The Wildcats have reached the summit. For the first time since joining NCAA Division II in 1983, ACU is the top-ranked team in the nation.
The Wildcats entered last weekend tied at second place in the American Football Coaches Association poll, the highest ranking in ACU history. The Wildcat’s 38-14 victory over Angelo State, combined with a shocking 27-24 upset of then No. 1 Grand Valley State by the Hillsdale Chargers, propelled ACU to the top spot. Athletic Director Jared Mosley has seen his football program go undefeated over the last two seasons in the Lone Star Conference and win its first NCAA playoff game. The ascension of the program to the top is yet another indicator of success.
“I think that, first of all, this says a lot about all the time and work put in by our coaches and players,” Mosley said. “I’m proud of the way our coaches and players represent not only the team, but the university. This is a boost in the arm.”
The Wildcats held the nation’s No. 1 ranking three times when the team was in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Two of those three seasons, 1973 and 1978, the Wildcats went on to win the National Championship. ACU is also the first LSC team to hold the No. 1 spot in the AFCA poll, joining Central Oklahoma and Texas A&M-Kingsville as the only LSC teams to place first in the NCAA Division II.
Head Football Coach Chris Thomsen took the reins at ACU in 2005 and has guided the team to a success not seen in Abilene since the 1970s. Thomsen said he is excited about his team’s national ranking, but he is quick to recognize the regional polls ultimately determine who makes the NCAA Division II playoffs. The Wildcats currently hold the No. 1 regional ranking, but still have four games to focus on.
“To us as a team, it doesn’t mean very much,” Thomsen said. “It has no effect on the rest of the season and effect on what we are trying to do. This ranking is mostly for the fans.”
The Wildcats’ goal is to win a championship this season, but a first-place ranking could have positive ramifications for seasons to come, as well, Mosley said.
“From a recruiting standpoint, it certainly helps,” Mosley said. “People really get into the media and these rankings, but if you step back for this season, it doesn’t mean too much.
Mosley said the Wildcats’ top ranking could also benefit the LSC.
“It puts the LSC into a different spotlight,” he said. “People are starting to realize that the level of competition in our conference is high. The top teams in our conference are now in the conversation for not just playoff spots, but national championships.”
But, as Thomsen said, the nation’s top ranking is most exciting for the fans, especially those in the student body. Sophomore Cody Bowden, information systems major from Crowley, is among the Wildcat faithful exhilarated by the squad’s top ranking.
“It really shows how great of a coach Coach Thomsen is,” Bowden said. “In just a few years, he has turned a consistently losing team into the premier program in the country.”
Other students, including sophomore political science major Dominick Pollastro, are energized by the national attention the team is receiving.
“I’m really excited that we’re doing so well,” Pollastro said. “It seems like ACU doesn’t get as much recognition as other Texas schools. Hopefully, we’ll be recognized more nationally, and the campus will get more involved.”
The one thing the Wildcats cannot do is become complacent in the No. 1 seat. Their first chance to defend the title will be ACU’s Homecoming game against West Texas A&M this weekend. Nationally ranked Tarleton State and Texas A&M-Kingsville also figure to be tough opponents for the Wildcats as the team guns for another perfect season.