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Stan Becton | | January 3, 2022

Montana State coach Brent Vigen looks to end FCS title drought against alma mater North Dakota State

Montana State coach Brent Vigen on preparing for FCS championship vs. North Dakota State

Despite being a first-time head coach, Montana State's Brent Vigen has the Bobcats in the 2021 FCS national championship game. Yet, before he got to the championship stage as a head coach, Vigen wasn't a stranger to winning.

In high school, Vigen was a star athlete, winning a state basketball championship while also lettering in football, where his dad was the coach. He then took a football scholarship to North Dakota State, winning a conference title in 1994. After his playing career, Vigen remained with the Bison as a coach, progressing from a graduate assistant to the offensive coordinator role. As the North Dakota State offensive coordinator, Vigen three-peated as an FCS champion from 2011-13. 

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However, unlike the North Dakota State dynasty, Montana State was in the midst of a championship drought when Vigen arrived. In fact, the Bobcats lost to the Bison in the FCS playoffs in 2018 and 2019. Then the pandemic hit and Montana State opted out of football in the 2020-21 season. The Bobcats hired Vigen as the new head coach in February of 2021. 

Upon taking the role at Montana State, Vigen knew his team was capable of overcoming past playoff failures.

"I thought it was something we definitely could do, but there was going to have to be a lot of work that would have to go in February through August," said Vigen. "This season it was going to be a matter of us continuing to improve throughout the fall."

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Now less than 11 months from signing on the dotted line for his first head coaching job, Vigen will face his alma mater and the program where he got his coaching beginnings for the ultimate prize. 

Vigen remains measured heading into his first game against his former school, preparing for the Bison like any other opponent. Nonetheless, winning a championship against North Dakota State would be special. 

"It would really be a sense of accomplishment with all they've been able to do in the past decade, which I was a part of in the beginning," said Vigen.

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Vigen's Bobcats are strikingly similar to North Dakota State in the 2021 season. Both schools sit among the nation's top 10 rushing offenses, and the Bison and Bobcats are the top two scoring defenses in the FCS, respectively. Yet even with an elite defense, it's within Vigen's offense that an X factor may lie. 

True freshman quarterback Tommy Mellott has led Montana State during its playoff run. He's the latest quarterback in a string of Vigen-coached signal-callers that includes current NFL starting quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Josh Allen. 

What makes Mellott's postseason success special is that he hadn't started a game until the second round of the playoffs. However, thanks to Vigen's emphasis on the development of younger players since the coach's arrival on campus, players like Mellott have gotten reps since the preseason. Coach Vigen knew Mellott would be ready for the big stage.

"The behind the scenes part of it was seeing him continue to develop as a passer and understanding that Tommy was preparing himself every week," said Vigen. "I don't think the moment has been too big for him...I know his confidence has continued to build throughout the playoffs and I know our team's confidence in him is at a tremendous level right now." 

With confidence at a high entering the FCS championship, Mellott and crew are benefitting from an additional three weeks between the semifinals and title game. Drawing from his experience at North Dakota State, Vigen knows that the extra break gives players time to regroup and, most importantly, prepare for the game ahead.

It also gives the Bobcats a chance to heal ahead of the national championship. Key players like defensive lineman Chase Benson, defensive back Ty Okada and running back Isaiah Ifanse all missed the FCS semifinal game against South Dakota State.

HISTORY: Schools with the most FCS titles | 9 winningest FCS programs all time | Championship history

The return of any player from injury would certainly help Montana State continue its run of impressive wins. The Bobcats knocked off the defending champions, the defending runner-up, and now have a chance to knock off the biggest dynasty in the FCS over the past decade in front of a sold-out crowd in Frisco. 

With the ever-passionate Montana State fans making the trip, coach Vigen knows the fanbase is hungry for a title and hopes to deliver.

"To bring a championship home would be something," said Vigen. "To bring that home for Montana, for Bozeman, Montana, and for Bobcat nation across the country would be an awesome feeling."

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