Another Important Griz-Cat Football Game is Upon Us

By JIM O’DAY

Call it the “Brawl of the Wild,” or “The Great Divide,” but regardless, Saturday marks the annual meeting of the Montana Grizzlies and the Montana State Bobcats in Bozeman, and it’s easily the biggest sporting event in the Treasure State each year.

More than 21,000 fans are expected to view the game in person in Bobcat Stadium, with another large television audience watching across the world on ROOT Sports.  In additions, thousands more will be tuned into their radios listening via the state-wide Griz and Cat networks.

This year marks the 113th meeting between the two football rivals. Montana leads the overall series 69-37-5. The Cats won last year’s game in Missoula, 16-7, while UM won in 2011, 36-10, but recently had to vacate the victory because of NCAA sanctions.  Interestingly enough, the visiting team in the series has won each of the last four games.  Montana State hasn’t beaten the Griz in Bozeman since 2005.

Montana goes into the battle having won its last three games, while Montana State is coming off back-to-back losses to Eastern Washington on the road and Southern Utah at home.  The victory by the Thunderbirds put them back into the NCAA Division I FCS playoff picture.

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Once again, Saturday’s game in Bozeman will have major playoff implications, much like in past years.  The winner should easily secure a spot in this year’s 24-team playoff.  The loser will leave its destiny in the hands of the 11-person selection committee – the vast majority of whom reside east of the Mississippi River. Both teams go into the match-up with 5-2 league records, while UM is 9-2 overall and MSU is 7-4.

Eastern Washington (9-2 overall, 7-0 in Big Sky Conference play) has wrapped up the league’s automatic berth for the playoffs, and the Eagles conclude their season at home Saturday afternoon vs. Portland State (3-4, 5-6). If No. 3 ranked EWU wins, it will claim the undisputed conference title and receive a first-round bye in the upcoming playoffs – and the Eagles will be home in the second round on Dec. 7. A loss to the Vikings, combined with a win by Northern Arizona over Southern Utah, would result in co-league champions being crowned. The two squads did not meet during the season, but Eastern would capture the league tie-breaker via its win over Montana State, while NAU lost to the Bobcats.

After that, the FCS playoff picture gets a little cloudier.

Currently, with its 8-2 overall record and 6-1 mark in BSC play, Northern Arizona looks to have the upper hand in securing another of the Top 8 seeds in the tournament if it can defeat Southern Utah in Cedar City.  That, however, won’t be an easy task. NAU’s two losses are to Arizona (35-0) and Montana State (36-7), but the Lumberjacks own a 34-16 triumph over Montana. The Griz and Bobcats have the next best shots at advancing to the playoffs, while Southern Utah could have a legitimate claim with a triumph over Northern Arizona on Saturday.  A loss would end the Thunderbirds’ season. Southern Utah is 8-3 on the year and 5-2 in league play – with defeats at the hands of Washington State (48-10), UC-Davis (21-3) and Eastern Washington (34-10).  It also owns a 22-21 win over FBC member South Alabama – a team that has a victory over Tulane and a close 31-24 setback to Tennessee.

For the first time, the FCS playoffs will consist of 24 teams – with the Top 8 seeds receiving a first-round bye over the Thanksgiving weekend. Eleven conference champions now have automatic berths into the championship tournament, with 13 at-large berths remaining.  Currently, Northern Arizona, Montana, Southern Utah and Montana State are in the hunt for those places in the tourney.  The Big Sky has never qualified more than three teams in the playoff bracket, but with an expanded field this year, there is a possibility for 4-5. Those decisions will be made the by FCS Selection Committee late Saturday and early Sunday morning – with the selection show to air on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. (MST) on ESPNU.

For the first time, the FCS Selection Committee will be using another “tool” to help determine the best 13 at-large teams to put in the field. This is not the same as the poll distributed each week by The Sports Network and the FCS Coaches. Because of that, and with the 11 automatic berths, it is often very confusing to most fans.

The new “Simple Rating System,” or SRS, is similar to the RPI system used in college basketball and will quantify the strength of a team’s schedule. It is believed its use will help lead to a more concrete selection of at-large qualifiers. The SRS will factor in all of a team’s games against FCS, FBS and Division II competition. In past years, a game against a Division II opponent did not count toward a team’s resume. But the new system will incorporate them into the equation and rightfully differentiate the levels of wins, including both home and away, which will provide a true strength of schedule tool. The selection committee also will consider potential at-large teams with six wins against Division I competition, when in the past it basically considered seven to be the benchmark.

With all of this in place, it’s time for the final regular-season games to begin.  In Bozeman, it should be a good one!!!!

Media Coverage and Game Stats Info

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Check out Jim O’Day’s blog archive. Vacating UM’s 2011 Big Sky Conference Title is WrongBig 10 Decision Could Have Major Impact On FCS SchoolsAre Predetermined Tournament Sites in the Big Sky Conference’s Future? What the Financial Numbers mean for UM/MSU Athletics. Hiring/Retaining College Coaches is Becoming ToughFormer UM Coaches/Missoula Stars Making it Big in College FootballWhy I chose to Make It Missoula, The Ups & Downs of Being a Griz Fan, Once a Griz, Always a Griz.

Jim O’Day was Director of Athletics at the University of Montana from 2005-2012. Prior to that, he served as the Assistant Director of the Grizzly Athletic Association and later as the Director of Development  for Intercollegiate Athletics. Prior to returning to his alma mater in 1998, O’Day was the owner and publisher of the family-owned Western Breeze newspaper in Cut Bank, MT. Jim currently works for The Farran Group, a real estate development/investment firm based in Missoula.  In addition, Jim serves as a consultant for Epio Solutions out of Seattle, a sports based agency primarily focused on monitoring social media platforms for various colleges and universities. Jim and his wife Kathy have three sons: Chris, Kevin and Brian.  Chris and Kevin are graduates of UM, while Brian is currently a senior atUM.

 

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