2011 Grizzly Football Season Outlook

The University of Montana Grizzlies kick-off their 2011 season on September 3, at Tennessee (Grizzly Football Schedule). Whether he’s on the road or at home, Voice of the Griz, Mick Holien will be recapping games each Sunday afternoon (but if a road trip has him back at the MSO airport in the middle of the night–it could be a little later in the afternoon.  We’ll cut him some slack!)

By MICK HOLIEN

Can you even believe it’s been nine months since the Grizzly football season ended on a sour note with a loss to Montana State and the news that Montana would spend Thanksgiving weekend looking at the FCS playoffs from the outside for the first time in 18 years?

Not being a big planner for such occasions, I was left scrambling for an invite for dinner and really, probably just like most of you, never have relived that feeling of surprise and disappointment.

It sure is true: All us Grizzly football fans have become extremely and pleasantly accustomed to success beyond what all but about five programs in the nation have enjoyed over the last decade.

Few teams at any level have won more games, maintained more conference dominance and home-field advantage, drawn more fans than the population of most of the state’s cities, and played in the chipper seven times since 1995.

But streaks are made to be broken –  although, like you, I didn’t enjoy it much – and now it’s time to start anew with renewed energy and enthusiasm, and of course, some new Maroons who are intent on starting traditions of their own.

It won’t come easily of course.

Not only is the Big Sky Conference loaded with talent, the first month of the season features a quartet of match-ups that easily will have a lot to say about the direction of the 2011 edition of Griz football.

It is more than 2,100 miles to Knoxville and the haunts at the University of Tennessee. That means a middle of the night return and a short turnaround as Cal Poly ventures to Missoula, followed by defending FCS National Champion Eastern Washington University.

So what about this year’s edition of Grizzly football and that monstrous trip across the country to Rocky Top to face an SEC opponent for the first time?

Early-on the defense, headed by a strong corps of linebackers, will carry this team. There’s a ball hawking group in the secondary, paced of course by All American and Buck Buchanan candidate, Trumaine Johnson. And the defensive front is senior laden, while a bit thin especially on one side.

Senior Brody McKnight gives the offense a long-range scoring possibility and the offensive line is huge (averaging 6-6, 315), but with a pair of sophomores– and yet unproven — starters.

There’s an ongoing battle for playing time at running back between Peter Nguyen and Jordan Canada with Brett Kirschner pushing for time. The receiver corps, including tight end Greg Hardy, is surely sound and talented.

Of course Jordan Johnson is yet unproven at quarterback, and senior Gerald Kemp brings another threat to the offense, as does Nate Montana.

Because of the depth factor, the ambiance, the heat, and the humidity, travel and a plethora of intangibles, Montana has to play its best football Saturday in Knoxville to get the game reachable in the fourth quarter.

Tennessee isn’t Oregon — or even Iowa or Hawaii or other recent Grizzly FBS foes — but this also is not Washington State or Idaho.

Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray (6-6) proved himself an able signal caller in winning the last four games of the regular season to get the Vols Bowl eligible last season and he has a talented tailback in Tauren (say Tor-in) Poole to bolster the offense.

But his sizable offensive line (averaging 6-5, 315) are all sophomores, and two of them either were not yet with the program or did not play last year.

About half of the defense is underclassman and the two-deep on the linebacker corps features a pair of true freshman.

Montana has to take care of the football, not give up special team plays, and do a far better job of controlling time of possession, not just in Tennessee, but to be successful against any 2011 opponent.

While the facilities and the ambiance are spectacular and the Vols won’t be looking past anybody, this game is a superb measuring stick of the season’s future.

While I’ve heard people say that all they care about is that no one is seriously injured, I’m of the other mind.

Let’s take Rocky Top by storm, keep score, and give the Volunteer faithful a measure of the way Grizzlies compete at Montana.

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Now in his 27th year of broadcasting University of Montana football or basketball games, Award winning journalist Mick Holien has a unique and insightful perspective on collegiateathletics.