I'm a believer.
Just how smart is my belief? We'll find out as soon as fall ball hits, but I am a firm believer that the Grizzly football team will end next season in the top 25 and be playing in the FCS playoffs.
Most years, that isn't a ‘going out on a limb' sort of prediction…but after the losing season they had last year, there was plenty of doubt amongst the Griz faithful I talked to.
Yes, the Griz had a tremendously disappointed season in the eyes of many, however I don't view it that way.
Here are the facts as I see them:
-Last season, the University of Montana football team went through tremendous changes and extenuating circumstances
-With coaching changes, and a group of inexperienced quarterbacks, they lost more games than they won.
-It was the first time in several decades they had a losing season
-There six losses were by a combined 49 points, or an average of nearly 8 points a game. (They weren't getting blown out by anybody)
So with all that in mind, I am confident in saying they will be much more successful next season.
Mick Delaney returns for his second season at the helm (His first with a full off-season and spring ball) The coaches who left the team coached areas that needed improvement heading into 2013, and it appears the players are very excited about the new staff members who are on board.
The strong-point of last years team was the defensive front-7 They return everybody except for Josh Harris. Harris was a very solid defensive end, but replacing him is sophomore Tyrone Holmes, who many believe is one of the most talented ends to ever play at the university, so they shouldn't miss a beat there. On the interior line, Tonga Takai and Alex Bienneman are back after starting last season at DT, and younger players like Caleb Kidder will play a major factor in the fall.
The strong part of the offense last year was the running-game. With seniors Dan Moore (A human wrecking ball) and Peter Nguyen (Shiftiest/Quickest human I've seen in person) the Griz rushing attack was always solid. When you factored in capable back-ups like Jordan Canada, and Joey Counts, you never had to worry about the running game.
That brings us to the weaknesses. The Griz secondary looked lost and confused for long periods of time last summer. Nothing highlights that more than the record breaking numbers North Dakota put up on the Griz last season. Things look much improved this year. The players seem confident, more fluid, and in their limited chances in spring ball, they've capitalized with more interceptions and broken passes than I saw the majority of last season. The secondary has a whole year of experience under their belts, and in spring ball, the corners looked much improved, as did the Safeties (now coached by Jake Cookus)
On offense…if you hadn't heard yet, Jordan Johnson is back at quarterback. I've only seen JJ in a limited amount. He was injured most of spring ball, and the only time I saw him at full strength in good conditions was their final spring game (which I had to leave early to anchor the Fox Montana News at 9). In what I've heard from everyone, Johnson makes a world of a difference. In what I've seen with my own eyes…Johnson automatically seems more confident and comfortable in the pocket. Yes he's running the third offense since he started at the University, it's an offense that has him under center SOMETIMES for the first time in his career, but it looks to be a non-issue.
While the receivers are a bit green, they have shown glimpses of greatness during spring ball, and behind Ellis Henderson, I think they'll be okay come the fall.
Ultimately, I trust believe in coach Delaney. He is a genuinely good human being who cares more about his players and who they are as people than he does the wins and losses. He realizes that hard working individuals who treat the game and school with the utmost respect will win football games, and do it the right way.
I have no idea if coach Delaney will be around after this season (when his contract expires) but I do know he did exactly what he was hired to do. He put a strong sense of accountability on players. If they screwed up, they were suspended. End of discussion. When we Mic'd him up for the Grizzly Sports Report, he asked nearly every player he talked to during stretching and warm-ups how their classes were going and if they were keeping their GPA up.
I haven't seen coach Delaney with this much excitement in his eyes since I moved to Missoula before last season. He has more energy than he did all of last season, and you can tell if the season could start tomorrow, he'd be all for it. The team has a long ways to go, and plenty of things to improve upon. But I fully believe, the Griz will be in the FCS National Title hunt as soon as next season begins.
Until Next Time-