The #12 Montana Grizzlies are coming off of an impressive 34-7 thrashing of Montana State and, as expected, received an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs where they will take on the University of San Diego at home in the first round. Let's get to know San Diego and learn what to expect this Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The winner takes on #4 Eastern Washington in the second round of the FCS playoffs the following Saturday.
Getting to know the San Diego Toreros
The University of San Diego enters the FCS playoffs with a 9-2 record. While seemingly impressive, the Toreros play in arguably the weakest FCS conference - the Pioneer Football League. Along with the Ivy League they are one of only two non-scholarship conferences in Division I.
In fact, San Diego received an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs by luck. Jacksonville University would have won the conference's automatic bid as they finished with the best conference record and defeated San Diego earlier in the season, giving them the tiebreaker over San Diego.
However, Jacksonville declared themselves ineligible for the conference title and FCS playoffs as a result of its internal review of compliance matters regarding the conference's financial aid rules as it is a non-scholarship league. As a result, San Diego was given the conference title and the respective automatic bid into the FCS playoffs.
Montana and San Diego do have one opponent in common this season - Cal Poly. While Montana's game against Cal Poly was arguably their worst effort of the season, USD did not put up much of a fight against Cal Poly either giving up 341 yards on the ground in a 34-3 loss.
San Diego does have some talent on offense that will test Montana, especially in the front seven. WR Brandon Wright and RB Jonah Hodges are USD's leaders in moving the football. Wright is a big, physical receiver with 819 yards receiving and 9 TDs while Hodges is a small, shifty back with 1,194 yards rushing this season. Hodges is ninth in the FCS in all purpose yards with 1,757, so containing him on offense and on special teams will be the key to a Grizzly victory. LB Una Halama leads the team in tackles this season with 88 stops, 4 for loss.
Other tidbits and what to expect Saturday in Washington-Grizzly Stadium
Montana and San Diego come into the FCS playoffs with completely different postseason experiences. This is San Diego's first appearance in the FCS playoffs, while Montana has only missed the postseason twice since 1992.
As FCS playoff match ups early in the tournament are based geographically it was fairly anticipated Montana would draw USD as there are few FCS teams in the west, leading to a very manageable first round game. Possibly excluding a 7-5 Morgan State team that won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, San Diego may be the weakest team in the FCS playoffs.
While Hodges might be a threat for USD in the backfield, Montana has the talent and the depth in the front seven to keep him contained. Additionally if Griz RB Jordan Canada can get on a roll like he has in recent games it will be tough for USD to keep Montana off of the scoreboard.
Montana should advance to take on #4 Eastern Washington the following Saturday rather easily. Hopefully the Grizzlies will not look ahead to a potential rematch against the rival Eagles, but especially after Montana's performance against Montana State and the Grizzlies hitting their stride it is difficult to believe an upset is likely here.
Let's take Montana over San Diego 42-10 this Saturday. Bring on Eastern.