The Montana–Montana State football rivalry is an annual college football rivalry game between the University of Montana Grizzlies and the Montana State University Bobcats. Primarily known as Cat-Griz, it is also referred to as Griz-Cat and the Brawl of the Wild, the winner receives the Great Divide Trophy.
The rivalry began in 1897, making it the 31st oldest in NCAA Division I and the 11th oldest west of the Mississippi River, as well as the fourth-oldest Football Championship Subdivision rivalry and the oldest FCS rivalry west of the Mississippi. Montana leads the series 72–37–5, but that margin is considerably smaller since Montana State joined the NCAA in 1957 at 32–26. The game, especially of late, has major implications on the Big Sky Conference championship and its automatic bid to the Division I FCS tournament.
The rivalry began on November 26, 1897 when the two teams played in Bozeman, home of Montana State, with Montana prevailing by the score of 18–6. At the time, Montana State was known as Montana State College, while Montana was known as Montana State University. The rivalry is the 31st oldest among active rivalries in NCAA Division I and of those is the eleventh oldest west of the Mississippi River. It is also the fourth oldest active rivalry in the FCS and the oldest west of the Mississippi River.
The series has three distinct periods. From 1897 to 1916, Montana State did not belong to a conference, while Montana was in the Northwest Intercollegiate Athletic Association. In addition to Montana, the Northwest Conference included Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, Idaho, and Whitman College. At times they would play twice per year. Early seasons had seven games or less with one season seeing the Grizzlies play just one game. Four of the five ties in the series came during this era. Montana won 12 games to Montana State’s 7.
Montana State joined the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in 1917 and Montana joined the Pacific Coast Conference (today’s Pac-12 Conference in 1924. The RMAC included several teams that later became Mountain West members. When MSU joined the RMAC included Colorado, Colorado State, Utah, Utah State, and Brigham Young. When UM joined the PCC included Stanford, California, UCLA, USC, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, and Idaho. The Bobcats remained in the RMAC, which dropped down to the NAIA in 1938, through 1956, while the Grizzlies remained in the PCC through 1949 and joined the Skyline (aka Mountain States) Conference,which included Colorado, Utah State, Denver, Utah, Colorado State, Brigham Young, New Mexico and Wyoming, from 1951–1961. MSU was independent from 1957–1962 and UM was independent in 1950 and 1962. During this period UM enjoyed a 30–8–1 edge in Cat-Griz games, while MSU won the NAIA national title in 1956.
Both schools entered the Big Sky Conference as charter members in 1963 with Montana holding a 43–15–2 series lead. Prior to that UM was in conferences with what are now FBS and BCS schools, while MSU was either not in a conference or in a NAIA conference, for all but 30 of the 59 games played. UM holds a 22–5–3 record in those games.
In the first 23 years in the Big Sky Conference, Montana State enjoyed its most successful period of the Cat-Griz rivalry with a 17–6 win-loss record and won two national titles. A new period began in 1986, often known in Montana as “The Streak,” in which Montana won sixteen straight games in the series. A few of these games were close, but most of them gave a strong indication that the two football programs were going in very different directions. Montana won two NCAA Division I-AA championships during “The Streak”, while Montana State had one season where it failed to win a single game. Montana State finally snapped “The Streak” in 2002, winning at Montana, and the post-Streak record stands at 7–5 in favor of Montana. The Big Sky era shows Montana with a 30–22 lead. Since both teams joined the NCAA in 1957, UM holds a 32–26 lead.
While UM holds a sizable lead in the all-time series, Montana State has won more conference championships (20) and more national championships (3). UM has won 18 league titles and two national titles.
- Montana was penalized by the NCAA on July 26, 2013 and forced to vacate its last five wins of the 2011 season. One win was against Montana State.
Great Divide Trophy
The Great Divide Trophy was created in 2001 by Dave Samuelson. The trophy was made possible by numerous donations. The winner of each game will possess the trophy for one year. The school with the most wins at the end of the 21st century will hold the trophy forever.
Montana was the first school to receive the trophy following their victory in the 2001 game. Since then the trophy has since changed hands eight times. As of 2015, the trophy is in the possession of Montana. Montana holds a 9–5 series lead since the trophy was introduced to the rivalry.