On the surface Saturday's clash appears awfully one-sided as 3-1 Montana, the No. 10 team in the nation, hosts 0-5 Mississippi Valley State. It gets a little uglier the deeper you dive into the statistics, too.
But Montana quarterbacks coach Andrew Selle reminded his passers this week about another "sure thing." It was 2009 and Selle was the one under center for the Griz.
Six weeks before playing in the FCS title game, 8-0 Montana went into Pocatello to face 0-9 Idaho State. Instead of the scripted blowout, the Griz escaped with a 12-10 win on a Brody McKnight game-winning field goal as time expired.
The moral of the story, head coach Bob Stitt preached, is there are no sure things.
"You can't go out and go through the motions in football; you'll get ear-holed and get the heck knocked out of ya," he said. "You've got to come out and play every single game."
Saturday's kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. at Washington-Grizzly Stadium against the Delta Devils of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The nonconference tilt can be seen on Cowles Montana Media affiliates (ABC/FOX).
It's the Grizzlies' second-ever meeting against a SWAC opponent and the first since 1989. That ended up being a hallmark game, a 48-7 victory over Jackson State in the first round of the NCAA Division I-AA postseason -- UM's first playoff win.
This week's game probably won't be as memorable, but it could end up just as lopsided if the teams continue on their current trajectories. Montana ranks 14th in the nation in total offense (459.5 yards per game); MVSU ranks 118th (243.0 ypg). The Griz are 18th in scoring (36.3 points per game); the Devils are 116th (13.0 ppg). Valley also sits 111th in points allowed at 39.8.
There are 122 FCS programs.
"We've got to continue to move forward and get better to prepare ourselves for what we want to do down the line," Stitt said. "It's gonna get tough here in the Big Sky (Conference) schedule in a few weeks. We've got to continue to sharpen what we're doing and get really confident on both sides of the ball.
"... Not wasting a week just because everybody's telling us we're gonna win this ballgame, then you go in and play very sloppy and don't get better. We've got to come out of this with a great taste in our mouth."
Mississippi Valley State, a historically black university based in Leflore County near Itta Bena, is averaging just better than one win per season in the past four. The Devils are 5-33 dating back to the beginning of 2012, though they nearly knocked off Jackson State on the road 16-14 last Saturday.
The program is also plagued by budget shortfalls. Though the SWAC is a full-scholarship league (63 full grant-in-aids), MVSU is playing with just 41 this fall.
A UM check of more than $250,000 for Saturday's game helps explain how these first-time opponents came together.
"Yeah they're good and they can blow you off the map, but it's an experience of a lifetime for a lot of our kids to really test out their wares," Valley coach Rick Comegy said.
Among the most glaring statistical anomalies for MVSU is its rushing attack, or rather lack thereof. The Devils are averaging just 14.6 yards per game on the ground, by far the worst mark in the nation. Some of that has to do with their 20 sacks allowed, with yards lost to sacks counting against rushing totals in the college game. Even without those deficiencies the team would average just 37.4 ypg, still last in FCS by more than 20 yards.
So while Saturday's outcome is in no way assured, one result is far more likely than the other. Such a game, especially one butting into the middle of Montana's conference slate, can be used as extra sharpening of the sword. Both the Griz and Delta Devils will try to better themselves knowing who's expected to remain standing by Saturday evening.
"It's the mental side you want to clean up," explained Stitt. "The physical side, we're pretty good. We're talented but until we totally clean up the mental side of it, we're not going to be as good as we want to be."
The Griz host Sacramento State in a return to Big Sky play next Saturday, the final contest of a three-game homestand.