Southern Nazarene sticks its head in the tiger's mouth right off the bat. The Crimson Storm opens the football season Sept. 7 at Henderson State (Ark.), the overwhelming Great American Conference favorite and the No. 13-ranked team in NCAA Division II.
The experience last season of playing a partial GAC schedule should help Southern Nazarene this fall, but whether that leads to an improvement on a 2-9 record remains to be seen. League coaches say SNU will struggle once again, selecting the Division II newcomer to finish last in the 11-team circuit.
But what coaches forget was SNU lost five games by 10 or less points. And several key starters, including quarterback Dylan Terry, wide receiver Jarod Martin and linebacker Michael Hicks, return.
“My teams have never been picked to finish last in the preseason,” Southern Nazarene coach Mike Cochran said. “I've been first in the preseason, but that doesn't count either. It's all based on last year's results. You've just got to go play them all.”
*Former Oklahoma tight end Austin Haywood, who transferred to Oklahoma Baptist, is not on the Bison roster. OBU coach Chris Jensen said Haywood “is getting some things straightened out” and would not be playing football for the Bison this season.
*Central Oklahoma coach Nick Bobeck said he wants to get the football in his playmakers' hands, and that includes reserve running back Christian Bobo. Bobeck says the 5-foot-11, 230-pound senior is “really good skill wise. He's a good football player. We want to find a way to get the ball in his hands.”
*Matt Pruitt, a standout in Southern Nazarene's secondary the past few seasons, has transferred to Central Oklahoma. He will sit out this season. Pruitt, who was on The Oklahoman's State College All-Star Team the last two years, had three interceptions and 72 tackles last season. He returned two fumbles for 105 total yards.
*George Robbins returns at wide receiver for East Central. The 6-4, 250-pound senior sat out last season with academic issues. He will be a big target for sophomore quarterback Spencer Bond, who helped the Tigers win their last three games. Robbins led ECU receivers in 2011 with 30 catches for 487 yards and 12 touchdowns. Starters Lindsey Anderson, LaQuan Harper and Caleb Holley return from last season, too.
*Crazy stat of the day. OBU has a two-game win streak, dating back to 1940, on the line when it opens at home Saturday against Southwestern (Kan.). The Bison of '40 won their last two games before the program was disbanded, beating Northwestern 34-0 and Oklahoma City 12-9. OBU finished that season 8-2-1 under coach W.W. Nicklaus.
*Langston is favored to win the Central States Football League, yet the Lions only have three home games. And all of those come during the second half of the season. Langston's first five games — vs. Northern Colorado, Incarnate Word (Texas), Nicholls State (La.), Northwestern State (La.) and Texas College — are on the road. The home opener is Oct. 19 vs. conference member Panhandle State.
*Langston was No. 23 in the NAIA preseason poll. Bacone received votes. None of Oklahoma's NCAA Division II schools were rated or received votes.
*Keep an eye on Northeastern State running back Joel Rockmore. The junior averaged 113.8 yard per game. Rockmore played in nine games, starting six, and scored 10 touchdowns. The RiverHawks should have a nice balance on offense with quarterback Johnny Deaton (1,861 yards, 10 TDs) slinging passes.
*The natural grass playing surface at East Central's Norris Field has been replaced by FieldTurf. “I think seeing and being on the same surface that we will always see on the road and being on the same basic surface every practice and every game will be a great addition for our program,” Tigers coach Tim McCarty said in a release. The new surface cost $880,300.
*Current players are too young to remember, but one of the greatest rivalries in junior college football resumes Sept. 7, when Northeastern A&M plays at Coffeyville (Kan.). The Golden Norse and Red Ravens are historical juco powers and the “Border Battle” was once an annual season-opener. Due to conference scheduling conflicts, this will be the first time the schools have played since 2004. It is not known if the rivalry game will continue after this season.
*Lyon College in Batesville, Ark., is reinstating varsity football after a 62-year hiatus. The Scots will begin play in 2015 and be a member of the CSFL.