Montana State football is officially back! This year’s team has high expectations and is currently ranked 13th in the STATS FCS Top-25 national poll. Their first shot to play in front of the home fans is Saturday, Sept. 7, marking the 13th annual Gold Rush game. The 6 p.m. kickoff offers fans the first opportunity this year to tailgate and enjoy football under the lights in front of a raucous crowd.

Montana State comes off a 45-10 loss to Texas Tech. While it was a challenging matchup for the Cats, it saw some positives, including a $500,000 payment to play the game as well as valuable experience only learned from playing on a bigger stage.

“I think it prepares us (MSU) for a good run down the stretch,” said Montana State Head Coach Jeff Choate. He expanded on this point saying, “it stretches them, which is how you learn and grow is by playing better competition and shows them where they need to go and what they need to do to improve.”

This week’s opponent leaves little time for improvement. Southeast Missouri State, also known as SEMO, has high expectations for the season. They currently rank 12th in the STATS FCS football polls. The Redhawks return several starters from last year’s team that ranked 12th in the FCS in points per game, at 37.1. Leading the charge on offense will be redshirt senior quarterback Daniel Santacaterina. The First-Team All-Ohio Valley Conference selection from 2018 will be looking to cap off his college career with another playoff run. On defense, they return senior linebacker Zach Hall, who proved to be the most valuable defensive player in the country last year after receiving the Buch Buchanan award. On top of that, SEMO led the country at any college level in turnover margin last season, racking up an astounding 36 which they managed to turn into 144 total points.

This is a huge game early in the season for Montana State that has potential playoff implications. “Having an early season opportunity to get on the radar of voters and committee members that are making selections is a huge part in taking the next step in building a program,” Choate pointed out at his pre-game press conference on Monday. The Bobcat offense showed flashes of what they could do in the opener against Texas Tech, but avoiding turnovers against this SEMO defense and having an overall more consistent showing, especially on third downs, will be needed for a victory on Saturday. Expect a high scoring game with lots of action in front of an energetic crowd for this Top-15 matchup.

Prediction:

(13) Montana State - 38

(12) SEMO - 31