BOZEMAN — Jeff Choate is not one to look too far beyond the task at hand.
This week, Choate’s Montana State football team travels to UC Davis for a crucial Big Sky Conference matchup. It's a game rife with postseason ramifications.
November is the time of year when the subplots really start to thicken. The Bobcats have been a very good late-season team, having gone 9-3 in November games — including the playoffs — in Choate’s tenure.
With one more win this year the No. 10-ranked Bobcats (7-3, 4-2 Big Sky) will likely clinch a second consecutive postseason berth. In a 12-game schedule, eight wins should be enough to get you in the tournament.
MSU has won two straight games, including last week’s 45-14 romp at Northern Colorado in which the Bobcats rushed for a season-high 451 yards.
This week's game kicks off at 5 p.m. Mountain Time and will be broadcast on SWX and the Eleven Sports network.
Choate, like everyone else, understands what’s at stake.
“You don’t have to be a genius to figure that out,” Choate said Tuesday during his weekly news conference at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, acknowledging what another victory would mean for his team.
Still, Choate was quick to point out that the Bobcats aren’t focused on big-picture scenarios.
“Every single game in November is consequential and big,” he said. “I don’t look at this game any different than last week’s game or the week before. Had we not won those we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.
“So this is a big game for both teams because it’s November football. We’ve got a really tough opponent in front of us.”
Despite the ups and downs it has experienced this year, UC Davis (5-5, 3-3) might not yet be totally out of the playoff conversation. If the Aggies win out, it would mean they closed the season with victories over MSU and Sacramento State, both of which are ranked in the top 10 of this week’s STATS FCS poll.
A seven-win UC Davis team could be more attractive to the postseason selection committee than a seven-win Montana State team based on strength of schedule. The Aggies, mind you, have lost to FBS Cal, seven-time FCS champion North Dakota State, Montana and Weber State.
The latter three are all ranked in the top five nationally.
So this game is equally important to the Aggies, and MSU expects nothing less than their best.
“They’ve maybe had a little bit of an inconsistent season, but we don’t anticipate that being the case on Saturday,” Choate said. “It’s going to be Senior Day for them, a lot on the line … we know the team that we’re going to get.
“They have our attention already, let me say that. We’re not overlooking anything. All eyes are on UC Davis right now.”
The Aggies, coached by Dan Hawkins, are renowned for their offensive firepower and star players who operate at a typically high level.
Quarterback Jake Maier, last year’s Big Sky offensive MVP and the preseason pick to win the award again this season, is one of the top passers in the league and a player Choate said is “one of the best I’ve seen at any level in the country.”
Running back Ulonzo Gilliam last week became the first rusher in the Big Sky to eclipse 1,000 yards this year. He has also caught 41 passes out of the backfield, which ranks second on the team.
UC Davis had its best offensive showing last week as it put up 649 yards in a 45-28 win at Portland State. Gilliam rushed for a career-high 242 yards and two touchdowns. Maier threw for 383 yards and four scores.
When the Aggies are rolling they can be tough to handle — regardless of the late-season implications.
“It’s all chips on the table this week. This is it,” Choate said. “This is everything to us right now. We know this is a huge game for us (and) for our program. Any other stuff you want to talk about down the road is completely meaningless to me because it’s all about playing the University of Cal Davis.
“I’d much rather have them come up here; I can guarantee you it’d be a little different environment up here. But we’ve got to go down there and play, and play in a tough environment against a really, really good football team. It should be a good college football game.”
Choate said he is “hopeful” that running back Isaiah Ifanse and receiver/wildcat quarterback Travis Jonsen will contribute this week.
Ifanse, a 1,000-yard rusher last year, has played sparingly through most of this season due to a lower-body injury. Neither he nor a nicked-up Jonsen played last week at Northern Colorado.