The Montana Grizzlies are going to be facing multiple challenges heading into the 2012 season.
The biggest challenge just happens to be one off the field. Montana running back Beau Donaldson was arrested early January with charges of sexual intercourse without consent.
All of this is among a whirlwind of numerous sexual assault accusations on the University of Montana campus. It is not yet known whether these troubles have anything to do with the football program.
The Grizzlies will also face an overall change in the coaching staff. While head coach Robin Pflugrad will remain in Missoula, the Grizzlies will lose both coordinators in 2012.
Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith will leave to take the quarterbacks coach position at Boise State. Additionally, defensive coordinator Mike Breske will depart Montana for the same position at Washington State.
Montana also lose nine starters on defense. FCS All-Americans Trumaine Johnson and Caleb McSurdy will be getting looks at the next level with Johnson projected as a third to fourth round pick in the NFL Draft.
Gone additionally are all starting defensive lineman from 2011 including ends Ryan Featherston and Bobby Alt.
Despite the troubles and numerous replacements, the Grizzlies have a lot to be happy about heading into 2012. Just look at the offensive backfield.
It all starts with quarterback Jordan Johnson. Johnson made great progressions as the 2011 season went on, helping lead the Grizzlies to a semifinal finish in the FCS Playoffs. Johnson tossed for 2,400 yards and 21 touchdowns with only five sacks and nine interceptions for the year.
Montana's slew of returning running backs is even more impressive. Led by senior Peter Nguyen, the Grizzlies led the Big Sky Conference in rushing in 2011 with 2,952 yards on the ground. Powerful senior running back Dan Moore along with sophomore Jordan Canada will complement the running game.
Despite all of the loss on defense, linebackers John Kanongata'a and Jordan Tripp, who is returning from injury, will lead the defense in 2012.
And all of this goes with out mentioning the 2012 schedule, and what a schedule it is.
To begin the season, the Grizzlies will take on South Dakota on September 1, led by former Montana coach Joe Glenn, who took the job with the Coyotes after his recent firing at Wyoming.
The week after, Montana will travel to Boone, North Carolina to take on the Appalachian State Mountaineers, a team that has made the FCS playoffs every season since 2004 with three FCS National Championships in that time span.
The Big Sky Conference slate will look slightly different than normal too. The conference looks to add four new members for 2012. Two of them, Southern Utah and North Dakota, will appear on the schedule.
Despite the troubles and loss of coaches and players, the Grizzlies should still have enough firepower on offense and experience on defense, particularly at the linebacker position, to be the favorite to win the Big Sky Conference again in 2012. They may even be in strong contention to win their third FCS National Championship in school history, and first since 2001.
The start of the season is still a long seven months away, but with all that is surrounding the Griz football right now, its going to be a crazy seven months.
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