Cedar City • Southern Utah's Ed Lamb doesn't sound like a football coach only days away from tackling the most imposing schedule in school history.
Before eight games as a new member of the Big Sky Conference, the Thunderbirds open on the road against Utah State and California.
"Our schedule is something we now recruit to," he said. "It's exciting for our players to step on the same field as teams like Utah State and Cal."
Realistically, Southern Utah must pull off at least one unimaginable upset to avoid an 0-2 start.
With their first-ever Big Sky Conference race still ahead, however, the Thunderbirds can put together a season to remember no matter what happens in Logan or Berkeley.
"Our coaches try to make football into a microcosm of life a classroom where hard work and perseverance pay off," Lamb said.
"These games the way the schedule sets up give us a chance to do that. Early on, we need to learn things about ourselves that will help us for our conference run."
Southern Utah comes off consecutive 6-5 seasons, including 11-3 at Eccles Coliseum.
Last year, the Thunderbirds knocked off UNLV (41-16) and played only four home games. But they failed to secure a Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth because they lost four games by 16 points.
Southern Utah's ability to immediately impact the Big Sky race rests with a high-powered offense led by preseason All-American quarterback Brad Sorensen and the effectiveness of an inexperienced but athletic defense.
"We have a mature offense," Lamb said. "They expect to play well, and it all starts with our quarterback. His attitude, character and poise have really spread throughout the team. They are a confident group right now."
Because of Sorensen, who in 22 games at SUU has thrown for 6,306 yards and 38 touchdowns, two NFL general managers have already scouted Thunderbird practices.
"Normally, that's something I would downplay," Lamb said. "But it has been exciting because Brad has prepared himself so well for this season. He's had a nice camp. We have high hopes for him."
Southern Utah schedule
Aug. 30 • at Utah State, 6 p.m.
Sept. 8 • at California, 1 p.m.
Sept. 15 • vs. N.M. Highlands, 6 p.m.
Sept. 22 • at Portland State, 6 p.m.
Sept. 29 • vs. Montana State, 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 6 • vs. Sacramento State, 1 p.m.
Oct. 13 • at Montana, 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 20 • vs. Weber State, 1 p.m.
Oct. 27 • vs. E. Washington, 1 p.m.
Nov. 3 • at North Dakota, noon
Nov. 10 • at Northern Arizona, 5 p.m.