Montana State hopes to build on success
BOZEMAN -- Sophomore quarterback Travis Lulay is bigger and stronger this year -- and Montana State hopes just as good as the freshman version that helped lead the team to its first playoff appearance in nearly 20 years.
"Defense doesn't win championships," head coach Mike Kramer said during fall drills. "Quarterbacks win championships."
The Bobcats are setting their sights high this year, coming off a 2002 campaign that saw the team win a share of the Big Sky conference title and beat in-state rival Montana for the first time in 17 games.
The expectations for the team -- and its young leader -- are high.
"There's a sense of urgency that's still here," said Lulay, 19. "Nobody's complacent, nobody's riding on last year's coat tails. We have things to prove still, we have things to prove to ourselves. We have talent, we just have to put it all together."
Lulay, 6-2 and 205 pounds, started eight games his freshman year, completing 58 percent of his passes for 2,064 yards to earn the conference's newcomer of the year award. His yardage total was good enough to place him 10th on MSU's career passing yardage list.
Lulay, who coaches said has put on an inch or two to go along with another 10 pounds over the offseason, won't have as much experience surrounding him in the backfield this year.
Gone is senior tailback Ryan Johnson who owns the MSU career rushing record with 3,646 yards.
Kramer said the running game is the only part of the team that remains a question mark.
The defense finished tops in the Big Sky for a second straight time last season, allowing just 313.6 yards per game. Five starters return to the secondary, and the team returns all but one defensive lineman.
The team also boasts senior Kane Ioane, who is on the Sports Network initial "Buchanan Watch" list. The Buck Buchanan Award is given to the top defensive player in NCAA Division I-AA football.
Ioane, a Billings Skyview graduate, was a second-team All-American for the Bobcats last season. He led the Big Sky with 127 tackles and had four interceptions last season in earning all-conference honors.
Big Sky coaches predicted a third-place finish for the Bobcats, and some have ranked the Bobcats in the top 15 nationally.
In an effort to help boost excitement surrounding the program, the school is closing off a street near the stadium on game days for tailgating and live entertainment.
The season starts with a big test for MSU, which travels to Division I-A Wyoming for the Aug. 30 opener. MSU has not beat a I-A school on the road since 1984, its championship season. The Bobcats have lost seven straight to Wyoming.
Kramer said the Wyoming players may not be familiar to him, but the team's coaches are -- now that former Montana coach Joe Glenn runs the program.
"The game will draw some extra interest and attention because the Bobcats are playing against a Joe Glenn-coached team, but Joe and his coaches won't be on the field," Kramer said. "We'll be playing a Division I-A team in their stadium, and that's always a difficult chore."
MSU has five non-conference games scheduled before the conference opener starts at home Oct. 11 against Idaho State, ranked 11th nationally in preseason polls. ^------= ^2003 Montana State Schedule=
Aug. 30 -- at Wyoming
Sept. 6 -- Gardner-Webb
Sept. 20 -- at Cal Poly
Sept. 27 -- N. Colorado
Oct. 4 -- at Saint Mary's
Oct. 11 -- Idaho St.*
Oct. 18 -- at Weber St.*
Oct. 25 -- N. Arizona*
Nov. 1 -- Sacramento St.*
Nov. 8 -- E. Washington*
Nov. 15 -- Portland St.*
Nov. 22 -- Montana*
* - Big Sky Conference game
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index