Bobcat football opponent preview

Fort Lewis (Home)

The Bobcats kick off this season against the Fort Lewis Skyhawks from Durango, Colorado, the Cats lone Division II opponent this season. The Skyhawks are looking for their first winning season since 2005, but return the core of their playmakers from last season, including running back PJ Hall, who as a freshman last year led the team in rushing. This will be the fourth meeting between the Cats and Skyhawks, so far the Cats are 3-0 in those meetings, with their last victory coming in 2010.

Eastern Washington (Away)

The Eastern Washington Eagles and the Cats meet in one of the biggest games of the year in Cheney, Washington, on the red turf known as The Inferno. The pass-happy Eagles were picked to win the Big Sky Conference in a media poll, while the Cats were picked to win the conference in the coaches poll. The Eagles lost starting quarterback Vernon Adams, Jr., a two-time player of the year runner-up, who transferred to the University of Oregon, but return preseason Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who in just two years of work has an eye-popping 3122 yards receiving. The Cats have not beaten the Eagles since 2011, but look to avenge last year’s 52-51 heartbreaker.

Cal Poly (H)

The Cal Poly Mustangs come to Bozeman for this year’s Homecoming, having beaten the Cats 35-27 last year, with a dangerous triple-option rushing attack that runs counter to the Big Sky’s propensity for explosive passing attacks. The Mustangs return quarterback Chris Brown and Big Sky Preseason All-Conference running back Kori Garcia, but lose significant talent on the defensive side of the ball. The Mustangs were picked to finish fourth in the coaches poll.

Northern Arizona (A)

The Northern Arizona Lumberjacks feature a stout defense that is led by All-Conference cornerback Marcus Alford, and on the offensive side feature all-conference fullback Nick Butier and tight end R.J. Rickert. The Lumberjacks, who made the playoffs in 2013, are a possible dark horse contender for the conference crown. The Cats have won two straight home games against the Lumberjacks, but their previous visit to Flagstaff resulted in a 34-7 loss in 2010, their only conference loss of the year in the coaches poll.

Sacramento State (H)

The Cats edged the Sacramento State Hornets in a 59-56 thriller last season, made possible by Dakota Prukop’s eight total touchdowns. The Hornets lost a ton of talent from since then, including their quarterback and top wide receiver.  However they return all conference receiver Nnamdi Agude and middle linebacker Darnell Sankey. The Hornets were picked to finish seventh in the conference by the coaches.

Portland State (A)

The Cats edged the Portland State Vikings in a closer-than-expected 29-22 victory last year. The Vikings, who had not had a winning season since 2011, or a playoff berth since 2000, are led by first year head coach Bruce Barnum. He will put his faith in junior college transfer quarterback Alex Kuresa. The Vikings return 16 starters and were picked to finish ninth in the coaches poll.

East Tennessee State (H)

The Cats third and final non-conference opponent, the East Tennessee State Buccaneers, is playing their first year of varsity college football since 2003. The Buccaneers will compete this season as an independent and join the Southern Conference in 2016. They are led by head coach Carl Torbush, who served as North Carolina’s head football coach in the late ‘90s.

North Dakota (A)

Once a Division II powerhouse, North Dakota has struggled since moving to the Big Sky from the now defunct Great West Conference. As one of Montana State’s two permanent rivals (the other is Montana) MSU and ND face each other on an annual basis, the Cats victorious in all three meetings since North Dakota’s Big Sky Conference entry. North Dakota (they have no official nickname) is also ranked ninth in the conference by the coaches.

Southern Utah (H)

The Southern Utah Thunderbirds featured a dangerous passing attack that ranked sixth nationally in yards per game last season, led by quarterback Ammon Olson. However  their defense finished last in the country in yards allowed, which led to the Thunderbirds 3-9 record. Interestingly the Thunderbirds have three defensive players that were named to the preseason Big Sky All Conference team, including the defensive MVP James Cowser, a defensive end. The Thunderbirds were picked to finish eighth in the coaches poll.

Idaho State (A)

Last year the Idaho State Bengals, led by former Bobcat head coach Mike Kramer, accomplished a surprising 8-4 record led by their passing attack, which was the best the nation. However their 8-4 record was not enough to earn the Bengals a playoff spot. This year the Bengals must replace their starting quarterback, but return the bulk of their offensive starters. The Bengals placed three defensive players and three offensive players on the all-conference list, including star running back Xavier Finney and wide receiver Madison Mangum. Coach Kramer looks to get his first victory against his former team.

Montana (H)

The Montana Grizzlies, the Bobcats century-old bitter rival, meet for the 115th time to end the regular season. The Grizzlies shocked the FCS nation last weekend when they defeated top-ranked, four-time national champion North Dakota State in the national season opener. The Grizzlies are led by head coach Bob Stitt, whose quick-pace aerial passing attack at his former school, the Division II Colorado School of Mines, has been studied carefully by top FBS coaches. The Bobcats are 2-7 against the Grizzlies since 2006.