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George Ferguson Column: Overreact: We don't know who the Cats and Griz really are just yet

From the Fringe...


September 15, 2017

AP Photo

After playing the vaunted Washington Huskies last Saturday night in Seattle, the Montana Grizzlies will be back in Washington-Grizzly Stadium Saturday to battle Savannah State. Montana State has a bye this week. Both teams begin Big Sky Conference play Sept. 23.

The Montana Grizzlies and Montana State Bobcats have each played two games so far in 2017. But, what do we really know about either team?

That depends on who you talk to, or listen to.

Take the fan bases for example.

So far, if you read social media and message board fodder, nothing the Grizzlies have done have made a subset of social media Griz fans happy. Montana beat non-scholarship, but still FCS Valparaiso handily to open the season, but, because the Crusaders scored more than 20 points and racked up over 500 yards of offense, needless to say, some Griz fans were disgruntled.

Last week, Montana went on the road and played the University of Washington in Husky Stadium. Yes, the Washington Huskies that won a Pac 12 championship a year ago, went to the first-ever FBS College Football Playoff, have a Heisman Trophy candidate in Jake Browning, one of the best defenses in the country and, who are currently ranked sixth in the latest AP Top 25.

Surely the 63-7 beating the Griz took at the hands of the Huskies last Saturday night in Seattle would be somewhat forgiven by the Griz' fan base, considering the Huskies' talent level? Surely, fans would understand that the Griz playing a Washington team that's likely on par with the Alabama's and Clemson's of the world wouldn't truly be a fair assessment of what kind of team Montana has this season, right?

Well, if you read message boards and fan sites, that answer is no. A game against one of the top teams in all of college football, and no, some fans are still not happy.

Head east to Bozeman, or, to Bobcat fan sites, and you get the opposite. Montana State is 0-2, and is not even receiving votes in the newest FCS Stats Poll. Like the Griz, the Cats played an FBS Top 25 team, as MSU was shut out at Washington State to open the season. Then, last Saturday, the Cats took on the then fourth-ranked team in the FCS, South Dakota State, in Bozeman. After falling behind 17-3, MSU rallied and, if not for a late fake field goal for a touchdown by the Jackrabbits, MSU might have pulled off the come-from-behind win in Bobcat Stadium.

That night, and the days following the game, many MSU fans took to social media and internet message boards, and the general sentiment was, they were tickled pink with how the Cats played and the fact that they had come so close to taking down the Jacks.

But, popular Montana State head coach, Jeff Choate, a man who doesn't mince words, was anything but tickled following Saturday night's loss. While Choate acknowledged how impressed he was with the fight in his team, and the play of sophomore QB Chris Murray, he also said he was angry and disappointed in the loss. He said, while his Cats played well, and the game gives hope for future games, that, his feeling was that of "hollow hope".

In other words, Choate was in no way satisfied with the outcome of the game, or with his Cats sitting at 0-2 heading into their bye week.

Yes, it's an interesting take on how differently people see their favorite teams.

In Missoula on Monday, head coach Bob Stitt, safeties coach Shann Schillinger and senior quarterback Reese Phillips were beaming with confidence about how the Grizzlies played against Washington, about all of the improvements they saw from week one to week two, and, with how well they think they can play going forward.

On the internet however, Griz fans are beaming with anything but confidence in their favorite team.

In Bozeman, Choate spoke this week of using MSU's bye to evaluate players and performances, he spoke of shoring up the running game, and working on many other areas that MSU needs to correct one week before the Cats make a trip to Grand Forks to take on defending Big Sky champion North Dakota.

Meanwhile, on the internet, MSU fans are brimming with confidence as Montana State approaches Big Sky Conference play.

And alas, that's the key to all of this. The Big Sky is where the bread is buttered for both Montana and Montana State. Week-in-and-week-out, how the Cats and Griz play against their Big Sky brethren, that's when we'll all really know for sure what kind of college football we have in the Treasure State.

That's when we'll know if the agony and despair Griz fans seem to be feeling right now is justified. That's when we'll really know if the optimism Bobcats fans seem to filled with right now was warranted, or if it was false, or, as Choate put it, hollow hope.

And in my estimation, we'll know on September 23. Because both the Cats and Griz have major tests that day.

Montana plays Eastern Washington in Missoula, a team the Griz have only beaten once since 2010. The Eagles are the new Griz of the Big Sky, and how Montana stacks up against them will tell the tale a lot more than the game against Washington did, or even how the Griz play this Saturday against hapless Savannah State. Truthfully, I don't care if the Griz even struggle this Saturday against the Tigers. But, I'll surely care though if they struggle with EWU.

Montana State - same thing. It matters little to me that they only gave up 31 points to the pass-happy Washington State Cougars. It matters little to me that they almost beat a really good South Dakota State team. It will matter though if they go to UND and find a way to win in the Alerus Center. If they do that, then, we'll know what we have in the Bobcats.

Now, I'm not saying the games the Griz and Cats have played up to this point don't mean anything. Of course they do. Football is football, no matter who your opponent is.

What I am saying is, fans of both the Cats and the Griz are jumping the gun a little on how each team has played the first two weeks. Good and bad, hope and despair, the sample size doesn't justify the reaction, on either side of the Divide. I think both fan bases have overreacted a little to this point.

The New England Patriots are 0-1, and while I'm sure some fans were bummed after their season-opening loss to the Chiefs, I think it's safe to say Gillette Stadium will be sold out for the Pats next home game. No one is jumping off a cliff yet. And I doubt Chiefs fans are proclaiming themselves Super Bowl champs after one win either.

In other words, calm down some of you Griz and Cat fans. We really don't know anything concrete just yet.

But, with Big Sky play about to begin, with both the Cats and Griz about to start taking on their peers, that's a different story all together. And, in one week, we'll really now what kind of major college football we have in Montana this fall. That's when we'll know what we can look forward to the rest of this season.

Next Saturday night, that's when the reactions, happy or sad, will be a little more justifiable.


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