BOZEMAN, Montana — Montana State won its first football national championship with a freshman playing quarterback.
The Bobcats snapped “The Streak” with a freshman playing quarterback.
MSU won its first of three straight Big Sky Conference championships to begin this decade.
On Monday, Montana State fourth-year head coach Jeff Choate named another freshman the starting quarterback for the Bobcats. Redshirt freshman Casey Bauman earned the starting nod after an off-season of training and 11 days of performances during fall camp.
Now begins the process of chasing similar success as those who came before Bauman. Dave Alt led MSU to its first national title nearly 65 years ago. Travis Lulay engineered MSU’s 10-7 win over rival Montana in Missoula to snap “The Streak”. And DeNarius McGhee was the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year as a redshirt freshman in 2010, leading the Bobcats to the first of three Big Sky Conference titles.
To begin the season, the 6-foot-7, 235-pounder out of Northwestern Washington will occupy the No. 1 spot on the depth chart ahead of sophomore Tucker Rovig. If or when Bauman makes his first career start against Texas Tech on August 31 or otherwise, he will be the fifth player to start under center in Choate’s four seasons at the helm.
“We did have a meeting with both the quarterbacks yesterday and we have made a decision on who our starter will be moving forward. I think that’s really important in the grand scheme of things for our team,” Choate said. “I was really impressed with both of them because I said, ‘I’m not sure there is a body of work that is going to say this that or the other thing but I think it’s best for our team to make a call and move forward.’ They both agreed.
“I say that knowing that three of the four teams from the Big Sky Conference who made it to the playoffs last year had to use two quarterbacks to get there. Weber State, Eastern Washington and even us, we had to have two quarterbacks to get there. I think we are really fortunate to have two quarterbacks that our kids are confident in and trust. But we are going to move forward with Casey.”
Bauman has only thrown one pass at the Division I level and has only played six total plays. He finished the first half of Montana State’s 49-42 win over Cal Poly in 2018 with starter Troy Andersen already in the locker room getting a twisted ankle looked at by the Bobcat training staff. Because he only appeared in one game, he maintained his redshirt.
“I think my command and confidence has improved a lot,” Bauman said in an interview on August 9 the day before MSU’s first scrimmage of fall camp. “Just learning last year, I think it was great for me to redshirt. Listening to Troy, listening to the coaches, learning on the sidelines during those games, understanding how the game works because I came from a place a little bit smaller than this. I think it’s improved. Throughout the summer, it’s just you and the guys so you are bonding, getting to know each other, creating relationships. I think it’s going well.”
During his prep career at Nooksack Valley High, a Class 2A high school in Everson, Washington, Bauman threw for 7,437 yards and 65 touchdowns while rushing for 26 more. His mobility and prodigious arm talent make him a prospect with unbelievable upside.
“I think he’s done a really nice job spring, summer and in fall camp of understanding schematically what we are trying to get done,” MSU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Matt Miller said. “He has been taking what the defense gives him, making a good decision with the ball in his hands, commanding the huddle where guys are following him.
“In terms of his intangibles, he has a really live arm, he can throw the ball down the field and he is going to help us be more dynamic on offense when we are running the ball between the tackles and throwing the deep ball.”
Rovig challenged incumbent Chris Murray in the spring of 2018 before being granted an opportunity to beat out Murray that off-season. When Murray became academically ineligible in the summer before last season, Rovig seemed like the front-runner to win the job. But Andersen, a high school quarterback from Dillon with the body of a Division I linebacker, emerged from fall camp last season as the starter.
Rovig started in a 45-14 loss at No. 3 South Dakota State and threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns in a 47-24 win over Wagner the following week. Andersen reassumed the starting job, although Choate said the staff was preparing Rovig as the starter by mid-October before a season-ending foot injury derailed the 6-foot-5, 205-pounder out of Boise.
Now Rovig will serve as the backup to the third different starter to earn the job ahead of him.”
“That was a tough conversation to have with Tucker but he handled it exactly as I thought he would handle it,” Choate said. “‘Coach, I understand, it’s what is best for the team right now and I’ll be ready when you need me.’
“We had one of our best practices today and I think that was probably part of it. There’s not a lot of clouds hanging over us. Our kids know what direction we are going and they are going to be supportive of Tucker and they are going to be supportive of Casey. We have that decision behind us and that’s why it was important to make that decision after the first scrimmage and not drag it out another week.”
Saturday in MSU’s first official scrimmage of this month, Bauman completed 6-of-11 passes for 77 yards, including a three-yard touchdown strike to senior captain Kevin Kassis. He also threw two interceptions, although one was off a tipped pass in the end-zone that Choate said Kassis had a chance to corral.
Bauman took the majority of first-team repetitions last week leading up to the scrimmage. He drew the praise of former Montana State quarterback and longtime, successful college head coach Dennis Erickson for his arm strength and upside. He earned praise from other coaches in the MSU program too, including his new quarterbacks coach.
“It’s a testament to him putting the work in, coming into my office and talking football and how defenses want to defend us,” Miller said. “Let’s practice calling the play in the huddle, let’s watch our Day 1 install over and over again where it comes second nature to you. I think a lot of it is work ethic. He came in and wore me out and it’s paying dividends for him right now.”
That work ethic helped Bauman become the man under center, at least for now. Choate said Bauman would not have a short leash and that he wants him “looking forward, not in the rearview mirror”. It remains to be seen if Bauman can replicate some of the successes freshmen quarterbacks have had as Bobcats, but he’s optimistic in the progress MSU’s offense has made.
“Every day, the offense gets better and every day, we are going against one of the best defenses in the Big Sky,” Bauman said. “It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time. It’s coming together really well.”