Cedar City • As Southern Utah's football season dawns, almost everything is different.
The Thunderbirds have moved into the Big Sky Conference, where they will play a beefed-up schedule that starts with nonconference games against Utah State and California.
The only thing that hasn't changed at Southern Utah is coach Ed Lamb's expectations for his high-scoring team, which features preseason All-American quarterback Brad Sorensen.
"It's a very exciting time," said Lamb. "The campus, the community, the players and the coaches Â everybody involved in SUU football is excited to show we can compete at this new level."
SUU, which opens practice Monday, comes off back-to-back 6-5 seasons.
Last year, the Thunderbirds went 3-0 against Big Sky teams. They also stepped out of the Football Championship Subdivision and buried UNLV, 41-16.
Still, four losses by 16 points doomed SUU's playoff hopes, setting the stage for what Lamb hopes is a breakout season.
Sorensen has thrown for 6,306 yards and 38 touchdowns in 22 games at SUU, with better things ahead, according to his coach.
"He has expectations to be much improved," Lamb said. "He has been our leader in the offseason. ... He's taken his understanding of the game to another level."
• Southern Utah moves into the Big Sky Conference this season.
• The Thunderbirds open the season against Utah State and Cal.
See full schedule > C7
SUU's 2012 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. Eastern Washington, 1 p.m.
Nov. 3 at North Dakota, 1 p.m.
Nov. 10 at Northern Arizona, 5 p.m.