Season of change at least half a dozen Big Sky schools

Updated: August 11, 2003, 7:44 PM ET

MISSOULA -- As many as a half-dozen Big Sky football teams could have new starting quarterbacks when the season opens in three weeks.

Juniors Craig Ochs and Jeff Disney are battling to replace John Edwards at the University of Montana. At Idaho State, juniors Caleb Eastman, Mark Heatherington, and Roman Ybarra are vying to succeed Doug Baughman. And at Eastern Washington, either sophomore Erik Meyer or redshirt freshman Skyler Allen will take the reins from Josh Blankenship.

Junior Joe Wiser, who has one career completion, will be under center at Portland State, replacing two-year starter Juston Wood.

"The only thing he lacks is experience," Portland State coach Tim Walsh said of Wiser. "You look at him and he walks in the room and you say, `hat looks like a pretty good quarterback.' "

Weber State's Tate Bennett and Northern Arizona's Clint Womack are in danger of being replaced. Bennett is being pushed by junior college transfer Kyle Bauer, while Womack feels the footsteps of Baylor transfer Guy Tomcheck and true freshman Jason Murrietta.

"We're going to keep an open mind in camp," said Northern Arizona coach Jerome Souers. "We're going to let performance dictate how that goes. We're probably no different than anyone else. The sooner that position develops, it solidifies our team chemistry, and the better we're going to be."

All of the change is strange for a league that has produced 3,000-yard passers like Montana's Dave Dickenson, Idaho's John Freisz, Portland State's Jimmy Blanchard and Weber State's Jamie Martin.

It's likely the Walter Payton Award preseason watch list will be without a Big Sky quarterback for the first time in several years.

Montana State's quarterback situation is one reason coach Mike Cramer feels good about his team's chances this season. Travis Lulay, who led the Bobcats to a co-league title and a trip to the playoffs as a true freshman, is one of just two quarterbacks assured of keeping his starting spot. Sacramento State's Ryan Leadingham, who has thrown for 5,537 yards and 32 touchdowns in his career, is the other.

Montana coach Bobby Hauck feels very good about his guys, although neither Disney nor Ochs have ever played a snap for UM.

Disney, a 6-foot-1, 198-pounder, passed for 4,349 yards and 31 touchdowns in junior college. Ochs, a 6-2, 205-pounder, was one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation out of high school. He started as a true freshman at Colorado, and threw for 2,998 yards there until he left the team early last season.

"I haven't studied the other teams' quarterbacks, but I'd be interested to see who wouldn't trade their quarterback for either Craig Ochs or Jeff Disney," Hauck said. "I'm sure some guys love their quarterbacks, but I would assume some people would trade their starter for either one of ours."

With camp just four days old, it's still too early to tell who has the edge at UM. Montana's coaching staff has made it clear since spring that both Disney and Ochs entered camp on a level playing field. Neither were listed as honors candidates in the media guide and both take equal snaps with the first-team offense.

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