Louisiana-Monroe and LSU square off in season opener

Updated: August 29, 2003, 12:57 PM ET

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU coach Nick Saban didn't even attempt to characterize the No. 14 Tigers' opener against Louisiana-Monroe as a tough test.

When LSU takes the field against the Indians Saturday night it should be little more than an easy way to start the season with a victory.

"I'm gonna spare you all the accolades about the other team that we're playing," Saban said. "We're not going to be underdogs in this game. Everybody is going to expect us to win. I hope that the players have the proper respect for the people we're playing against. We certainly do as coaches."

The Tigers should show that respect by playing Louisiana-Monroe the same way they play Southeastern Conference opponents, Saban said.

"Motivation, for us, needs to be at the top of our pyramid of success. It says, 'Be A Champion.' Well, to me, champions get motivated to play at a certain level all the time, and that's the challenge," Saban said.

The opener will give LSU a chance find out some key things about this year's team.

There will be nine new starters on the field. There will also be a group of freshmen getting their first college experience.

Among the big questions will be how the running game performs now that LeBrandon Toefield and Domanick Davis are gone, and if quarterback Matt Mauck is ready to play after last year's injury.

Mauck will be starting for the first time since he hurt his foot against Florida on Oct. 12.

UL-Monroe, 3-9 last season and 6-28 over the last three years, is rated among the worst of the 117 teams in NCAA Division I-A.

Charlie Weatherbie, the Indians fourth coach in the past year, hopes Louisiana-Monroe can build on the second half of last season. After dropping 22 of 24 games over the last two-plus seasons, the Indians won three of their final seven final games last year, including a 34-10 rout of Louisiana-Lafayette in the season finale.

"There is not going to be a lot of change in what we do, schematic-wise," said Weatherbie, who has had only four months to work with the team. "About the only difference is going to be an attitude change."

The Indians, with six new starters, will have their share of youth in the two-deep with seven freshmen and five sophomores rated among the top 22.

They will also have 16 starters back, including quarterback Steven Jyles, wide receiver Mack Vincent, linebacker Maurice Sonnier and safety Chris Harris.

Sonnier, was the preseason Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year last season, but broke his ankle against Arkansas State and missed the rest of the season. Harris is a preseason all-Sun Belt selection after leading the team in tackles with 127 last season.

"Coach brings a winning attitude," Harris said. "He's brought successful programs up from the bottom. He's shown us that there is one way to spell fun - W-I-N. So we have a very winning attitude around here and we are ready to get playing."

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