The Montana State Bobcats football team, ranked eleventh nationally in the FCS Coaches Poll, marches into the 2015 season with great expectations on the offensive side of the ball, and equally great questions on the defensive side of the ball.
The Bobcat offense, led by junior quarterback Dakota Prukop, will look to continue their dominant, balanced offensive attack from last year, which averaged 244.4 yards rushing and 244.2 yards passing, ninth in the nation.
The Cats feature a deep and talented group of veteran running backs in Gunnar Brekke, Chad Newell, Nick LaSane and Tavon Dodd.
The wide receiver position is equally stocked with talent as the Cats return Mitch Griebel, Mitchell Herbert, Jayshawn Gates, Justin Page and Tanner Roderick. In addition, the Cats’ corps will feature Brandon Brown, transfer from Baylor University and former high school teammate of Prukop.
The Cats lost tight end Tiai Salanoa to graduation, but look to fill that void with University of Miami transfer Beau Sandland. The offensive line returns four of five starters from last year, including preseason all-conference selections J.P. Flynn and John Weidenaar.
The defense will look different this year as the Cats attempt to move on from a season in which they allowed 293.8 passing yards per game, 119 out of 121 total FCS teams.
Coach Ash promoted linebackers coach and former Cat great Kane Ioane to co-defensive coordinator, who will share duties with Jamie Marshall last year’s defense coordinator.
For the defense, Taylor Sheridan is the lone returning starter, a defensive tackle who also netted preseason all-conference honors.
All told, the Cats signed seven defensive transfers. From the FBS are Cincinnati linebacker Marcus Tappan and Alabama-Birmingham safety Desman Carter. Junior college transfers include safety Bryson McCabe, linebacker Zach Stern and defensive lineman Joe Naotala and Shiloh LaBoy.
The Cats return defensive lineman Zach Hutchins, Connor Thomas and Tyrone Fa’anono, linebackers Blake Braun, Grant Collins and Mac Bignell, and defensive backs Bryson Keeton, DeMonte King, and Bryce Alley. Given the amount of new talent in Bozeman, it’s too early to tell who will get starting nods.
Expectations are high in Bozeman as the Cats were picked to win the Big Sky Conference in the coaches’ poll. However, a separate media poll gave the edge to perennial contender Eastern Washington, who the Cats will face in a non-conference matchup in Cheney, Washington on Sept. 19. Eastern Washington should be a challenge despite losing all-American quarterback Vernon Adams, who transferred to the University of Oregon.
The following weekend the Cats will look to avenge a loss from last year when they host the dynamic triple-option attack of Cal Poly. The Cats will face four teams who, including Eastern Washington, ranked in the top 12 of FCS passing offenses. Two of these opponents, Sacramento State and Southern Utah, the Cats will face at home.
For the season’s penultimate game the Cats travel to Idaho State to face the nation’s top passing attack, led by former Bobcat Head Coach Mike Kramer.
Finally, the Cats will end the regular season with their 115th meeting against the rival University of Montana Grizzlies in Bozeman. The Griz will look to implement a new up-tempo passing attack under new head coach Bob Stitt. The Cats will look to avenge a devastating 34-7 loss from last year.
The future looks bright for the Montana State Bobcats. A potent offensive attack and a young, developing and promising defense will attempt to win their first conference title in three years, and to contend for their first national title since 1984.
The season kicks off Thursday, Sept. 3 at 7:05 p.m. at Bobcat Stadium, when the Cats host Division II Fort Lewis.
Home football games:
Sept. 3 – Fort Lewis College, 7:05 p.m.
Sept. 19 – Cal Poly, 1:35 p.m.
Oct. 10 – Sacramento State, 5:05 p.m.
Oct. 24 – East Tennessee State, 2:35 p.m.
Nov. 7 – Southern Utah, TBA
Nov. 21 – University of Montana, 12:05 p.m.