FCS finalist Sam Houston State opens its 2012 season against Incarnate Word of San Antonio, a future member of the Southland Conference. The Bearkats, picked by coaches and media to win the league and expected by many to make another run for an FCS title, have been waiting for this moment since the spring.
Maybe not playing against Incarnate Word, necessarily, but getting back on the field and pursuing what the Kats fell just short of in the championship game against North Dakota State is important to this team. So the anticipation for Saturday night's opener goes beyond the opponent, even though Sam Houston doesn't want to frame it that way.
As they would explain, the Bearkats just want to go 1-0 every week. Let's take a look at some of the keys to the game for the Kats.
Tim Flanders is going to have a presence early in this game, but if SHSU plays as well as they hope to, Flanders won't play much past the third quarter. That's especially if he already has around 100 yards at that time. He happens to have 2,592 career rushing yards, which is just 97 yards shy of being Sam Houston's career rushing leader and one rushing touchdown from surpassing Luther Turner (1985-87) for most career rushing scores.
It will be especially interesting watching Flanders run without offensive linemen Chris Crockett and Travis Watson, All-American performers from last season's group. SHSU assistant coaches have good things to say about this year's line, which the Kats are going to rely heavily on as they attempt to present a more balanced attack in both the run and passing game.
Bearkat defense should bully... Because that's just what they do. And we're not just talking about physical bullying, we're talking about mentally as well. The SHSU defense is constantly evolving, as the college football game even on the FCS level is truly a chess match. There might not be too many better chess players in this context than defensive coordinator Scott Stoker.
I imagine the Kats won't need to be overly complex with what they do on Saturday, but as anxious as those guys have to be to hit someone and scheme against a team that's not there own, doesn't look very good for Incarnate Word.
Quaterback Brian Bell, ladies and gentlemen, gets the opportunity to graduate from game-manager to game-changer. He's always been a solid quarterback in his three years at SHSU. As the son of a coach, he knows the game like a coach does and limits his mistakes.
This season with the Kats under first-year offensive coordinator Doug Rouse's offense are expecting Bell to take a few more risks with the ball in the air, just because of the changes in the offense. Still expect to see SHSU's gimmicky "wild Bearkat" formation is Richard Sincere, Torrance Williams, Flanders and Bell still presenting all sorts of threats in the backfield.
But you'll see some traditional stuff from the Kats this season, where the quarterback just throws the ball down field to a receiver. Bell is expected to be a playmaker with his arm in 2012 and Incarnate Word is the perfect opponent to test it out before Baylor next week.
You can view this game live on the Bearkat Sports Network.
Read more on the Bearkats at SB Nation Houston.