As quickly as the NCAA Tournament winnows its field of 68 teams down to 32 on the way to the weekend’s Sweet 16 matchups, spring football bursts onto the scene this week at the University of Montana.
And while those whose seemingly entire existence depends on discussing all things football, there is more than the usual amount of curiosity with this year’s Grizzly team after Montana failed to make the FCS playoff field last year for the first time in 18 years.
And there will be plenty of decisions to be made before this team takes the field against Tennessee in September, but little will be determined by the time drills end after the annual spring scrimmage at Daylis Field in Billings April 23.
However, this is certain: after a 7-4 season the bull’s eye may be slightly smaller, but Montana will continue to be marked prominently on an opponent’s schedule as a barometer of where their respective programs stand.
But, of course, the Eagles of Eastern Washington are the defending national champion and will be atop the pre-season rankings until they prove otherwise. And there also could be a couple (or at least one) other Big Sky Conference teams, including Montana State University, ranked ahead of the Grizzlies in the national polls.
The lower ranking can be attributed to the fact that any time you have uncertainty, like an unproven commodity at quarterback and unproven offense, a team is viewed with an air of skepticism. And the Griz will be perceived that way until they start beating people.
What is most interesting about spring speculation is that most of your recruits aren’t even in school yet and thus can’t compete, leaving coaches with mostly returnees. While that somewhat helps with a veteran team, with a team in transition on one side of the ball or the other, not so much.
Early on, the quarterback job is Jordie Johnson’s to lose. While he got little game experience last year, he took plenty of practice snaps as the backup guy to Justin Roper after Andrew Selle was injured and lost for the season.
Having a grasp of the offense will work to his benefit against competition that will include converted-back-to-QB Gerald Kemp; newcomer University of Notre Dame drop-down Nate Montana; and Glacier High School’s Shay Smithwick-Hann, who also may eventually be destined to see time at tight end.
Across the offensive front, there’s a ways to go and starting jobs and playing time to be earned. While the same holds true at running back with the departure of all-everything Chase Reynolds and at wide receiver, Jabin Sambrano and Sam Grattton will set the pace.
Tight end looks to be a strong suit with Greg Hardy.
As per usual, the defense will be ahead of the offense, especially early on and with a lot of returnees. But again there will be less known and more to learn when this spring practice ends and leaves prognosticators with another four months mired in speculation and perhaps rumor.
But would we have it any other way?
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