BOZEMAN — A year ago, Casey Bauman was a first-year college quarterback bursting with potential but suffering from what coach Jeff Choate said was a bout of homesickness while trying to make the leap to the FCS from Nooksack Valley High School near the Canadian border in northwest Washington.
But Bauman has come a long way since then, and he has now been given the keys to Montana State’s offense.
On Monday, Choate officially named the 6-foot-7, 235-pound Bauman as the Bobcats’ starting quarterback for the 2019 season. Bauman won the job over sophomore Tucker Rovig during a competition that spanned the spring, summer and the first nine practices of fall camp, which included the team’s first scrimmage on Saturday.
Choate said he and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Matt Miller came to a consensus on Sunday and met with both Bauman and Rovig to inform them of the decision.
Choate had described the competition as “tight” during the first half of camp, and said Bauman was able to edge Rovig due to a confluence of factors.
“It’s not any one thing in particular, it’s a lot of little things,” Choate said. “And I think one of the little things that really became evident to me was I felt like (Bauman) was starting to kind of take command of the huddle more frequently.
“Certainly I’ve made clear that that was going to be a large part of (the) decision, really how the players responded. Not that they responded in a negative way to Tucker at all. That’s not the case. It’s just that if you want to go with more than anything, (it was) more my gut feel.”
Bauman is set to become the Bobcats’ fourth Week 1 starting quarterback in the past four years. Last year’s starter, Troy Andersen, has since moved to outside linebacker.
MSU opens the season Aug. 31 at FBS Texas Tech.
“It was a difficult decision, and we’re pretty fortunate to have that type of difficult decision,” Miller said. “It could have probably gone either way. I know Tucker’s going to prepare like he’s the starter and he’s going to push Casey.
“It was a tough decision but it was a healthy conversation. They both understand the plan.”
Bauman possesses major-league arm talent but is short on experience. He completed one pass for four yards in spot duty during a 49-42 victory against Cal Poly at Bobcat Stadium last November.
But Choate said Bauman has improved his smarts and decision-making, and believes the redshirt freshman can pair that with the ability to make downfield throws, which is something the offense has lacked consistently in recent years.
Choate said Bauman is “a young man that came from, really, basically Class B football — the equivalent of that — in the state of Washington who has some tremendous physical gifts. I don’t think anybody in this room sits in front of Casey and goes, ‘He doesn’t look like he can be a Division I quarterback.’
“But it’s really the mental part of it that is the biggest growth that I’ve seen. His practice habits, his preparation habits. I think he’s gotten really close with his teammates. I think he put those pennies in the bank this summer to try to gain (their) trust.”
With such a large physical stature — Miller compared his look to that of former Kalispell Flathead star and NFL QB Brock Osweiler — Bauman’s arm strength especially stands out.
“I just have not seen a lot of guys, really anywhere, that can throw the ball with the velocity that he does,” Choate said. “Now, at times he’s got to become more accurate, and that’s going to be the thing that you really hang your hat on, but he can make some throws that we haven’t been able to make.
“And I think Tucker’s capable of making those throws, too. I think Casey just has a little more arm talent. He’s got a little stronger arm.”
The 6-5, 205-pound Rovig, who is from Meridian, Idaho, made two starts last season while Andersen was nursing a broken hand. Rovig threw for 164 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in a 42-14 loss at South Dakota State on Sept. 8, and had 310 yards with three TDs in a 47-24 victory over Wagner the following week.
Rovig was lost last season when he tore a ligament in his left foot during preparations for the Idaho game on Oct. 13.
“That was a tough conversation obviously to have with Tucker,” Choate said of Sunday’s meeting. “He handled it exactly like I thought he’d handle it. ‘Coach, I understand. It’s what’s best for the team right now. I’ll be ready when you need me.’ ”
When camp began on Aug. 2, Choate talked about his desire to tighten the timeline for naming the quarterback, and he and the coaching staff held true to that agenda.
Having a starter in place now, Choate said, will help the offense mesh through the second half of fall drills.
While the competition will continue between Bauman and Rovig going forward — as it will for each position group — Choate said Bauman will not have a short leash.
“If there comes a time that we feel like the best thing for our team is to make a change, obviously that’s something that we’ll discuss at that moment,” Choate said. “But right now I don’t want (Bauman) looking in the rear view mirror. I want (him) looking straight ahead knowing that (he’s) got the trust of the staff and (his) teammates.”
Players were not made available for interviews Monday.
The Bobcats are scheduled to conduct eight more fall-camp practices, including a second scrimmage this Saturday, before beginning game-week preparations Aug. 23.