By Colter Nuanez EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN – Montana State has officially entered the most pivotal stretch of the Jeff Choate era.

In the three season under Choate, MSU’s inspiring and fiery head football coach, the Bobcats went through a rebuild in 2016 and a season filled with close calls that ended up in close losses last season. Montana State entered Choate’s third season with elevated expectations, both internally and around the Big Sky Conference.

Montana State enters November squarely in the playoff mix but drifting toward the playoff bubble following a 34-24 loss to No. 7 Weber State on Oct. 20. The Bobcats are 2-2 in Big Sky play, and 4-3 overall. Their three losses came at No. 3 South Dakota State, No. 5 Eastern Washington and at WSU.

The Bobcats now need three wins in their final four games to clinch one of the 24 berths in the FCS playoffs. That quest starts Oct. 27 against an Idaho State team with an identical 4-3 record.

“I think there’s a lot of things that make this a pivotal point in our season,” Choate said. “Winning a game against Idaho State puts us in a position where that eight-win mark you probably need to get to, to get into the playoffs, is in reach. This is an important game in that regard but as I told our team, there’s a lot on the table for us.”

Montana State has not qualified for the FCS playoffs since 2014 after making the tournament field eight times between 2002 and that last berth. To make a postseason push, a win at Holt Arena in Pocatello against Idaho State would be the first step.

Montana State sophomore quarterback Troy Andersen escapes Idaho linebacker Kaden Elliss on Oct. 13.

The Bobcats’ final month includes a home date against Cal Poly on Nov. 3 and Northern Colorado on Nov. 10, two games in which the Bobcats should be favored in. Then comes a showdown with rival Montana in Missoula on Nov. 17 to wrap the regular season.

“We haven’t had a winning season here in four years,” said Choate, who took over after Rob Ash posted a 5-6 mark in 2015, MSU’s first losing season since 2001 at that point. Choate went 4-7 in his first year and 5-6 a season ago.

“We have an opportunity to get to that point, have a winning campaign. We have a chance at the end of the year to go to Missoula to play in what of the great rivalries there is in college football,” Choate said. “There’s a lot on the line here but it’s not everything. We have to continue progressing. We have to continue focusing on us. We are getting close. I hope we can get over the top.”

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer at Skyline Sports, an online news-gathering organization providing comprehensive coverage of Montana State and Big Sky Conference athletics at skylinesportsmt.com.