinned NAU on its own 7-yard line. … Portland State RB Cory McCaffrey rushed for 187 yards in Saturday’s loss to Sacramento State, becoming just the ninth player in school history to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards in a season. McCaffrey has 1,049 yards with two games remaining.