Preview: Montana State University Bobcats (Sept. 5). East Lansing ain't the rodeo. The Enlightened Spartan: Preview: Montana State University Bobcats (Sept. 5). East Lansing ain't the rodeo.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Preview: Montana State University Bobcats (Sept. 5). East Lansing ain't the rodeo.


Is it too early for previews? NEVER! Less than a week until fall pratice begins - and the ES brings to you a Q & A from Will Holden, who blogs about the Montana State Bobcats over at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. This is the first of four non-conference previews, leading up to the release of the 6th Annual ES Football Preview for 2009, which features a plethora of skinny from the Spartan Nation.

1. Who should the Spartan Nation be worried about on your offense?

If this was 2008, I'd say the same thing I said to Minnesota Gopher fans last year - Demetrius Crawford. But it's 2009 and Crawford has disappeared into whatever realm is reserved for FCS running back alumni who don't get the NFL offers they think they deserve. Crawford rushed 19 times for 76 yards and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the Bobcats' 35-23 loss to the Gophers last year. While there is no Crawford this year, there's a good chance it will once again be a running back that should worry Spartan Nation the most.

That said, this isn't exactly Tailback U we're talking about. Aaron Mason, who broke several school rushing records as a freshman in 2006 before he disappeared into whatever realm is reserved for FCS running backs who fall off the map before they become alumni, will likely be the feature back this season after taking much of 2007 and 2008 off.

But in all honesty, it's more likely that Montana State fans will be worried about their team's offense more than you will. Mason was held out of the spring recovering from a knee injury. Elvis Akpla - the drop down transfer from Oregon expected to be the savior of the teams' shaky wide receiving crops - was also set back with an ankle injury in the spring that allowed him to join DeSean Thomas - the teams' impressive freshman wide receiver in 2008 - on the sidelines.

And, oh yeah, the Bobcats still aren't settled on a quarterback. The leading candidate is likely Cody Kempt - another drop down from Oregon who started the first nine games of 2008 rather unimpressively. Mark Iddins, who led the team to its most impressive victory 2008 on the road against Northern Arizona while Kempt was sidelined with a season-ending knee injury that required surgery this offseason, is also in contention. But just to prove how fair the world is, Iddins injured his shoulder making a tackle on an interception late in that Northern Arizona game, which meant the only thing he and Kempt were competing for late last season was the best seat the bench. The Bobcats third quarterback of 2008, a converted wide receiver, was eliminated from contention this spring and Iddins took nearly all the snaps will Kempt was still recovering from knee surgery.

At least the offensive line should be good.

2. Who should the Spartan Nation be worried about on your defense?

Bit of a different story here. Defensive end Dane Fletcher is a Buck Buchanan candidate (FCS defensive player of the year) and Brad Smith on the opposite side of the line may prove to be the team's best defensive end by season's end.

The Bobcats did graduate their Buchanan candidate from a season ago at middle linebacker, but that shouldn't be a problem considering they have a capable replacement (Clay Bignell) who will be teaming with a pair of returning all-conference linebackers in Chase Gazzerro and Will Price.

The heart of the defense may be strong safety Kevin Retoriano and he'll team with a pair of returning corners - one of which is Cory Nicol, a solid drop down from Washington.

In short, if you simply must worry about the Bobcats, focus on the defensive side of the ball.

3. Anyone else?

Jason Cunningham is a returning all-conference kicker who hit two-of-three field goals from longer than 50 yards last year. He should prove to be handy if the Bobcats find themselves in a tight one, which isn't exactly what this game promises.

So stop worrying already!

4. What is your head coach like, what's his style? Gimme a recognizable, historical name, and finish the analogy...

I'm going to call Rob Ash a less hysterical version of Dick Vermeil. He's a compassionate dude; the son of a preacher man, no less. He is infamous for following his greatest quotes with "don't print that." He was hired for that very reason after the school's P.R. department put Sports Illustrated's George Dohrmann at the top of its feces list (pardon my French). See: SI article of every P.R. department's worst nightmare in 2007

So while Ash isn't going to spill all his recruiting secrets over a PBR at a local water hole, he won't give you a gravy train of bull honky (once again, the French!) that some other coaches at the FCS level force feed the media.

He is a fan of balance in his life as well as his offense. How's that for a corny tag line!

