#30 Montana FCS Football 2017 Preview


Montana Grizzlies


Overall Rank: #30

#6 Big Sky

Montana got off to a decent start last season. In the middle of October they were sitting at 5-1 overall, including a win at Northern Iowa. But when the Big Sky schedule starting getting tougher, the Grizzlies were not able to pick up many wins. After the 5-1 start, they finished the year 1-4. That was a relatively young team though and this group should be able to turn some of those losses into wins, but probably not enough to get to the playoffs.
2016 Record: 6-5, 3-5
2016 Postseason: None
Coach: Bob Stitt (14-10 at Montana, 122-72 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Bob Stitt
Defensive Coordinator: Jason Semore
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Jeremy Calhoun, RB, 555 yards
Passing: Reese Phillips, QB, 50 yards
Receiving: Jerry Louie-McGee, WR, 651 yards
Tackles: Josh Buss, LB, 81
Sacks: Josh Buss, LB, 5.5
Interceptions: Justin Strong, S, 3
Other Key Returnees: WR Justin Calhoun, WR Keenan Curran, OL David Reese, LB Connor Strahm, CB Markell Sanders, CB Ryan McKinley
Key Losses: RB John Nguyen, QB Brady Gustafson, WR James Homan, OL Jackson Thiebes, DE Ryan Johnson, DT Caleb Kidder
Reese Phillips figures to take over the starting quarterback duties from the departed Brady Gustafson. Phillips transferred in from Kentucky prior to the 2016 campaign and went 8-of-15 for 50 yards as the third string quarterback for Montana last year. Caleb Hill, a junior college transfer, is in the mix as well. Whoever ends up under center will have talent to work with at wide receiver. Jerry Louie-McGee had an amazing freshman campaign, catching 73 passes for 651 yards in just eight games. He set a school record with 21 receptions in a game against Cal Poly and also set the school record for receptions per game. Justin Calhoun and Keenan Curran were often overshadowed by Louie-McGhee, and may be so again, but those two combined to catch 82 passes for 1,226 yards and 16 touchdowns. Jeremy Calhoun will be the featured back this season after rushing for 555 yards and nine scores on just 77 carries last year. He may not be able to rush for 7.2 yards per carry again with a larger workload, but he is a talented back who should help balance out the offense.  
The defensive line will look a lot different without Caleb Kidder and Ryan Johnson. Those two accounted for 112 tackles, including 11.5 sacks and 24.0 tackles-for-loss. Brandt Davidson and Jesse Sims have experience in the middle of the line, but Montana will rely on mostly underclassmen on the ends. Josh Buss leads a much more experienced linebacker corps. Buss led the team with 81 tackles, including 5.5 sacks and 20.0 tackles-for-loss. Connor Strahm will man the middle linebacker spot again after recording 70 tackles as a junior and James Banks gives Montana even more experience on the other side. The secondary performed very well last year and they should again as long as the front seven can get consistent pressure on the quarterback. There is not much proven depth at cornerback, but Ryan McKinley and Markell Sanders are both experienced players. There is more depth at safety, with senior Justin Strong and promising sophomore Josh Sandry leading the way.
The Bottom Line:
Montana should compete for a playoff spot. After a non-conference slate that includes games against Valparaiso, Savannah State and Washington, the Grizzlies should be 2-1 heading into Big Sky play. The schedule does shape up nicely for Montana with Eastern Washington, North Dakota and Northern Arizona all coming to Missoula. The Grizzlies need to win most of those games since trips to Portland State, Idaho State, Weber State and Montana State will not be easy either.
Projected Postseason: None
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 155.7 (59th in nation, 9th in conference)
Passing Offense: 326.5 (5, 2)
Total Offense: 482.2 (7, 2)
Scoring Offense: 39.5 (7, 2)
Rushing Defense: 150.8 (47, 4)
Pass Defense: 199.8 (41, 2)
Total Defense: 350.6 (36, 1)
Scoring Defense: 27.0 (54, 4)
Turnover Margin: 0.09 (53, 5)
Sacks: 2.55 (22, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 2.18 (73, 11)
HERO Sports 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#47 Isaihia Banks
#162 R.J. Nelson
#181 Payton Stoner
#210 Kendall Sweet
#213 Michael Matthews
#234 Carder Key