By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Montana coach Robin Pflugrad will tell people that he believes one football player can change an entire team.
Others will then tell him that he must be talking about basketball. You know, the right big man or point guard can galvanize a team.
Unfortunately for Pflugrad, when he looks 200 miles east of Missoula to his program's biggest rival, he has some proof.
"I think Montana State would be the model that did it by getting an outstanding quarterback," Pflugrad explains.
"They were a good team the year before, but they were a great team this year because of one player - that quarterback."
The Big Man on Campus at Montana State is the Bobcats' point guard of sorts, quarterback Denarius McGhee. What's especially alarming to Grizzlies fans is that McGhee has three more seasons to wreck havoc on the Big Sky Conference. This after he earned co-offensive player of the year honors as a redshirt freshman this past fall.
But considering Montana State has risen to a higher level - it shared the Big Sky championship with eventual FCS champion Eastern Washington - the battle lines are drawn differently in the Treasure State. This appears to be an especially critical recruiting season, which is working its way toward National Letter of Intent Day on Wednesday.
"What's changed recruiting for us has just been the fact that we won," Montana State coach Rob Ash said. "We're out from under the shadow of Montana right now. We have a great young quarterback that receivers, running backs and all kinds of guys want to play with because they know we're going to be good for the next three years with him. It's been great to walk into offices and into homes and so forth just with the fact that we've won and we're successful and we have a good nucleus starting with the key position in the game."
Montana State's recent recruiting classes yielded hits in Texas, including McGhee. Meanwhile, Pflugrad's initial class at Montana appeared subpar compared to past classes. In Pflugrad's defense, recruiting was rumored to be lax in Bobby Hauck's final season at Montana in 2009, perhaps with him knowing he would be moving on to another school, as he did to UNLV.
The Grizzlies didn't start any freshmen in their season finale against Montana State, with seven listed as backups on their two-deep. The class could turn out better if players like running back Brett Kirschner and defensive lineman Derek Crittenden, who were injured, or running back Jordan Canada, who redshirted, become productive.
What has hamstrung Pflugrad this recruiting season is that he can offer only 12 scholarships because his senior class this past season was small. He will build that number by offering partial scholarships. Still, the number of recruits won't match the 25 or 26 whom Ash will bring in at Montana State.
"Basically, the bottom line is you can't make a mistake in recruiting when you only have 12 (scholarships)," Pflugrad said.
Montana's success - and downright dominance - has been built around finding hidden gems within the Treasure State, the likes of running back Chase Reynolds or NFL players such as Marc Mariani and Colt Anderson. Montana State has supposedly made greater inroads this season - the fruits of success - and should have a dozen or so intrastate commits in its recruiting class.
Montana State, which has been able to dangle its stadium expansion project to recruits, has made linemen - especially on offense - a priority in its class. Montana also needed to improve its offensive line after this past season, but the Grizzles have been looking to improve their talent in the skills positions - hence the speculation of quarterback Tate Forcier transferring in from Michigan, which appears unlikely.
Recruiting is not an exact science, more so in football because of the bigger numbers involved. So we won't know for awhile if the landscape in Montana has changed.
While Montana State has caught lightning in a bottle with McGhee, Pflugrad is looking for a deeper class, with multiple impact players. He keeps reminding his assistant coaches, underscoring that there is big-time pressure on their program to raise the stakes in recruiting now that the Grizzlies have been caught within the conference.
And as difficult as it may be for Pflugrad to look at what's coming on strong to the east in Bozeman, consider this: if he looks just over 200 miles to the west, the reigning national champions now reside in Cheney, Wash., with the Eastern Washington Eagles.