By Daniel Johnson, Sports Editor
The ACU football team has not won a season opener since 1998, and head coach Chris Thomsen wants to change that.
Thomsen’s chance to break that streak will come Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Shotwell Stadium when the Wildcats host University of Central Oklahoma to kick-off the 2006 season.
ACU is opening the season against UCO for the third season in a row and will use its experience on both sides of the ball as an advantage against the young UCO roster.
When ACU and UCO played in the season opener last season, the lack of experience and familiarity on the Wildcat sideline caused turnovers that eventually lost ACU the game, 49-37. This year the tables have turned.
UCO has nine new starters on defense and only four seasoned players on offense after graduating several players that helped overcome ACU 49-37 in 2005.
Offensively, UCO’s main threats are transfer quarterback Ryan O’Hara and running backs Maurice Little and Alex Aguilar. Aguilar made first team in the All-Lone Star Conference North Division for two years in a row and is a threat as a back and a receiver. In 2005 he caught 23 balls for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
In comparison to UCO’s young roster, ACU brings experience on both sides of the ball. Thomsen said returning quarterback Billy Malone has matured immensely and is more comfortable with the offensive scheme and vision of the program. Malone, who struggled in 2005, is starting for his second season in a row. Malone’s two biggest allies on the field will be returning running back Taber Minner and returning wide receiver Jerale Badon.
No matter how deep ACU’s experience is, offensive coordinator Ken Collums is worried about only one thing.
“The thing that I’m more concerned with is our guys and our execution,” said Collums. “In the first game you have to play to your own strengths and whether [UCO] is young or new, they’ve played a game and we haven’t.”
ACU’s first game of the season will be UCO’s second. The UCO Bronchos are coming off a season opening 29-32 loss to Missouri Western on Aug. 31.
Defensive coordinator Jason Johns said UCO’s early-season game helped their young team get accustomed to the college level, a disadvantage to the Wildcats.
“One advantage they have is they’ve played a game, so those guys aren’t new players anymore,” Johns said. “They’ve made those first-game mistakes and had a week to correct them and they’re going to perform at a much higher level this week.”
John’s defense will rely on its veterans in the secondary and linebacker positions to offset the inexperience in ACU’s defensive line. John said he is eager to see his defense on the field and get those first-game jitters out of the way.
Thomsen is hopeful his team’s experience and lessons learned from last season will not be taken for granted. He is confident his first season as head coach, despite being a losing season, only better prepared the team and coaches to begin the 2006 season on the right foot.
“The first game is a starting point and more than anything a way to see what your team is about,” Thomsen said. “You can practice and scrimmage, but eventually you have to go play under the lights and see how your guys perform.”
The lights over ACU and UCO will shine for the first time this season at Shotwell Stadium Thursday night.