HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs, with three teams being released each day from June 17 to July 28. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 1-4. Today, we present … Montana.
We'll leave no stone left unturned when it comes to giving the FCS diehards all they could ask for this offseason. Learn about every program in the country, with HERO Sports.
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Montana (6-5 IN 2018)
Big Sky (Montana finished T6th in 2018)
COACH: Bobby Hauck – At School: 2nd year in 2nd stint (6-5) Overall: 80-17 from 2003-2009
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2015 (Second Round)
2018 OFFENSE: 33.9 ppg (19th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 28.5 ppg (67th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Aug. 31 @ South Dakota: A number of Big Sky Conference games could've gone here, but this season opener shouldn't be overestimated. We feel this has big playoff implications as both Montana and USD look to be around that 7-win range. And when it comes to the playoff bubble, these are the type of games the playoff committee looks at.
SUM IT UP: The 2018 season was one of the more anticipated ones in recent memory for Montana fans. The return of Bobby Hauck — who won at least a share of the Big Sky title every season in his first stint as head coach from 2003-2009 — had everyone excited for this program to get back on track after back-to-back seasons with no playoff appearances.
The new era started off with a bang. The Griz defeated No. 13 Northern Iowa at Washington-Grizzly Stadium to begin the season and went on to hold a 4-1 record heading into October. Then the season ended with a thud, starting with a head-scratching loss to Portland State at home followed by a 41-14 drubbing at the hands of North Dakota. By the end of the season, though, Montana was sitting decent at 6-4 with one game to play against heated rival Montana State in what was essentially a playoff play-in game. A fumble on the goal line that was recovered by MSU with 14 seconds left resulted in a 29-25 loss.
It's now been three seasons since the Griz have been in the playoffs, an unfathomable thought in the 2000s. But the rebuilding process was probably tougher than many people realized with Hauck completely changing the system. Still, expectations are high for this program to get back on track sooner than later.
Montana returns 12 players on offense and nine on defense who started three games or more. Seven guys who have earned All-Big Sky honors are back and the Grizzlies have four players on our 2019 Preseason All-American Teams: LB Dante Olson, DB Robby Hauck, WR Samuel Akem and special teams standout Jace Lewis. No question this team is loaded with talent.
Dalton Sneed is one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the FCS. He looks to have an even better season after transferring in last year and earning the Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year honor. Sneed led the Griz in both passing and rushing. He'll have a standout group of pass catchers to throw to as Montana returns three of its top four receivers.
The top running back in Adam Eastwood is also back after rushing for 529 yards and nine touchdowns last year. A big key for Montana this year is improving the running game and especially the play of the offensive line. The Griz were 22nd in the FCS with 271.7 passing yards a game but were 59th in the FCS with 164.2 rushing yards a game, a ranking that a Bobby Hauck offense no doubt wants to improve immensely. Protection was also an issue as they tied for 81st with 2.27 sacks allowed a game.
The defensive side of the ball needs to improve as well and get that 28.5 points allowed per game to go down. The returning experience suggests it will, led by one of the best defensive players in the country in Dante Olson, who finished first in the FCS with 13.7 tackles per game and second with 151 total tackles. Robby Hauck adds All-American talent in the secondary and defensive tackle Jesse Sims is a stud up front. Overall, seven of the top 11 tacklers are back.
OUR TAKE: The Griz have the 16th toughest schedule in the FCS this year. They play at USD (which we discussed above) and at Oregon in the nonconference along with home games versus North Alabama and Monmouth, two solid programs. In the Big Sky slate, Montana plays all four playoff teams from last year. It's a tough draw. But the Griz were in playoff contention last year despite some growing pains and struggles on the offensive line. We expect this team to improve on its six wins from last year. There's too much talent for Montana to not at least go 7-5, if not better. But the Grizzlies need to knock off quality opponents and avoid letdown losses to get back into the playoffs. The race in the Big Sky standings is going to be tight with a ton of teams vying for 4-5 playoff bids. Can Montana be one of those 4-5 teams? If the o-line can improve and the team shows more consistency … then absolutely.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./LB Dante Olson (HERO Sports Preseason First Team All-American, 151 tackles)
THE FOUNDATION: Jr./LB Jace Lewis (HERO Sports Preseason First Team AA for special teams, 62 tackles on D); So./DB Robby Hauck (HERO Sports Preseason Second Team AA, 95 tackles); Jr./WR Samuel Akem (HERO Sports Preseason Third Team AA, 59 rec. for 879 yards and 13 TDs); Sr./QB Dalton Sneed (Big Sky Newcomer of the Year, 2,723 yards passing with 22 TDs and 7 INT, 863 yards rushing with 6 TDs); Sr./WR Jerry Louie-McGee (42 rec. for 460 yards and 2 TDs); Sr./DT Jesse Sims (42 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1 sack)
TOP NEWCOMER: Jr./LB Mason Vinyard (Washington State transfer, former 3-star recruit)
THE QUOTE: "We've got to improve as a team. We've got to get bigger, faster, stronger as a team. More athletic. Part of that is recruiting, part of that is weight room time and offseason training. But we certainly are improved I think from the end of last season." — head coach Bobby Hauck said
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's Montana Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The Big Sky
Montana | Montana St | NAU | UNC
Portland St | Sac St | SUU | UC Davis | Weber St
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast