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Montana vs. South Dakota State 2024 FCS National Championship Betting Analysis: Grizzlies Snare Cover From Jackrabbits

Autjoe Soe and Trajon Cotton Montana Grizzlies
Autjoe Soe #23 and TraJon Cotton #3 of the Montana Grizzlies react after a stoppage against the Washington Huskies. Steph Chambers/Getty Images/AFP

South Dakota State takes aim at its second consecutive FCS Championship as double-digit chalk on the NCAAF betting cards against Montana.

Top Pick


Montana Grizzlies vs. South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Sunday, January 07, 2024 – 02:00 PM ET at Toyota Stadium


Imagine winning your conference with an unbeaten record and automatically qualifying for a chance to win the national championship. And imagine being a head football coach that doesn’t have to worry much about the transfer portal or NFL Draft opt-outs this time of year.

It’s not make-believe, and the FCS will crown its champion with a collision between Montana and South Dakota State, those two schools making the trip south to Frisco, Texas to decide who brings home the trophy.

Jackrabbits Holding as Double-Digit Chalk

Now imagine your biggest rival donating money so that your band can be at the big game to perform and provide support for the gang down on the field. Once again, it’s true after Montana State chipped in so that Montana’s band could make the trip to Frisco.

The Grizzlies will need all the help and support they can get according to the numbers at sharp sportsbooks. South Dakota State opened as 12½-point chalk, and that number is holding up at Caesar’s Sportsbook, where scoreboard bettors are looking at a 49½-point target.

Those numbers kind of spit in the face of what has transpired over the history of this rivalry. Montana has won all eight previous meetings, the most recent a 24-17 decision in the first round of the 2015 FCS playoffs.

No Bison in Title Tilt a Rare Site

It’s not a surprise to see either Montana or South Dakota State in the championship contests. After all, the Grizzlies and Jackrabbits were a combined 27-1 on the season and among the leaders in many consequential stats.

What is a surprise is that both Montana and South Dakota State are in the title tilt together, since that means North Dakota State is not. The Bison own nine pieces of FCS hardware since their first championship in 2011, and appeared poised to win a 10th before being stopped by the Grizzlies in the FCS semis.

North Dakota State played that game without head coach Matt Entz, who was lured away from Fargo to be the linebackers coach at USC. In this case, it was a coach entering the transfer portal.

How They Got Here

Montana beat North Dakota State with a grueling double-overtime decision, coming up with a wild end-around pass by Junior Bergen for a 2-point conversion in the second extra period before stopping the Bison on their ensuing 2-point attempt.

The Grizzlies closed as 2½-point underdogs at Bet365 (check our Bet365 Review), and the 31-29 final got past the 52-point total thanks to the clubs combining for 28 points in the two overtime periods.

South Dakota State didn’t need overtime to get past Albany in its FCS semifinal matchup. In fact, that game could have been stopped 7 minutes into the first quarter when the Jackrabbits scored their first touchdown on the way to a 59-0 rout.

Albany went into the matchup with one of the top FCS passers, Reese Poffenbarger, and the Jackrabbits picked him off three times. South Dakota State also returned an Albany fumble for a score and ran a punt back 79 yards for another.

McDowell a Duel-Threat QB for Montana

Beating the NCAAF odds like they did with the upset of North Dakota State was the norm for the Grizzlies in 2023. Montana went 9-4 against the spread, with its only straight-up loss coming on the road at Northern Arizona in September.

Clifton McDowell is Montana’s band leader on offense, throwing for 1,861 yards and 13 touchdowns while running for 751 yards and 9 more scores.

Eli Gillman (950 yards rushing) and Nick Ostmo (637 yards) team up with McDowell in the Grizzlies’ backfield. When Bergen isn’t throwing 2-point conversion passes, he catches passes, 55 of them on the season to lead Montana.

SDSU 6th in FCS in Total Offense

South Dakota State’s offense is directed by Mark Gronowski, who paced FCS in passing efficiency this season (187.2). The junior from Naperville, Illinois showed that off in the win over Albany by completing 15-19 passes for 265 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Gronowski’s efficiency certainly gets a boost from receivers Jadon and Jaxon Janke, twin brothers who combined for 99 catches (14 TD) and over 1,400 yards receiving.

The Jackrabbits’ passing game is also greatly assisted by tailback Isaiah Davis, who topped FCS with nearly 1,500 yards rushing on the season.

South Dakota State doesn’t need a ton of offense with a defense that led the FCS ranks, allowing less than 10 points a game, and that made the Jackrabbits a great college football pick on the ‘under’ with a 4-9 O/U record.

The Pick

This outcome will hinge on two factors: How Gronowski and the Jackrabbits handle Montana’s blitzes, and if Bergen can showcase his electric return talent and pass receiving. It’s a very, very good South Dakota State team, but I’ll play with house money like Montana and take the points.

NCAAF Pick: Montana +12½ (-110) at Caesars Sportsbook (check our Caesars Sportsbook Review)

*The line and/or odds referenced in this article might have changed since the content was published. For the latest information on line movements, visit OddsTrader’s free betting odds tool.

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