It's always -- always -- a big deal when the Cats and Griz meet on the football field. And very often there is more on the line than simply pride and state bragging rights.
In Saturday's 110th meeting, Montana and Montana State will clash for more than just the Great Divide Trophy (seen here in the bowels of Washington-Grizzly Stadium, where it's lived since 2006). The Cats are on the verge of clinching the automatic bid to the postseason from the Big Sky Conference -- and at least a share of the league title -- while the Grizzlies are hoping to spoil MSU's plans as well as gain a playoff berth of their own.
Usually at this time of year, the Griz are the ones leading the pack in the Big Sky, hoping to lock down a top seed in the postseason and guarantee themselves multiple home games. We've seen it happen in each the last few seasons.
But this time the Cats are the frontrunners.
The Bobcats shared the Big Sky title in 2002, '03 and '05, but are seeking their first outright championship since 1984 -- the same season they won their last national title. The last team other than Montana to win an outright Big Sky championship was Eastern Washington in 1997. The Griz are still hoping to claim a share of their record 13th-straight league crown. The Eagles are in the mix again this year, too, and could win the outright title if things go their way.
Let's play a quick game of three-card monte (pun not intended). One of the following scenarios will come to fruition on Saturday:
- Montana State will clinch a share of the league championship and an automatic bid to the playoffs with a win over Montana. It will win the title outright with a win AND an upset victory by Idaho State over Eastern Washington.
- The Grizzlies will gain a share of the championship -- and extend their league-title streak to 13 seasons -- with a victory over MSU AND an Idaho State victory over Eastern Washington.
- EWU will earn a share of the conference title with a win over Idaho State. But the Eagles will win the title outright with a win AND a loss by Montana State to the Griz.
Where's the Queen?
According to a release from the league office in Ogden, Utah, Montana State and Eastern Washington are virtual locks to earn no worse than at-large bids to the 20-team postseason bracket. It also says that Montana may need a win over the Bobcats to extend their record streak of playoff appearances to 18 in a row
Obviously, there is a lot on the line. Can't wait for this thing to play out on Saturday.