MISSOULA — At long last, college football is officially back in Missoula.
There's less than 24 hours until the No. 14-ranked Montana Grizzlies kick off their 2023 season against the Butler Bulldogs on Saturday at noon at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, and it's the start of what the Grizzlies hope is a special fall campaign.
With fall camp in the rear-view mirror, the prep is now complete as the Grizzlies complete game week and are ready to roll.
"I was most pleased with the effort level and the attention to detail," UM head coach Bobby Hauck said. "Football training camp is about guys continuing to learn the game and evolve as players so they get better technically, they get better in terms of what they understand and I thought our team did a good job with that."
Butler — a school known for championship game runs in men's basketball — is a non-scholarship program in FCS football that plays in the Pioneer Football League.
But there's talent to be wary of on Butler's team, most notably in quarterback Bret Bushka, who was the Pioneer League offensive player of the year in 2022.
"Veteran players up front, both sides of the ball. Anytime you have a good quarterback and good fronts and good coaching you have a chance to win and this will be a good test for us this weekend," Hauck said.
Butler finished last season 7-4, narrowly missing the postseason. So as a team that showed they can win games, the Bulldogs offer plenty of challenges and obstacles for the Grizzlies due to unknowns on both sidelines.
"Coach, player alike, I think the first game's a little nerve-wracking because you're not totally sure about what you got, and you're really unsure about what the opponent has so you just don't have a feel for matchups or personnel," Hauck said. "You don't know what's changed schematically so you have to be pretty vanilla and pretty generic and get a feel for it as the game goes on."
But Montana enters with expectations high once again as the Grizzlies are ranked No. 14 in the FCS to start the season. UM will enter the season with Boise State transfer Sam Vidlak expected to be a focal point of the offense (for a closer look at the Grizzlies' two-deep roster, click here).
Coming off of last year's 8-5 campaign, it's a fresh start for Montana, and the Griz begin things in the friendly confines at home as they get 2023 underway.
"A lot of anticipation. None of us would be on the team if we didn't like the offseason work too, so try to enjoy that while it's there but this is the real deal, the games are what we're here for," UM senior safety Garrett Graves said. "So really excited to run out in front of Wa-Griz and hear all of those fans and do it for my family and community and the state I think that's the people I want to be out there with my brothers doing it in front of so it's exciting stuff."