The Sports Network
By Brett Kahn, FCS Assistant Editor
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 28th, 2:05 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Washington-Grizzly Stadium at John Hoyt Field (25,200) -- Missoula, Montana. Surface: SprinTurf. Television: KPAX (Montana). Announcers: Phil Buck, Grady Bennett, Derek Buerkle. Home Record: South Dakota State 4-1; Montana 6-0; Away Record: South Dakota State 4-2; Montana 5-0. Series Record: Montana (6-0). Last Meeting: September 9, 2006 (Montana, 36-7 at Montana). Series Streak: Montana has won all six meetings. Conference: South Dakota State - Missouri Valley; Montana - Big Sky. Sports Network Ranking: South Dakota State (11); Montana (3). Playoff Record: South Dakota State (0-0); Montana (27-17). Nicknames: South Dakota State Jackrabbits; Montana Grizzlies. Coaches: South Dakota State - John Stiegelmeier (83-59); Montana - Bobby Hauck (77-16).
GAME NOTES: Top-seeded Montana has never lost to South Dakota State and faces the Jackrabbits in the first round of the 2009 FCS playoffs.
These two teams last squared off in 2006 with the Grizzlies winning, 36-7. Montana owns a 6-0 record against SDSU, but will meet a much different Jackrabbit program.
This season, Montana capped of an undefeated season for is 12th straight Big Sky title and 17th straight playoff appearance. The Grizzlies finished the regular season with a 33-19 win over Montana State in the Brawl of the Wild.
Montana boasts the nation's eighth-ranked scoring offense and ninth-ranked total offense, led by Payton Award nominated running back Chase Reynolds (1,159 yards rushing, 15 TDs). The All-American ranks seventh nationally in rushing and has recorded 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons.
Quarterback Andrew Selle (1,941 yards passing, 19 TDs, three interceptions) has been impressive in his first season as the starting quarterback for a Montana offense that took a little while to click this season. The junior had a fine game against the Bobcats, completing 17-of-22 passes for 163 yards and three scores.
Selle has split time with Oregon transfer Justin Roper, who has 977 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns.
All-American wide receiver Marc Mariani (50 catches, 19.6 average, nine TDs) leads a Grizzlies' receiving group that has made life easy for the quarterbacks. Montana's pass-catching group also features a groups of six receivers with at least 20 catches. Mariani also ranks fourth nationally in punt returns (18.8 average).
Defensively, Montana ranks 19th in opponents' scoring, keeping opponents to under 18 points per game. The unit had allowed opponents to just 10 points in three straight games, before allowing 19 against a solid Montana State offense.
Linebacker Shawn Lebsock (73 tackles), defensive tackle Tyler Hobbs (five tackles for loss, three sacks) and free safety Shann Schillinger (51 tackles, five pass breakups) lead Montana's defense.
South Dakota State earned an at-large bid and is making its first playoff appearance in just the team's second season of eligibility after transferring from Division II.
The Jackrabbits won the Great West conference in 2007, but didn't make the playoffs due to the fact that the GWC doesn't offer an auto bid. SDSU's eight wins are the most since 1999.
The Jackrabbits' offense is paced by running back Kyle Minett (1,173 yards rushing, 14 TDs), who ranks fifth nationally in rushing. In a 27-7 win in the regular season finale against Western Illinois, the junior rushed for 147 yards and two scores. This is Minett's second straight 1,100-yard and 14- touchdown season.
After Ryan Crawford went down with a knee injury, freshman quarterback Thomas O'Brien (1,250 yards passing, eight TDs) has filled in nicely. With Minett carrying the workload on offense O'Brien needs to just effectively manage the passing game.
O'Brien is helped in the SDSU passing game by wide receivers Glen Fox (60 catches, 12.0 average, four TDs) and Mike Steffen (37 catches, 17.7 average, four TDs). Fox caught a touchdown pass against WIU.
The Jackrabbits' defense comes into the postseason as one of the top units in FCS. The group ranks fifth in opponents' scoring, first in pass efficiency defense and 16th in total defense.
Buchanan Award nominee Danny Batten (80 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, nine sacks) leads the unit at defensive end and is joined by linebacker Derek Domino (87 tackles, eight tackles for loss, five interceptions) and safety Conrad Kjerstad (77 tackles, four interceptions).
South Dakota State has been a dominant force on the offensive and defensive lines this season and could hold a strong advantage against Montana, if the Jackrabbits can keep their composure at noisy Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
One benefit for SDSU could be its trip to Minnesota just two weeks ago, where the Jackrabbits stayed in the game until losing 16-13 late, largely due to three turnovers. They played before a crowd of 50,805.
If South Dakota State can avoid turnovers in this one, the Jackrabbits have the talent to pull off a first-round upset. Montana lost as an undefeated, top-seeded team to Wofford in 2007 and could face a similar fate this season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Dakota State 28, Montana 27.
11/27 13:57:13 ET