On the Road to Cal Poly

By Mick Holien

It’s on the road for the Grizzlies for the first time in 2010 and this week’s trip to California has its share of pitfalls made even more consuming by the elevation of Montana to the top of the Top 25 poll for the first time since Oct, 2007.

While I voted the Griz to the top spot, I really did not expect 56 other voters in the media poll and all but 11 coaches to do the same.

But I also didn’t expect to see Appalachian State continue to be so highly respected when they all but stumbled in barely getting by Tennessee-Chattanooga.

But that’s the nature of early season voting and as Pflu said last night on the radio Coach’s Show it means very little at this time of the year.

I disagree a bit. It shows the great respect this program garners after years in the highest ranking in the country and it also means your opponent has more locker room fodder to hype their incoming opponent.

I can surely remember in the “old” days, prior to the Grizzlies becoming a national powerhouse when beating a ranked team – Reno, Idaho or Boise State in most instances – was a huge accomplishment and made Montana’s season.

Well the shoe has been on the other foot for years now and for the most part the Grizzlies dodge the bullet and seldom lose a game against an inferior opponent. No question that is a testament to being ready every game day no matter the situation.

But this is an entirely new chapter.

A new coaching staff – save Mike Hudson and Mick Delaney – and mostly a new team with more transfers and drop-downs to be molded into Montana football than in years past.

There’s charter airplane travel to and from Missoula which we all know can be a challenge especially when you are sharing the plane with another team, Idaho in this case. No we’re sharing the plane not the flight but like it or not they’re FCS and our ride will depend on picking them up when they want and getting them home from Nebraska.

There’s the road routine to get into: a new roommate, meetings, walk-thru, meals and everything else about 100-plus people being on the road with each other for the first time.

And all this before you take the field at Alex Spanos Stadium under the lights before a capacity crowd of better than 11,000, against an almost ranked football team that returns all offensive starters and the majority of their defense.

It took 21 points in the fourth quarter in Missoula to get by the Mustangs after trailing throughout most of the game.  The last time the Grizzlies were in San Luis Obispo the Grizzlies barely dodged a bullet but came out with a 30-28 victory.

You want more you say?

It’s the first game on a grass surface and the new Head Coach, Tim Walsh, who took the helm after two years as the offensive coordinator at the U.S. Military Academy, is the same guy who took Portland State University to the FCS playoffs after heading the program when the school moved from D-2.

Walsh knows all about the University of Montana and also the significance of the game for Cal Poly, which along with Cal-Davis, will join the Big Sky Conference in football.

And just one more tidbit: Wide receiver Dominque Johnson, a UCLA transfer to the Cal Poly program a year ago, was granted eligibility this week and will play against Montana.

He caught 59 balls for 695 yards in two years for the Bruins and is a pre-season All American after corralling 43 for 741 and 6 TDs for the Mustangs last year (a shoulder injury kept him out of the Montana game).

A matchup between Johnson and Montana cornerback Jimmy Wilson might well be in store and at 6 foot 4 inch Johnson may well have a play-for-pay date in his future.

If you want to talk about verifying the top spot accorded by Top 25 voters, here’s a chance, but although the Griz have beaten the Mustangs four of the last five times this shapes up as quite an evening in one of the most beautiful towns I get to visit.