<B>Montana has furthur incentive against Idaho</B

<B>Can the Vandals struggling defense slow down the Grizz? Can the Vandals offense score enough points?</B>

Riding a nine-game win streak, running away with a fourth straight Big Sky Conference title and being ranked No. 1 in Division I-AA, the University of Montana football team seems to be living the good life.

A good life that can turn a little sour this week.

The Grizzlies, 10-1, were hoping their season finale against Idaho wouldn't hurt their standing for the Division I-AA playoffs. On Monday, though, the playoff committee gave them no such guarantee.

"The consensus of the committee was that a loss to Idaho would not likely bump us out of the top four, and conceivably may not affect our seeding at all,'' said Montana athletic director Wayne Hogan, who is a member of the eight-man committee.

"However, with the new format in effect this year, my counterparts were hesitant to officially award home sites until all games have been completed.''

The eight highest ranked teams in the 16-team playoffs get to play host to first-round games. If Montana finishes the season as the No. 1 team, it will play at home -- as long as it wins -- until the championship game.

If Montana had assurance that its game against Division I-A Idaho wouldn't hurt its standing, the Grizzlies could rest some key performers and enter the playoffs healthy.

Instead, Saturday's game at 12:15 p.m. PST at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula now has quite a bit riding on it other than just the Little Brown Stein that goes to the winner.

"I'll be honest. I don't think the decision made will have any effect on our kids,'' Montana coach Joe Glenn said. "Our kids are competitors and they want to win. They'd play this game with their hair on fire.''

Glenn said while this game isn't as big as last week's 38-27 win over Montana State, Idaho is still a rival, especially since the two often are pursuing the same players.

"I always feel it is an important game, even for recruiting purposes,'' Glenn said. "But then we won the game last year and lost a quarterback (Michael Harrington) to them.

"This game does have some rivalry to it and so we are going to play hard from that standpoint as well.''

The Grizzlies have their usual talent on offense, with a big line, a good quarterback and a number of good receivers.

But unlike previous teams, the Grizzlies don't have a throw-first, run-second mentality, due to running back Yo Humphery.

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior already owns Montana's single-season rushing record with 1,545 yards on 287 carries. He's averaging 5.4 yards a carry and 140.5 per game, and has scored 15 touchdowns.

He's also the team's second-leading receiver with 33 catches for 337 yards.

Etu Molden, a 6-2, 195-pound senior, leads the team with 69 catches for 1,000 yards. He's also caught 12 of the 19 touchdown passes Montana has thrown this season.

Molden needs four more receiving yards to move past former Lewiston High standout Jimmy Farris into the No. 8 spot on the single-season receiving yards list.

Quarterback John Edwards is having a solid year as he's completed 57 percent of his passes (147-of-258) for 1,856 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's missed two games because of injuries, but backup Brandon Neill has filled in well, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. He's thrown seven TD passes against one interception.

"The thing I really like about this team is I went through all of the individual and team categories in the Big Sky Conference and we don't lead one except for scoring defense,'' Glenn said. "Yet we're ranked No. 1 in the nation. That says a lot about this team.''

Montana is averaging 33.8 points per game and is allowing 19.7. It's failed to score four touchdowns in a game only once this season, a 30-12 loss to Hawaii.

Defensively, the Grizzlies are led by senior safety Vince Hunsberger, who was the Big Sky's Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore. He leads the team with 97 tackles and five forced fumbles.

"We're excited to play this game,'' Glenn said. "Let's play it and see what shakes down.''

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