This is fairly rare territory for the Montana State Bobcats - a possible Big Sky Conference football crown that's all their own for the first time since 1984, and a pair of youngsters leading the way.
Certainly the 8-2 Bobcats have senior leadership in offensive tackle Mike Person, defensive tackle Dan Ogden and defensive backs Arnold Briggs, Jordan Craney and Michael Rider.
But it is redshirt freshmen Denarius McGhee and Aleksei Grosulak who have grabbed the headlines.
"They've been phenomenal," said MSU coach Rob Ash, whose club visits Washington-Grizzly Stadium for the 110th "Brawl of the Wild" Saturday. "It is an interesting mix. I don't think I've had a team where the two most recognized players were freshmen.
"Now, I don't think we'd be where we are today with the leadership of the seniors. Just about every position group has a good, solid senior. They've provided the basis, the fabric for this season. It's been a great combination."
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McGhee leads the offense from the quarterback spot, after earning the starting job of out of fall camp. The Bobcats had been aware of his talent - he was scout team player of the year on offense in 2009, just as Grosulak was on defense - even if they figured holdover Cody Kempt, a senior who'd transferred from Oregon, would start.
"To be honest that was kind of surprising," said Person, a preseason All-American left tackle out of Glendive. "But it's been a good thing, obviously."
Good doesn't quite cover McGhee, who has thrown 20 touchdown passes, many of them on the run and without having a favorite target: nine different Cats have caught TD passes. Clearly, the Texan right-hander isn't playing like a freshman.
"He doesn't act like a freshman, either," said Person. "Well, when he's off the football field, yeah, then he acts like a freshman. You'll see him skipping to practice and you wonder what's going through his mind."
Maybe he's thinking of his next 400-yard game. He's had two, plus had 385 yards in MSU's wild 64-61 overtime win at Sacramento State. McGhee is shepherding the third-best offense in Football Championship Subdivision - one that's been balanced by the running of Orenzo Davis and C.J. Palmer.
He's the third-rated passer in the FCS.
"He wanted to play Division I and wanted to play quarterback," said Ash. "Being only 6 feet tall, not a lot of bigger schools recruited him. They just don't do it, at that level. Air Force really wanted him, but we got down there early. (Assistant) Justin Gaines had done a very good job on the phone, and I was able to watch them practice in 2008 because they were still in the high school playoffs."
McGhee, one of 14 Texans on the MSU roster, is a student of the game.
"He prepares every day like it's game day," said Person. "That's his attitude every single practice and every single meeting. It's not a fluke, what you're seeing on Saturdays."
The Bobcats lost one league game, 34-7 at Northern Arizona, amid reports that McGhee had an injured foot. His wasn't the only injury, or issue.
"He was kind of banged up but we didn't do much to help him, across the board," said Ash. "That was a team effort, that loss. Including coaching. You can have games where nothing works, and that was one of those."
"It was a great effort by NAU," noted Rider, a Billings West grad who recently transitioned from free safety to strong side linebacker. "They ended up showing up and they outplayed us."
The defense has been less of a benchmark, though injuries certainly played a role. Rider (53 tackles) has started the last two games at linebacker. Ogden, (43 tackles, including 5.5 sacks), a Kalispell product, spent a couple games at defensive end before moving back inside to tackle.
The steadiest hand may be Grosulak, who started the year at strong side and then moved to the middle backer when Clay Bignell, who had a breakout 2009 season as a sophomore, had some injuries.
"He was a heavily-recruited walk-on," Ash said of Grosulak, out of Billings Central. "We knew he was going to be a good football player, but his development perhaps surpassed our expectations."
Just eight seniors start for the Bobcats, including receiver Julius Lloyd (29 catches for team highs of 594 yards and six touchdowns). They've dealt with five different set-ups on the offensive line, and won the three games since NAU despite committing 10 turnovers.
They have a junior kicker, Jason Cunningham, who is already the school's career scoring leader with 236 points - but has also missed four PAT kicks this year.
They may be ready for prime time. If so, some freshmen will lead them, and all eyes will be on McGhee Saturday.
"Still, the issue was that he might be too short to play college football," Ash said. "It turned out he's not."
Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 523-5247 or at email@example.com.