The Montana State football team wrapped up their non-conference play with a record of 3-1 after dismantling Norfolk State 56-21 last Saturday in front of 17,647 fans at Bobcat Stadium. The Spartans kicked off the scoring with a touchdown half way through the first quarter, but from that point forward MSU easily handled Norfolk State. The Cats’ offensive and defensive lines both lead the charge as they dominated their opponent yet again. The offense set a school record with three running backs who rushed for over 100 yards: redshirt freshman Lane Sumner, sophomore Shane Perry and senior Logan Jones. The defense continued to produce at a high level. The defensive front in particular continued to dominate with star senior defensive end Bryce Sterk, who leads the FCS in sacks including 3.5 sacks on Saturday, leading the way.
The Bobcats, now ranked seventh in the STATS FCS Poll, move on to what looks to be another competitive year in the Big Sky Conference. The Cats’ chase for the conference championship begins Saturday in Bozeman with parent/family weekend and military appreciation against Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks come into town after a tough road loss to Illinois State a week ago but have been looking quite good this year, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. With their only other loss being in a high scoring affair with the Pac-12’s Arizona Wildcats, the ‘Jacks are led by senior quarterback Case Cookus, who will provide a good test for MSU entering conference play. The Blue and Gold will play seven more Big Sky games, including matchups with Sacramento State for homecoming, a visit to the defending conference champion UC Davis in November and finishing with a highly anticipated Brawl of the Wild game in Bozeman. MSU’s record in these three games will almost certainly be the distinguishing factor between competing for a conference championship and/or seed in the FCS playoffs and fighting for a playoff bid.
MSU will undoubtedly have their work cut out for them if they want to claim the conference championship at the end of the season, as the Big Sky currently has five members that are included in this week’s STATS FCS Top 25 and four others receiving votes. The conference’s three co-champions from a year ago have all shown they can be elite again: Eastern Washington, Weber State and UC Davis. EWU appears to have taken a step back and is sitting at 1-3 with one of those losses coming to a pretty mediocre Idaho squad, but the start of conference play may be the perfect reset for the Eagles. Programs like Sacramento State, Portland State, Northern Arizona and Montana all seem to be improved and add to the competitiveness of what is already one of the FCS’s top conferences.
The Cats have a relatively easy Big Sky schedule this season. They will likely be favored to win every game in conference play, except for possibly the UC Davis game, so this could be a very special season for MSU if they take care of business and continue to improve. I figure Montana State will finish 7-1 in conference and 10-2 overall with their lone conference loss coming to UC Davis. While this will be a tall task for the Cats after coming off a 5-3 conference record last year, I believe they are one of the top teams in the country and there will not be another conference opponent who is better in the trenches.