First Quarter, MSU v. NDSU (copy)

Montana State quarterback Tommy Mellott runs with the ball Saturday in Frisco, Texas.

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FRISCO, Texas — Random reactions from Montana State’s first appearance in the FCS Championship football game in 37 years:

If if-and-buts were candy and nuts and a quarterback …

Not surprisingly, the No. 1 topic for deflated Montana State backers Saturday night was the game’s biggest what-if: As in, what if freshman QB Tommy Mellott hadn’t come up gimpy on the Bobcats’ promising first drive?

As I wrote Saturday after MSU’s 38-10 loss to overpowering North Dakota State, we should disabuse ourselves of the notion that MSU would’ve won even with 60 minutes of Mellott.

I’m reminded of the 1940 NFL championship game between Washington and Chicago, where receiver Charley Malone of the future Washington Football Team dropped a touchdown pass in the first quarter with his team trailing 7-0 in what became a 73-0 Bears romp. When asked if a TD catch would’ve changed the outcome, Washington QB Sammy Baugh responded famously, “Yeah, it would’ve been 73-6.”

That’s much less a reflection of MSU, which I’d go as far as to wager beats Montana with Mellott and is one of the top three FCS teams in the country, than it is of North Dakota State’s juggernaut supreme.

Still, the injury clearly sucked the wind from sails that had MSU moving briskly down the field. After Mellott’s departure, a fake field goal resulted in a touchback, and in short order NDSU had deployed a punishing running game a Steel Curtain would’ve struggled to stop.

Barely a quarter later, it was 21-0 and you could hear the ghost of Dallas icon “Dandy” Don Meredith singin’, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over …” as a national TV audience began taking dogs for walks en masse.

Saturday’s game was the pinnacle of a remarkable season. To have Mellott go out so early deprived us all of the chance to savor a primary reason why the team was here in the first place.

Speaking of quarterbacks, a salute to Tucker Rovig …

Pinning MSU’s loss on Mellott’s injury is an unwitting slight to Rovig, who performed admirably in his absence.

Here’s a salute to Rovig, who has been the consummate teammate despite a rollercoaster ride that would’ve sent many players sprinting for the crowded transfer portal.

Lest we forget, it was Rovig who guided the Bobcats to the 2019 semifinals, where they lost to — who else? — North Dakota State. And yet, the lanky slinger from Meridian, Idaho, was always looking over his shoulder, whether it was former coach Jeff Choate hinting he could do more, or the heralded arrival of QB savior Matthew McKay from North Carolina State, or the expectant talk of McKay through the 2020 pandemic hiatus, or the attention on McKay in spring ball, or again in fall camp when McKay was handed the reins, or during the season as the offense often sputtered, and then finally in the postseason when Mellott — who wasn’t on the depth chart during spring ball — leapfrogged him and Casey Bauman into the starting role.

Rovig’s reaction? He tweeted his love for his teammates and Mellott during the playoff run — not long after McKay bolted at the first sign of adversity.

It’s no mystery why Rovig was voted captain.

Here’s to a successful coaching career back in Idaho for a consummate teammate.

North Dakota State to FBS? Let’s hope not …

Watching the Bison offense steamroll a great defense en route to a ninth national title in 11 years evoked an obvious question: When will they realize they’ve outgrown FCS and move up to FBS, a la James Madison, Sam Houston and Appalachian State?

Here’s hoping they stay put.

In fact, raspberries to the Big Sky Conference for not courting the Dakota schools harder when they were looking for a home. The Big Sky would be the most dominant in FCS today, as in the early 1980s, and a steady diet of Bison, Hawks, Jackrabbits and Coyotes would have far more fan appeal than Vikings, Hornets, Mustangs and Aggies.

Why FBS is the big hairy audacious goal among programs living large in FCS is a puzzle. Just ask Idaho, which limped home after a litany of body blows absorbed as a wildly overmatched and invisible FBS program.

A successful season in FBS means a lower-tier bowl on ESPNU on a Monday afternoon. And by the way, even the more glorified bowls are losing their luster, with the great players opting out and the national focus almost entirely shifted to the three games that matter — the two semifinals and FBS Championship, games neither James Madison nor Sam Houston will ever see except from their living-room sofas.

Can NDSU’s national brand be any more glitzy in FBS than it is now?

Another puzzle: Backers of FCS programs wanting to kick the Bison to the FBS curb because of their dominance. Better to poach their blueprint and aspire to their level.

It wasn’t rainin’ hard in Frisco, but it was enough ...

Criticism emerged over the slippery putting-green grass surface at Toyota Stadium, but short of a tarp I’m not sure what else the NCAA could do. Rain fell Friday night and parts of Saturday, and while slippery the turf held.

Yes, there was plenty of slippin’ and slidin’, but bottom line: Both teams had to play on it.

This article originally ran on bozemandailychronicle.com.

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