Responses to posts here:
The outlook for the Griz is guardedly very optimistic. Although there are a couple of areas where they've lost great players, recent classes and transfers seem to include the horses necessary to fill the holes. UM lost Yo Humphery, its greatest RB ever, but we have two good young RBs (redshirt frosh) and the aforementioned transfer from the University of Washington. Our WR corps lost one of our best ever, Etu Molden, but has several young receivers ready to burst onto the scene. We lost both starting tight ends (one was used in short yardage situations), but have a couple of young guys who everyone says are more athletic than either of our graduated TEs. UM's QB situation is very solid, with a starter who has played in two championship games and won one, and who has worked hard in the off-season on his shortcomings, and a reserve whom many Griz fans believe is better than the starter, if he could only crack the starting lineup. The OL is very solid, with 4 of five starters returning, and a couple of young guys looking like good fills in case of injury.
The DL is even more solid than the OL, with the entire unit back from last year, older, wiser, and stronger. Absent injury, I look for All-American caliber years from Ciche Picher and Jonny Verona. This unit is deep and talented. The linebackers are young, but athletic, and the DB corps is very strong, if a little thin.
Kicking is in good hands for both punting and kickoffs, although bugs may need to be worked out for the holder, a new starter, who is succeeding one of the surest handed holders in the division. Montana's return game may be its best ever, with guys on both kickoff (Jefferson Heidelberger) and punt return (Levander Segars) teams who should take at least one back all the way this year.
Concerns will be the play of the new RBs, the anointing of the next great Griz receiving threat (most likely Ty Peterson or Jefferson Heidelberger), and the depth of the DBs.
Also, the Griz are not resting on their laurels, from everything I've heard. Reliable reports indicate that at least 70 returning players have been working out in Missoula all summer, getting set for their next season and hopefully another playoff run.
Your comments about the strength of the Big Sky Conference seem understandable given the remainder of the conference's performance in recent playoffs, and maybe even given Montana's recent string of conference wins. Remember, though, that UM does not slaughter every member of the conference throughout the year--many of UM's conference wins are real struggles, either going down to the wire or heading into overtime. Unless you think they're sandbagging or overlooking lesser opponents, this indicates that the conference competition is strong, if not quite up to UM's level. The lack of non-Big Sky wins in the post-season can be laid on other things in addition to lack of strength--always playing away games, lack of playoff experience, and unfortunate injuries and peaking at the wrong time (see PSU's performance, as it were, in the 2000 playoffs, after they had started the season 6-0, including a win over 1-A Hawaii in Hawaii--they had a lot of injuries to offensive starters as the year went on, and were a shell of their early season selves by the playoffs, going 2-4 in their last 6 games).