5. I've been to MSU-Billings before, and watched a basketball tournament there in the middle of a blizzard back in 2000; Saw the best Merle Haggard cover band ever. I was in Billings in 1992 and saw some old cowboys boozing it up and gambling poker at 8 am. I drove the highway across Montana back from Seattle around 1996... when they first dropped the speed limit; loved it, and it still took 8 hours. I've been to Red Lodge, Montana, had a great breakfast... beautiful town, LOVED IT. Those are my Montana experiences. What am I missing about Bozeman?

If you're an outdoors enthusiast, you drove by ground zero. There's some of the best fishing, hiking, camping and skiing in the world in about a 50 miles radius.

But if you want my pick for a guaranteed top 5 bender, it's the Livingston Roundup Rodeo. The thing sells out close to 5,000 seats every night during Fourth of July weekend in a town of around 7,000. I was one of the lucky few who didn't get tickets but got up the nerve to climb in the back of a randomly selected pickup with another few rodeo enthusiasts (I refuse to call them cowboys). Pickup hopping ensued, and we all know that just sound like a good idea.

6. Do you ski? Don't all Montanans ski? Don't all Montana State gridders ski? Shouldn't they?

I think the technical term for what I do is snowboarding. I come from a town just East of Keystone in Colorado, so I assume everyone in my life is involved some form of outdoor activity that involves snow and mountains and am continually surprised that there are those out there who aren't.

7. What do you think about MSU vs MSU? Isn't it wierd?

I'm planning on writing a column on it actually. I say let's start a war as to which school is more deserving of the moniker! I currently have MSU ahead in the bout.

8. Most Spartans, including the ES, are pretty upset the Spartans are playing out of our division -- the first time in our history. What do you think?

That's one of the most hotly debated topics in the FCS, too, although it's a little bit of a different argument. Some of the small college fans like the chance to see their teams go up against the big boys and do a little traveling for the game day experience if they have the means. Others hate the automatic loss column bump it usually delivers, considering the magic number for wins to get into the FCS playoffs is eight and they must be over Division I programs.

As a huge proponent of such ploys as interleague play, I'm a fan of playing outside of division. A little variety never hurt anybody. And I know I can handle a trip to Spartan Stadium, so I say bring them on!

9. On a scale of 1 (least likely) to 10 (most likely), what are your chances to Applachian State the Spartans?

Stranger things have happened. In fact, the Bobcats did down Colorado in 2006. But luckily I have Phil Steele's rankings to keep me from falling into homerism. Steele's the author of "the most accurate magazine over the past 10 years" when it comes to football preseason prediction. Hey, he said it. That means it must be true. Now if you want my real opinion of Steele, see: http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/bobcat-blog/?p=1209

But regardless of my feelings about Mr. Steele, let's say he got it at least somewhat right when he put Michigan State at No. 30 in his FBS poll and Montana State at No. 30 in his FCS poll. Considering Appalachian State is normally No. 1 in everyone's FCS poll and Michigan should have been about 100 in everyone's poll to begin last season (you're welcome Spartan fans), I'm going to say the Bobcats are ranked about 29 spots too low and the Spartans are about 70 spots too high to give Montana State any better odds than a 3.

10. How many fans you expect to travel to East Lansing for the game?

That would probably be a good question for these folks: www.bobcatnation.com/bobcatbb. I'll put the over/under at 500.

11. Did you know famous Montanan author Tom McGuane (92 in the Shade) was not only a Montana State grad, he's a Michigan State grad? Are there any others? Are you?

I am as unfamiliar with that fact that Tom McGuane attended any MSU as I am with 92 in the Shade. I know McGuane better for his role in arranging one of the first editions of The Best American Sports Writing.

And considering I didn't know the most famous MSU crossover, I'm going to have to concede that I don't know any others. As for myself, I'm a UPS man. If you can figure out that collegiate acronym, give your self a pat on the back.

(Hint: Think not of "What can brown do for you?")

ES response: UPS - University of Puget Sound, about 25 miles from my Dad's house, in Tacoma, Washington.

12. If the game were decided by tailgating, what would the final score be?

I'm not sure if they make numbers that high or that low. But there is one group of Bobcat gentlemen who spent the upwards of 100 grand sprucing up an entertainment system on wheels that includes a couple 50 inch LCD tubes and a few propane heaters powerful enough to help stave off hypothermia from a sellout crowd (15,000) at Bobcat Stadium.

