#4 Montana State FCS Football 2012 Preview

Montana State Bobcats
Overall Rank: #4
#2 Big Sky
 Montana State Logo
Montana State reeled off nine wins in a row after falling in their season opener to Utah. Their next loss came at home to Montana during the regular season finale, which dropped their conference record to 7-1 and tied the Bobcats with the Grizzlies for the conference title. That likely cost Montana State a seeded position in the FCS playoffs and put them up against Sam Houston State in the quarterfinals. That was one offense the Bobcats defense could not handle.
2011 Record: (10-3, 7-1)
2011 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Rob Ash (39-20 at Montana State, 215-119-5 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Kevin McGiven
Defensive Coordinator: Jamie Marshall
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Cody Kirk, RB, 1,351 yards
Passing: DeNarius McGee, QB, 2,799 yards
Receiving: Tanner Bleskin, WR, 417 yards
Tackles: Jody Owens, LB, 105
Sacks: Brad Daly, DE, 12.5
Interceptions: Na’a Moeakiola, LB, 3
Other Key Returnees: S Steven Bethley, RB Orenzo Davis, OT Steven Foster, S Joel Fuller, WR Everett Gilbert, CB Sean Gords, CB Darius Jones, DT Zach Minter, RB Tray Robinson, DE Caleb Schreibeis, C Shaun Simpson
Key Losses: WR Elvis Akpla, LB Clay Bignell, OT Conrad Burbank, K Jason Cunningham, G Casey Dennehy, DE John Laidet, OT Alex Terrien
The Montana State defense ended on a bad note, allowing 49 points in their loss to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinals of the playoffs, but the unit returns a ton of experience and depth. The front line was consistently in the opposing backfield last year and that should not change with Brad Daly, Caleb Schreibeis and Zach Minter returning. Daly led the squad with 12.5 sacks, while fellow end Schreibeis added 7.0 and Minter tallied 7.5. Those three should again dominate the line of scrimmage. The linebackers are well off too with Jody Owens, who tallied 105 tackles last season, and Na’a Moeakiola leading the way. Owens is a great leader on the field and should be in for a huge senior season. There are plenty of upperclassmen in the secondary as well. Darius Jones is a superb cornerback and will be eyeing All-American accolades during his junior campaign. Sean Gords is a big 6-5 corner and is great complimentary corner to Jones. The secondary is even better with safeties Joel Fuller and Steven Bethley. Fuller is a very experienced player and tied Jones atop the Bobcats statistical leaders with eight pass breakups.
It is hard to call the offense a weakness, but the passing game could be more efficient. DeNarius McGhee is one of the most dynamic dual threat quarterbacks in the country, but his 14 interceptions on the season were troublesome at times. McGhee did throw for 2,799 yards and 24 touchdowns and added 340 yards and five more scores on the ground. He is now an upperclassman and needs to take the next step in his overall development. That may be a little more difficult without receiver Elvis Akpla. Akpla caught 63 passes for 1,145 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. The next highest receiver in all of those categories was Tanner Bleskin, catching 30 passes for 417 yards and three scores. Bleskin will team up with junior wideout Everett Gilbert, but the passing game will miss Akpla. However, the bigger concern for the offense is the line. Three starters are gone, as is much of the experienced depth. Center Shaun Simpson and tackle Steven Foster are great pieces to build around, but the rest of the line will have to be filled in by mostly freshmen and junior college transfers.
The Bottom Line:
If the passing game struggles, Montana State can do plenty of damage on the ground. Even with a generally inexperienced offensive line, McGhee can make things happen with his legs and the Bobcats have two proven running backs. Back in 2010 Orenzo Davis rushed for 1,126 yards. However, he was ineligible last season, but Cody Kirk picked up the slack and then some, rushing for 1,351 yards and 14 touchdowns. Now Davis is back and will provide the Bobcats with a dynamic one-two punch in the backfield. With McGhee doing damage on the ground and former Nebraska back Tray Robinson also in the mix, MSU will make plenty of noise on the ground. Robinson rushed for 641 yards and five scores in 2011, so the biggest problem for the ground game may be getting enough carries for everybody. As long as the offense can move the chains consistently, this is a Montana State squad that should be among the best in the country.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2011 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 212.23 (16th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 217.92 (51, 5)
Total Offense: 430.15 (17, 4)
Scoring Offense: 31.92 (27, 4)
Rushing Defense: 148.69 (55, 4)
Pass Defense: 181.38 (22, 1)
Total Defense: 330.08 (27, 2)
Scoring Defense: 24.46 (44, 2)
Turnover Margin: -.23 (72, 7)
Sacks: 3.38 (7, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 1.23 (24, 3)
Madness 2012 NFL Recruit Rankings:
#6 Dakota Prukop
#94 Zach Hutchins