The last article has ACU represented by the Abilene Reporter News' very own Troy Shockley. Troy's fine work can be seen at www.reporternews.com/news/sports and he also has a great blog that he updates DURING ACU games, and it can be found at blogs.scripps.com/abil/gameday/.
The Scoop would like to thank all 4 writers who contributed to this series. We have received alot of compliments on their work and hope to work with them all again.
There’s a reason Abilene Christian University was the preseason pick to win its first conference championship since 1977.
In fact, there were quite a few.
There still are.
Any concerns about the Wildcats getting too high on themselves were erased after a season-opening loss at Central Oklahoma. (The Bronchos, by the way, are actually a pretty solid team despite all of their off-field issues. Coaching ought to be looked at, too. Still, they are maybe the most underrated team in the conference.)
The Wildcats got an early object lesson: No matter how good you are, you can’t just show up in this conference and expect a win. It’s a lesson ACU has taken to heart. Since that loss they’ve rolled over the opposition, last week scoring an incredible 51 points in the first half against Northeastern despite having several skill-position starters out.
In addition to deflating any egos, the loss to UCO has forced the Wildcats to enter every game with a must-win mentality. If they hope to take the conference title and, more importantly, a spot in the playoffs, they can ill afford a loss. More than one and it’s over.
It’s a powerful motivator, and this group is certainly motivated.
n The Lone Star Conference isn’t lacking for talented skill guys. Even on some of the weakest teams in the league you can find them. ACU, though, has more than a few, and they’ve helped the Cats become the ninth-best scoring offense in the country.
Quarterback: Billy Malone. He’s got NFL teams calling already, and it isn’t hard to see why. He’s got 6,490 passing yards in just 27 career games. He broke 300 last week (with four scores) and he only played in the first half. Not only is Malone bigger and stronger than he was a year ago, he’s smarter. He’s making the right decisions and, as a result, he’s 110-of-170 this season with 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions. His passer efficiency is sitting at 176.8 — the fourth-best rating in the country.
As far as the other contenders, Tarleton’s Scott Grantham is ranked 13th, Midwestern’s Daniel Polk is 18th and WT’s Keith Null is 24th.
Running back: Bernard Scott. He’s as advertised. Scott’s got great vision, great hands and great speed. That, plus his strength, has enabled him to an average of 127.2 yards per game rushing (18th best in the nation) and a season total of 763 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. The only LSC players above him are Angelo’s Daniel Thomas (15) and Eastern New Mexico’s Michael Benton (4) and neither of them are in this hunt.
Backing up Scott, too, are the more-than-capable Taber Minner and speedy newcomer Kebron Lampkin, who scored three touchdowns last week for the Wildcats.
Wide receivers: These guys are dangerous simply because there are so many of them. fleet-footed Johnny Knox has been getting the big yards so far (83.8 per game), but the best hands in the league belong to Jerale Badon. He didn’t play this last week, but he’s got an average of 64 per night. Teams can only shut down one of those guys, and the other will make them pay. Scott and Lampkin are dangerous on screens and the supporting cast of receivers can make teams pay for neglecting them in coverage.
The Wildcat D has been impressive as well, shutting down Benton and anyone else it has faced with both size and speed. ACU’s giving up, on average, 306 yards per game. And as impressive as that is, don’t forget that the Cats have had so many dominant games that they’ve been able to play a lot of second- and third-string guys in the second half, so that number’s really probably quite a bit lower against the No. 1 unit and they’re 11th in the country with 11 interceptions.
Other statistics of note: ACU is 8th in the nation in turnover margin at 1.7. The Wildcats’ offensive line is big and it is strong, allowing .83 sacks per game (7th best in the country) and Morris is one of the best punt returners in the country (No. 9) with 15.4 yards per attempt.
If the game comes down to a kicker, Matt Adams is almost automatic and is actually ranked No. 30 in D-II scoring with 8.7 points per game.
Finally, coaching. Because of his success, many seem to forget that this is only Chris Thomsen’s third year. And that’s not just at ACU — that’s third year as a head coach. Anywhere. He’s the reigning Coach of the Year in the LSC, and he’s put together an incredible staff of assistants and coordinators that have the team completely prepared every week for what they’re going to see.
One of those guys, offensive coordinator Ken Collums has been doing an incredible job of keeping opposing defenses guessing with an attack that is split almost down the middle with the pass and run. If the conference had it, he’s be the frontrunner for Assistant Coach of the Year.
That’s all a lot of stuff, I know. And trust me, there’s even more. And, in the end, it all points to one thing: ACU is still the team to beat in the race for the LSC crown.