And I do know a few Bobcats who know their way around biscuits and gravy.

13. What is Montana State's claim to fame?

I've only been in Bozeman for a little over a year, so I'm not as familiar with the history of the school itself. But it's hard to cover this football team and not get an earful on its national championships from '56, '76 and '84.

Every win over their hated cross-state rivals (I think dUMb is my favorite designation Bobcat fans have come up with for the Grizzlies) is something to brag about as well. Heck, in 2005 they tore down the goal posts after accomplishing the feat.

14. What will it take for Montana State to win - break out the X's and O's, what magic is in the bag?

Not much magic here. With a team like MSU that promises to have a stout defense and shaky offense, it's never too complicated.

Quarterback play and holding on to the football will be key. Against Minnesota, the Bobcats came in playing some of their worst football of the year having just lost 69-10 to Kansas State, but when their quarterbacks didn't implode (i.e. interceptions in the wrong red zone - which I guess could be either) and when they were able to plod along on the ground, there was a decent cross section of Metrodome goers who believe the Bobcats could beat the Gophers.

And they weren't all wearing blue and gold.

15. Will you be flying (or driving out) for the game? Wanna tailgate?

We at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle travel in style. This, of course, means we'll be taking a four-layover flight from Bozeman to Lansing.

And as far as tailgating, I believe the answer I should give is "Does a bear defecate in the woods?" (damn the French!). I will be working, though, so I'll have to opt for the munchies if I'm invited.

16. How cold does it get, how much snow do you get at a game? Do you have a photo? How many folks stick around in the stands to watch?

These are probably the best two posts to illustrate last year's snow bowl against Weber State, which had a game-time temperature of right around 0: http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/bobcat-blog/?p=354 and http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/bobcat-blog/?p=363.

But I've been told it gets much worse, especially before the team switched to field turf last year. I'm told 20 below isn't out of the question, and I believe it considering I somehow managed to live through a week of similar temperatures last winter.

17. What's the NFL team to follow in Montana - the Vikings, the Broncos, or the Seahawks? Or do they just go fishing and skiing instead?

You'll get a good mix of all three. But the games that are most often broadcast are the Broncos and Seahawks. And that's just fine by me!

18. Beer + football = life. The ES loves hoppy beer; in Michigan we have Bell's Brewery. What do you drink in Montana?

I'm a dark beer man myself, but I'd have to say Montanans generally live by this rule: "If you can read the paper through it, it's probably financially viable and it will do the trick." When The Filling Station announced it would be serving the staple of the Olympia Brewing Company out of the tap, it set off quite the uproar.

And I do believe Old Milwaukie in bottles sends quite a few Bobcat fans into a state of arousal.

19. How good do you think Michigan State will be this year? How good will Montana State be this year?

I have to admit I haven't done anywhere near the amount of research necessary to tell you how your Spartans will do this season. I must say I'm in agreement with those on the nation level who say the Big Ten is down right now and it would be a tragedy if Penn State made the national title game even if they went undefeated. I must also say I'm intrigued about infusing the conference with players like Terrelle Pryor. I think he represents the exciting future of college football much better than the Power I. I think the conference can be had by an unlikely agent this year; I'm just not sure if Michigan State will be that team.

I have, on the other hand, done a fair amount of research on the Bobcats chances in 2009. It is, after all, my job. If you want my in depth opinion on how the Big Sky will shake out, check here: http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/bobcat-blog/?p=1221. If you haven't figured this out by now, I'm a bit of a wind bag, so on the off-chance you don't want to read a 1,000 word investigation of a league that you will only be worrying about for one game, this may do…

I'm expecting the Bobcats to finish third in their conference with an outside shot at making the playoffs - it's a series of games to eliminates the unworthy in hopes of determining a true champion for you BCS followers who might have forgotten.

20. What is Montana State's best player and will he matter vs Michigan State?

Right now, I think Dane Fletcher probably has to be considered the best player on the Bobcats. And after an offseason of rehabbing a knee injury at Arizona State and impressing a few FBS coaches and NFL scouts in the process, I think he might make life interesting for whoever ends up under center for the Spartans.

21. Is this quiz too long?

What else am I gonna do at noon on a Wednesday? Work? Oh wait, this is my job. Somebody pinch me!

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