There’s always high expectations when a Montana Grizzly football season approaches. After two straight decades of winning seasons, almost two decades of FCS playoff appearances and two national championships, expectations will never be low in Missoula.
But when describing the weeks leading up to the Grizzlies’ season opener, which will be Saturday in Missoula, uncertainty is more of the correct word surrounding Griz football in 2012.
The 10th-ranked Grizzlies begin their season Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, where they’ll take on the South Dakota Coyotes, coached by former Griz head man Joe Glenn. Glenn led the Griz to the 2001 FCS national championship.
And this season-opener is different than any other in that Montana is currently under an NCAA Investigation, the Griz have been made the face of a nasty sexual assault scandal which has rocked the entire Missoula community, and all-conference quarterback Jordan Johnson has been dismissed from the team as he faces a rape charge stemming from an incident last February.
The Griz also come into Saturday’s game with a new head coach in longtime Griz assistant Mick Delaney, as well as a new quarterback in redshirt freshman Trent McKinney. Montana will also have nine new starters on defense, and a new kicker and punter.
So in essence, no one is sure what to expect from the Griz come Saturday afternoon.
And while there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding the program, there’s still a feeling that Montana will still be Montana. The Griz have won or shared 17 of the last 19 Big Sky championships, though they are picked to finish just third this season. They still have a an NFL-sized offensive line and three veteran running backs to help out McKinney. They will still have the hostile 25,000-plus fans at Wash-Griz and they still have a tradition that is second to none in FCS football.
South Dakota meanwhile, will be a tough season-opening test for the Griz. The Coyotes went 6-5 last season and are moving to the Missouri Valley Conference. Like Montana, they lost a ton of starters from last year’s team and are breaking in a new quarterback. But they also have Glenn and he will not let the Coyotes be intimidated by a trip to Washington-Grizzly Stadium. So this will be an emotion-filled, intense battle, and it could come down to who has the better defense.
Saturday’s season-opening game between Montana and South Dakota will kick off at 1:30 p.m. in Missoula. The game can viewed locally on Optimum Channel 5.