So snow has fallen, well at least some places. The leaves are falling at an alarming rate and it’s chilly enough in the mornings that I like to let my car run for a few minutes.
After an extended and scorching hot summer, I guess football weather has finally arrived.
And in just a little over a month, the Montana Grizzlies and the Montana State Bobcats will once again meet in the annual Brawl of the Wild, which seems to captivate the Treasure State for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon every November.
So with the annual Griz-Cat game looming, and it will be here almost as quick as Christmas will be, I thought it would be imperative to take a look at the rivalry at the halfway point of the 2012 football season.
And boy oh boy has a lot changed since the Griz and Cats both ended their 2011 FCS playoffs runs in losses at Sam Houston State in Texas.
We all know about everything the University of Montana has gone through off the field. Rape charges, firings, NCAA investigations and on and on and on.
But what have we learned about the Montana Grizzlies on the field over the last six weeks?
Well, as far as I can tell, the Griz have a ton of talent, and much of it is raw. UM starts just six seniors overall and plays up to five true freshmen in every game. Red-shirt freshman Trent McKinney is no Jordan Johnson right now, but his upside looks to be tremendous. And I guess it was going to be harder than I thought to replace nine full-time starters on defense, especially cornerback Trumaine Johnson and safety Mike McCord because the Montana secondary is getting torched by seemingly every team in it plays this season.
Case in point, my failed trip to Cheney, Wash., where the Griz let a nine-point lead slip away against Eastern Washington in the final few minutes, and EWU’s passing game was the culprit.
And letting games slip away is something Montana has done often this season, a season of firsts which include UM having a losing record three games into conference play for the first time since 1990 and being out of the FCS Top 25 for the first time in 14 years. Blowing a 24-7 lead at home to Northern Arizona, missing an extra point at Appalachian State and losing a nine-point lead at EWU will make those firsts happen, even in the world of Griz Nation.
So, at least in the first half of the season, the young Griz haven’t quite figured out how to win games.
And their counterparts just down Interstate 90, they are all about knowing how to put teams away.
Montana State is having a great season, and I don’t think that’s a surprise to many. But it’s how the Cats got to 6-0 that’s been what impresses me.
I don’t think MSU has played its best game yet. In fact, the Cats actually trailed non-scholarship Drake on the road in the fourth quarter, and that was shocking. They also had to rally to beat S.F. Austin at home and U.C Davis on the road last week, both coming by way of shoot-outs, and in between was a defensive stand at Southern Utah which allowed for a fourth-quarter win.
In many ways, the fact that the Cats haven’t played as well as people think they should is starting to make Cats’ fans sound like Griz fans. I have never heard so much complaining after wins from Cats’ fans than I have this season. Griz fans always do it. Cats’ fans, not so much.
Yet that’s the obvious difference between the two rivals right now.
Montana State is the No. 2 team in the country, and the Cats got there because they know how to win games. They have a great defense and a veteran quarterback in DeNarius McGhee, and they just know how to finish teams off.
Meanwhile, Montana has a shaky secondary, a new head coach and a red-shirt freshman quarterback who’s still trying to find himself, and the Griz have not been able to finish the big games.
In my eyes, Montana has played just as well as MSU in most games this season, and maybe against a little stronger competition. But the Griz have only played as well as the Cats in stretches, where MSU is playing its best when it matters most – when the game is on the line, and right now that’s all that matters. MSU is 6-0, UM is 3-3.
So with five games left until we get to Nov. 17 and the meeting between the Griz and Cats in Missoula, and man I hope it’s not as cold as it has been for the last three Brawls, it’s clear cut that the superior college football team in Montana resides in Bozeman right now, and it really doesn’t bother to me to say that. MSU has earned that.
But it’s also clear that Montana has the talent to roar back into the race this season, and if the Griz put it together in the coming weeks, there’s no reason why Griz-Cat 2012 won’t have all the makings of another instant classic.
The Cats are doing their part so far, and I see no reason to indicate that they won’t continue to do so. Montana is trying to its part to and the next few weeks will tell the tale.
In other words, the football season, and the Griz-Cat rivalry is just heating up. Just as it’s starting to get cold. I wouldn’t have it any other way.