The season got off to a bang, with the #5 Wildcats defeating #2 NWMSU for the second straight season opener. The next six weeks would see ACU cruise, winning the six games by an average of 39-15. The toughest game in that stretch was a 20-14 overtime victory over Texas A&M Commerce, in which Drew Cuffee picked off TAMC's Adam Farkes, and ran the ball back 85 yards for the winning TD. So through 7 games, the Wildcats were undefeated and found themselves ranked #1, for the first time since joining the NCAA.
That all came to an end, as the rejuvenated West Texas A&M Buffaloes came into Abilene and rallied from a 14-12 deficit to defeat ACU 32-21. ACU would stumble twice more in the final weeks of the regular season, dropping hard fought battles to Tarleton State and Midwestern State. Nonetheless, the Wildcats received an invitation to the NCAA playoffs, getting a rematch with Midwestern State. This time, ACU capitalized on their opportunities, returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and converting two MSU turnovers into 10 more points. Next up was Northwest Missouri in another rematch. Once again the regular season result was reversed, with the Bearcats dominating ACU 35-10.
For the season, ACU averaged 28.9 points per game (7th in the LSC) and 370.7 yards (9th). The defense fared much better, allowing just 19.7 points (2nd) and 291.4 yards (1st) in the conference.
Out with the old
QB Zach Stewart has recently informed the ACU coaches that he wouldn't be returning for his final two years at ACU. Stewart started two games as a freshman in 2008, and was the starting early in 2009, throwing for 728 yards, with 5 TDs and 4 Ints. Dennis Campbell was second on the team with 30 receptions. The offensive line will be missing All-American Tony Washington (1st LSC South) as well as Levi Wolfe (HM LSC South) and blocking TE Trey Simeone (2nd LSC South). While most of the defense returns, the secondary was hard hit - Tony Harp (1st LSC South), Major Culbert (HM LSC South), DuMaurier Jordan and Josh Wise combined for 184 tackles, 6 Ints, and 17 passes broken up.
Mitchell Gale emerged as the starting QB late in the season. He threw for 1,709 yards, with 10 TDs and 7 Ints. Backup Clark Harrell also returns. The speedy Edmund Gates (1st LSC South) was the leading receiver, catching 49 passes for 702 yards and 5 TDs. He will be joined by Kendrick Johnson (1st LSC South special teams) and Chris Fowler. The strength of the offense was the running game, with Darryl Richardson (961 yards and 16 TDs) and Reggie Brown (955 yards and 7 TDs) sharing the load. It was only fitting that both were name to the LSC South second team. Clearing the way will be returning starters Royland Tubbs (1st LSC South), Matt Webber (2nd LSC South) and Trevis Turner (HM LSC South) and backup Neal Tivis.
To say that the ACU defense should be stout is an understatemment. Up front, Aston Whiteside (9.5 sacks, 15.5 TFL, 1st LSC South) and Fred Thompson (8.5 sacks, 16 TFL, 2nd LSC South) camped out in opposing backfields. Not to be overlooked, Marvin Jones also made 1st LSC South. Bryson Lewis, Austin January, and Mke Jones also saw significant playing time. If opponents got by them, Kevin Washington (1st LSC South), Courtney Lane (1st LSC South), and Eric Edwards were there to make the plays. The linebacking trio combined for 177 tackles, with 28.5 for losses. Casey Carr and Derek Odelusi also provide experience in backup roles. Drew Cuffee (HM LSC South), Richard Havins, and Nathan Baggs are the most experienced returning in the secondary.
In with the new
The Wildcats looked to fill their offensive line holes with a couple of transfers - Richard Cagle (Vanderbilt) and Dyland Blount (Kilgore JC). Josh Morgan gained over 1,600 total yards while at Pasadena College, and looks to help out of the backfield. In the secondary, Kamaron Riely (a Georgia Tech signee), Darrian Williams (North Texas) and David Lamour (Chaffey College) should be major contributors.
All Conference Candidates
RB - Darryl Richardson, Reggie Brown
WR - Edmund Gates
OL - Royland Tubbs, Matt Webber, Trevis Turner, Richard Cagle
DL - Aston Whiteside, Fred Thompson, Marvin Jones
LB - Kevin Washington, Courtney Lane
DB - Drew Cuffee, Kamaron Riely, Darrian Williams
All American Candidates
OL - Royland Tubbs
DL - Aston Whiteside
LB - Kevin Washington
9/4 - Washburn - Ichabods are ranked #10 in the AFCA preseason poll
9/25 - Tarleton State - Texans took last year's slugfest on a couple of big plays
10/9 - Midwestern State - the teams split last year's back to back games, with ACU winning in the playoff rematch
11/6 - West Texas A&M - the Buffaloes knocked off the #1 Wildcats, ACU might have the opportunity to return the favor
Best Case Scenario
11-0 ACU returns six players on defense that received LSC honors last year, including four first teamers. The offense returns its biggest weapons and most of the line. If they can get more consistent play from the quarterback position, an unbeaten run through the regular season is possible.
Worst Case Scenario
6-5 An unbeaten run may be possible, but it is not likely with this tough schedule - road games at Washburn, Texas A&M-Kingsville and West Texas A&M, while hosting Tarleton State, Midwestern State and Angelo State. If the newcomers in the secondary are not up to the task of facing top passing games week in and week out, and the offense becomes one dimensional, ACU will be hard pressed to repeat their success of the past few seasons.