By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
ACU football players aren’t big on numbers.
The fact that their first three opponents are all ranked in the top 15 and defeated the ‘Cats by a combined score of 158-51 last season doesn’t matter to them-they’re just numbers.
“Any given team can get beat on any Saturday,” said junior offensive lineman Britt Lively. “We have the mindset this year that we can go out and beat anybody as long as we don’t beat ourselves.”
Indeed, ACU can’t afford to do that as it opens the season Saturday against No. 15-ranked Central Arkansas, followed by games against No. 6 California-Davis and No. 10 Tarleton State.
“I could really see us beating all three of those teams,” Lively said. “All we need to do is stay healthy.”
As well as looking at those games as preparation for conference matchups. In addition to a 3-8 overall record last season, ACU finished with a 2-4 mark in the Lone Star Conference South Division, good for a sixth place standing.
“I’m glad we’re playing a good team because it’s gonna prepare us for our conference games,” said senior running back Eric Polk. “These games are gonna set the tone for the season. We get to see how we match up against three top 15 teams, and that’ll make us feel pretty confident going into conference.”
Last year, ACU opened its season at Conway, Ark. against UCA, where the Bears tore up the Wildcats for 681 yards of total offense and a 65-16 victory. Still, coach Gary Gaines said the memory has long been erased from their heads.
“It’s a new year,” said Gaines. “It’s a new game. They’re a good football team, and they feel like they’re better than a year ago.”
Central Arkansas brings back 17 of its 22 starters from the 2001 season, in which the Bears finished 9-3 overall and second place in the Gulf Coast Conference with a 7-2 record. This year’s game is the second game of a three-year contract between ACU and UCA.
According to Gaines, last year’s meeting with the Bears should help ACU prepare for UCA’s powerful offensive attack.
“We certainly hope we’re better prepared,” he said. “They have a great corps of receivers. You really don’t see them have a bunch of bad plays. We need to make sure we tackle well and make them earn what they get. We can’t give them any easy ones.”
Gaines said the team is pretty much 100 percent healthy going into Saturday’s game. The only exception is sophomore defensive lineman Stephen Woodard, who is questionable.
The 6 p.m. game will be played on a brand-new Safeplay Turf field at Shotwell Stadium. Gaines said the artificial turf shouldn’t have a large impact on the game either way.
“It’s a great surface,” he said. “We went out and practiced on it and the guys really liked it. It plays a lot like grass, and it’s not nearly as hard on the body as normal turf.”
After 27 preseason practices, Gaines said the Wildcats are ready to get the season underway.
“We need to play a game just to see where we are right now,” he said. “We’re tired of going against each other.”
Polk agreed, and said his emotions always run high before the season opener.
“My emotions are always on cloud nine going into these games,” Polk said. “I get butterflies, goosebumps and shakes. I’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”