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It's the time of year when most college football coaches talk cautiously about their chances for success during the coming season.

Not Ed Lamb.

Instead of downplaying Southern Utah's prospects — and trying to minimize the pressure on his players and himself — Lamb speaks optimistically about his expectations for the Thunderbirds.

"We're ready to compete for a championship in the Big Sky [Conference]," he says. "This team has lofty goals and is certainly capable of achieving lofty goals."

Lamb doesn't sound like a coach who lost a record-breaking quarterback and plays four of his first five games on the road. Clearly, he believes junior college transfer Aaron Cantu can replace Brad Sorensen at quarterback and a talented, experienced defense will give the reorganized offense time to develop.

Southern Utah opens at South Alabama on Aug. 29. After playing host to Fort Lewis College on Sept. 7, the Thunderbirds visit Washington State, Sacramento State and Northern Colorado.

It's a stretch that could shake the confidence of a team trying to establish an offensive identity, but Lamb is upbeat.

"I like early road games," he said. "The players are excited and enjoy traveling — experiencing that part of college football. And if we take care of business, we can set ourselves up for a pretty serious run."

Cantu, who spent last year at East Los Angeles College, will be a key. He replaces Sorensen, who threw for 9,445 yards and 61 touchdowns over three seasons before being drafted by the San Diego Chargers.

Cantu claimed the No. 1 job in spring practice and solidified his position with an outstanding preseason camp.

"He has great charisma, leadership and confidence in his abilities," Lamb said. "He's come in and done a nice job. He has a chance to be as efficient and successful as any quarterback we've had."

Lamb is just as confident in his defense. The secondary returns intact, and starters Zak Browning, Chad Hansen and Matt Holley will be one of the best linebacking groups in the Big Sky. —

Best-case scenario

Southern Utah challenges for the Big Sky Conference title. Junior college transfer Aaron Cantu emerges as a productive replacement for record-setting quarterback Brad Sorensen, and an experienced defense lives up to coach Ed Lamb's belief that it can become one of the best in school history.

Worst-case scenario

The Thunderbirds, who open by playing four of their first five games on the road, get off to a confidence-crumbling start and never recover. Talented-but-inexperienced running backs don't play well enough to take a little pressure off Cantu or the highly regarded defense.

Bottom line

Southern Utah showed it could beat the best teams in the Big Sky last season. However, the Thunderbirds finished only 4-4 because they were inconsistent. Seemingly on the threshold of a breakthrough season for the last three years, it's time for SUU to take the next step. —

SUU schedule

All times MT

Thurs. • at South Alabama, 5:30 p.m.

Sept. 7 • Fort Lewis College, 6:05 p.m.

Sept. 14 • at Washington State, TBA

Sept. 21 • at Sacramento State, 7:05 p.m.

Sept. 28 • at Northern Colorado, 1:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 • UC Davis, 1:05 p.m.

Oct. 12 • Portland State, 2:05 p.m.

Oct. 19 • at Eastern Washington, 6:05 p.m.

Oct. 26 • Idaho State,1:05 p.m.

Nov. 9 • Weber State, 1 p.m.

Nov. 16 • at Montana State, 4 p.m.

Nov. 23 • Northern Arizona, 1:05 p.m.

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