Montana ready to meet expectations

Updated: August 27, 2003, 4:39 PM ET

MISSOULA -- The University of Montana football team has a new coaching staff and a new quarterback, but Griz fans still expect the same results -- winning the Big Sky Conference title and advancing to the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.

"We knew when we came in here what the expectations were," said new UM coach Bobby Hauck. "That's one reason why this is such an attractive job."

Fourth-ranked Montana opens its 2003 season Saturday at No. 16 Maine in a game dubbed "The Battle of the Bears."

It'll give the coaches -- and fans -- an early indication of how the Grizzlies stack up in the national race.

"Maine will be a good gauge for us to see where we are as a football team," Hauck said.

Montana returns 19 starters from a team that posted an 11-3 record, shared the Big Sky title and advanced to the I-AA playoffs for a record-tying 10th straight year.

But they'll have to replace quarterback John Edwards, a finalist for the Payton Award, which goes to the top offensive player in I-AA, and free safety Trey Young, the Big Sky Conference defensive player of the year and a finalist for the national defensive player of the year award.

Montana starts the season with quarterback Jeff Disney after the other contender, Colorado transfer Craig Ochs, suffered an ankle injury in fall drills.

"Jeff's come a long way in the last few months," Hauck said. "In his last week of practice he did a very good job, and hopefully our offense can jell in our first game."

The Griz also return all five starting offensive linemen, seven of their top eight pass receivers and two-time, all-Big Sky kicker Chris Snyder, who could also serve as punter this season.

The Grizzlies have been the team to beat in the league for the past decade, but they may not be as unbeatable as in the past.

"I think the league is better than it's been since Idaho and Boise (State) left," Hauck said. "I've been away from the league for a while, but I've been following the league. I don't think we sit alone at the top any more."

Montana shared the league title with Montana State and Idaho State last fall, after the Bobcats ended a 16-game losing streak to the Grizzlies in the regular-season finale and all three teams finished with 5-2 records.

In the Sports Network preseason poll, Montana is ranked fourth, Idaho State 11th and MSU 15th. Portland State, Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona also received votes in the preseason poll.

"I think we'll see more upsets this fall than usual," Hauck said.

Montana's schedule includes five games over six weekends from Sept. 6 through Oct. 11 at the newly expanded Washington-Grizzly Stadium, which now has room for 23,117 fans. The Grizzlies look to avenge last season's loss to Montana State on Nov. 22 in Bozeman.

"We really don't know how good we are," Hauck said. "We've put in a lot of good work and gotten ready to play, but we don't know until we line up against Maine on Saturday."

------= ^2003 Montana Schedule=

Aug. 30 -- at Maine

Sept. 6 -- N. Dakota St.

Sept. 13 -- Sam Houston St.

Sept. 27 -- Idaho

Oct. 4 -- Cal Poly

Oct. 11 -- Weber St.*

Oct. 18 -- at Idaho St.*

Oct. 25 -- Portland St.*

Nov. 1 -- at N. Arizona*

Nov. 8 -- at Sacramento St.*

Nov. 15 -- E. Washington*

Nov. 22 -- at Montana St.*

* - Big Sky Conference game

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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