2014 Griz Football Prospectus: Through the Eyes of Shaun Rainey
With the college football season fast approaching I wanted to share some of my thoughts and give some predictions for this Griz football year. First off, I can't remember being so excited for the Big Sky football season to start. I don't know if it's because I am more entrenched in the league after getting to know more of the coaches and conference people at the Big Sky Kickoff, or the fact that the league “should” have more parity than ever before. Either way I am really looking forward to seeing how everything shakes out as the season goes along.
· The Griz schedule is tough but intriguing- I remember when I was a student at UM and I would go to a conference game and the score would be 28-0 at halftime. I feel like this happened more often than not, but is certainly no longer the case. I think this is a result of the rest of the league improving NOT the Griz program slipping (which is what I have heard from some Griz fans). The Griz schedule opens at Wyoming, a winnable game against an FBS opponent coached by Craig Bohl, who was NDSU's coach during their domination. Speaking of the Bison, the Griz head to Fargo on September 20th and this match up will be bigger than the App State battles the Griz have had in recent years. After the NDSU game, the Griz have three weeks where they will be the heavy favorites, but after that they finish on a five game stretch against opponents who could all beat Montana. I will give you my predictions for each game later on.
· The offense will hinge on the O-Line- After graduating three NFL caliber lineman, the Griz have many inexperienced guys on the offensive line. With a back injury to Trevor Poole, some young guys will need to step up in order for the offense to achieve its potential, which is HIGH. There is some really good talent there but I think the lineups this year might be different game to game so it will be interesting to see how they play as a cohesive unit.
· Skill players- Obviously when you have a quarterback like Jordan Johnson you have a chance to do special things on offense. Put guys like Jordan Canada, Travon Van, Ellis Henderson, and Jamaal Jones around him and the offense can be PROLIFIC. However, I do have some concerns about the quality of depth at the skill positions if there happen to be any injuries.
· Speed on Defense- The one thing I have noticed during camp is this defense can fly around. I think being in the Big Sky and facing teams that run the spread, having good team speed will be really beneficial. The linebackers, led by Herbert Gamboa, are smaller than ones in the past (as four of them are converted safeties) but can run. It will be interesting though to see if they can hold up against the run and physicality go through an entire season at a much more demanding position physically. The defensive backs are a year older and more experienced and I expect to see more improvement from that group.
· D-Line- SPECIAL. These guys are good. They have a great mix of speed/pure rushers like Wags and Holmes, as well as guys like Crittendon that can really set the edge. In the middle big Tonga Takai is the anchor but Caleb Kidder and Trevor Rehm are pretty darn good too. They D-line had a ton of expectations last year as well and they weren't as dominant at times as I think they can be. It will be on the D-lines shoulders to set the tone for the rest of the defense, how they play will determine how good this defense can be.
· Matt Hermanson- I think Hermy is going to have a big year. He can struggle at times in pass coverage but is a monster when coming down into the box to hit people. I think he will do less thinking at safety and more play making and I think he will be a first team safety by the end of the season.
· Kicking Game- Good news first: Stephen Shaw is a tremendous punter (as shown by his 65 yard punt on the fly in the first scrimmage). The Bad News: I think the Griz field goal kicking will cost them a game this season. The inconsistency is just too big to ignore. Lider, Greenberg and the new guy Sullivan all prove they have the leg to do it, but then they miss a couple easy 32 yarders in a row? There were times last year when Delaney chose to go for it multiple times around the 30 yard line because he wasn't confident in the kickers. Sometimes it would result in a TD but most often it resulted in zero points. Not having that security blanket knowing you have three points in the bag puts a lot of stress on a team, so we will see how that situation goes.
Now I am going to give predictions for EACH game. I was originally going to do a score for every game but obviously there are so many factors and injuries that could change so I will just go with a win or a loss.
Griz @ Wyoming LOSS
Griz vs Central Washington WIN
Griz vs South Dakota WIN
Griz @ NDSU LOSS
Griz vs UNC WIN
Griz @ North Dakota WIN
Griz vs UC Davis WIN
Griz @ Cal Poly WIN
Griz vs Sac State WIN
Griz @ Eastern Washington LOSS
Griz @ Southern Utah WIN
Griz vs Montana State WIN
So I have the Griz going 9-3. A few of the games I was torn on. Wyoming, which I think the Griz have a great chance of winning. Cal Poly, I think this will be a tough match up but with the recent news of the Mustangs players being suspended I went with UM. Southern Utah, this will be a grind it out game in Montana's first ever trip to Cedar City. Obviously the Griz have the ability to win every game they play but I think the inexperience on the O-Line will cost them a chance to win @ Wyoming, while NDSU and EWU are proven teams that should be favored at home.
So those are my thoughts and predictions on the upcoming season. Whether you agree or disagree hopefully you enjoyed reading this as you are just as excited for the year to start as I am.
Until next time,