Coach Bob Stitt spent 15 years at Colorado School of Mines in the NCAA's Division II tier before coming to Montana. And in that decade and a half, the coach figured, he may have done fewer media interviews than just this week.

And that was only Tuesday afternoon.

Welcome to football season in Missoula, coach.

Game week is finally here for the Grizzlies and the only folks more relieved than the football-hungry fans are probably the fellas in pads. After 20-some fall practices in the heat and the smoke, the players are over fall camp and ready for Saturday's highly anticipated season-opening clash with North Dakota State.

"Sick of it. Done with it. Ready to play somebody else," Montana senior outside linebacker Kendrick Van Ackeren said. "I love these guys, but I'm ready to hit somebody else."

Kickoff in Missoula is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday and plans have not changed for kickoff despite the lingering smoke that has blanketed Missoula this week. Forecasts do call for a dip in temperatures to the low 80s and high 70s by the end of the week, though experts don't see any rain yet for relief.

Tickets are sold out and department officials expect a record crowd – even with the haze. The game will also be televised live to a national audience on ESPN, part of the network's second-annual FCS Kickoff. The ESPN College GameDay set won't be in town like it's traveled a few times to Fargo, North Dakota, for Bison games (GameDay is a rarity at the FCS level), but the network's SEC Game of the Week crew will be on hand.

That unit features Montana native and occasional Hamilton resident Brent Musburger on play-by-play with color commentator Jesse Palmer. Maria Taylor rounds out the on-air talent as sideline reporter.

All that hype – NDSU is the four-time defending national champion after all – isn't lost on the players, though they are less enamored and excited by the bright lights and talking heads.

"It's great for the school and it's great for (Grizzly) athletics, but us as players try not to think about that," said wide receiver and senior captain Jamaal Jones. "Whether (Musburger) is calling the game or not, he's not gonna be the reason we win or lose."


When Coach Stitt took the job at Montana last December, he found a position that came with some limelight. People care about football in Big Sky Country. That's what he wanted. It was a place like UM that he'd hunted for during his tenure at Mines.

And this week's countdown to North Dakota State is a reassurance of his decision, the coach said.

"It's the reason I got into the profession, to coach in a game like this," he said.

The Grizzlies have known the stakes of their Week 1 matchup since last season ended in the playoffs at the hands of Big Sky Conference rival Eastern Washington. That came just weeks before Stitt's addition to the Grizzly football offices, but since his arrival the coach has been working for this moment.

Well, not this moment per se, more like that one just after lunch on Saturday afternoon.

"The preparation has kept us so focused and we've been so busy you don't really think about (pressure)," Stitt said. "It'll probably sink in Friday or Saturday morning, but we're just keeping our heads down and working.

"You're anxious and you're excited. I talked to the team about it and you're not gonna be nervous when you're prepared. ... People that are nervous are unsure. We're ready to go and we're prepared."