Montana State hopes to build off 2016 conclusion

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(STATS) - It's no longer get-to-know-you in Montana State's spring practice, it's the Bobcats trying to get to the next level as a program.

"It's amazing what a difference a year makes in terms of these kids' familiarity with us," said second-year coach Jeff Choate, who this time last year was going through his first spring practice at the helm.

Two straight wins to end Choate's first season served as a jump-start to the offseason and the momentum rolled into the Bobcats' spring practice, which concludes Saturday with the annual Sonny Holland Classic scrimmage at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman.

The Bobcats, who return eight starters on each side of the ball, seek to improve on last year's 4-7 record, including 2-6 in the Big Sky. It marked the second straight losing record for a program that's long been a conference power.

The return of four starters on the offensive line figures to make dual-threat quarterback Chris Murray even more dangerous as he comes off Big Sky offensive rookie of the year honors. Top wide receiver Mitchell Herbert returns, but the starting running back spot is up for grabs, with Nick LaSane and transfer Edward Vander the top candidates.

The defense will feature of one of the Big Sky's top players in senior linebacker Mac Bignell.

Montana State's 2017 schedule is frontloaded, beginning with Pac-12 member Washington State on Sept. 2, so the Bobcats are going to need to play better early on than they did in Choate's first season.