What You Should Know About The Upcoming MSU Football Season
In late August, Montana State football will be back, kicking off the season against Western Illinois on August 30. For the upcoming season, Head Coach Jeff Choate, along with the rest of the Bobcat coaching staff, hopes to improve off of last season’s 5-6 record by acknowledging their prior mistakes, and incorporating the fresh recruits into the offense and defense. While the team dipped below a .500 record, the team flashed some bright spots, finishing the season with a 5-3 record in conference play and bringing home the trophy in the coveted Brawl of the Wild game against long-time rival the Montana Grizzlies, in an exhilarating 31-23 victory on our home turf.
As mentioned above, this past season the Bobcats did not meet their team expectations by falling one game behind a .500 record. However, the win-loss record does not paint the whole picture of the past season, for the Bobcats showed the tenacity to fight back in big games and, statistically speaking, were not nearly as prone to defeat as it appears. Of the 6 losses this past season, 4 were one-possession games, decided by less than 8 points. Three out of those 4 games ended in a mere 4-point differential, including the 31-27 loss against South Dakota State, 16-14 loss against Kennesaw State, and a one-point loss against Northern Arizona, which ended in an agonizing 37-36 defeat. The Bobcats also ended the season with +3-point differential, finishing with a total of 278 points scored while opposing teams scored a total of 275, in spite of 31-0 shut-out against the nationally ranked Washington State Cougars. All in all, the 2017 Bobcats proved to be able to go toe-to-toe against any rival, unfortunately finding themselves on the losing end. However, there is room for improvement for the 2018 season.
This upcoming season, the Bobcats are in dire need to fix three vital criteria to ensure success throughout the year. One: Although the Bobcats outscored opposing teams 90 to 58 in the 4th Quarter, the team gave up a majority of its leads in the 2nd Quarter, being outscored 104-82. The Bobcats once again proved their ability to fight back at the end of games, but need to maintain a sense of urgency by holding a lead in the first half of games. Second: The Red Zone offense for the Bobcats this past season was abysmal, ranking 12th out of 13 teams in the Big Sky Conference in successful trips inside their own 20-yard line. On the defensive end, the Bobcats ranked 8th in allowing opposing teams to score at an 82% success rate (33 scores on 40 attempts). However, scoring in the Red Zone proved to be more of an issue of made field goals, while opposing teams successfully completed 17 of 18 attempted field goals, the Bobcats only made 5 out of 11. Third: While the running game flourished for the Bobcats, out running opposing teams 2,744 yards to 1,842, the team was out thrown on passes, 2,634 to 1,622 yards. Opponents also completed more first downs on throwing completions (127-71), and ended the season with more total completions (241) than our total attempts (238). While the Bobcats need to improve on these criteria, these issues are very fixable, and some are even a matter of circumstance. If the Bobcats can capitalize on these mistakes, than Bozeman residents can be in for an exciting season.
2018 will also introduce an abundance of talent through its recruiting class, penciling high school phenoms across the country. According to the recruiting page of the Montana State Football website, Choate is quoted saying “’One of the ideas we sold in this recruiting cycle is that we’re no longer in the building phase. We’re in the compete-for-a-championship phase. That resonated with a lot of these young men and their families.’” Essentially, the team is ready to win, and the recruits for this upcoming season have it embedded in their brains that losing is not an option. The recruiting class for this upcoming season is littered with players who thrived at the high school level, securing talent on both offense and defense.
Among the recruits to be on the lookout for is Isaiah Ifanse, a 5’-10” running back out of Bellevue High School in Washington, who rushed for 2,485 yards, scored 44 touchdowns as a senior, and won Washington’s 2017 Gatorade Player of the Year. The Bobcats also landed Offensive Linemen Ryan Barkely, a 6’-5”, 275 pound wrecking machine out of Durango, Colorado, who was named to Max Prep All-State Second Team. Finally, the Bobcats added some length at the Wide Receiver position by adding Mekhi Metcalf, who stands at 6’-4” and had 78 completions for 1,038 yards under the tutelage of Head Coach Joey Thomas, a Bobcat legend who is now coaching Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington. Those 3 mentioned, along with the remaining recruits, prove the Bobcats secured a fine young cast of eager players who are ready to carry the burden of placing Montana State Football at the top of the Big Sky Pantheon.
The biggest hurdle this upcoming season will be replacing star Quarterback Chris Murray, who will miss the 2018 season to focus on his Kinesiology Major. Murray, who served as the cornerstone of the Bobcat offense will not be easy to replace. This past season, Murray totaled 1,597 passing yards on 120 completions, all while throwing 15 touchdowns. Murray was also pivotal for the success of the Bobcats run game, totaling 1,124 rushing yards and finding the end zone 10 times. In total, Murray was responsible for 26 touchdowns and 2,721 purpose yards, and his absence will be sorely missed for the upcoming season. However, hope is not lost, for there are plenty of suitable candidates to fill his shoes and take the helm of Bobcat football. Casey Bauman, 6’-6” and an incoming freshman from Sumas, Washington, just came off a year where he threw for 2,914 yards and 27 touchdowns in his senior year. There is also Travis Josen, a junior transfer from Riverside College, who was originally enrolled at the University of Oregon, and would make for a fine leader for the Bobcats. Redshirt freshman Tucker Rovig is also another possible suitor who made 2 all-state selections playing for his local high school in Meridian, Idaho. While Murray will be missed, the crop of quarterbacks Montana State has acquired should leave fans comfortable with the outcome of the starting QB selection.
As it stands, the Big Sky Football Coaches Poll voted for Montana State to finish 8th this upcoming season. The Big Sky Football Media Poll bolstered similar results voting Montana State University 8th as well. Of those voted for the preseason All-Big Sky team, Senior Nose Tackle Tucker Yates, the Bobcats recipient of the Joe Till Defensive MVP this last season was the only player from the Montana State University program to be voted on. For the upcoming season, it looks as if Eastern Washington, Weber State, and Northern Arizona are the teams to challenge the Big Sky Conference for First Place honors. Brawl of the Wild will take place in Missoula this Fall on November 17, proving once again to be the most exciting rivalry in the Big Sky Conference. That said, Montana State has shown to make major adjustments within the team, and is fully aware of the improvements to be made for the most successful season. Although the coaches and media have already counted the Bobcats out, anything is possible, and with the excitement of a new quarterback, the introduction of key recruits, and the defense led by Tucker Yates, the Big Sky Conference may be in for a big, Bobcat surprise.