Battling heavy odds and going against a team coached by one of college football’s legends, the University of Central Arkansas Bears open the season Saturday with eyes on an upset but relishing an education.
The Bears, 15th-ranked in NCAA FCS, take on 20th-ranked Kansas State, rated a major Big 12 contender, at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kan. It’s the highest-ranked NCAA FBS team the Bears have ever played.
There’s a reason the site is Bill Family Stadium. The 77-year-old head coach, who has put the Wildcats on the map, with what has been described as one of the best construction jobs in college football, is in his 26th season with the Wildcats.
UCA coach Steve Campbell is always of the challenge.
"Offensively, they will check out your defensive line pretty quickly; they Ttry to make your nose bleed," Campbell said. "They are good in all three phases. They are good on offense and defense but the thing that sets them apart is special teams. They make you work on the kicking game."
Snyder, on the Big 12 Conference call this week, expressed similar concerns about the Bears.
"I’m concerned about everything," he said. "They are obviously well-coached. They are fundamentally sound, they play hard and are tough-minded. They have an extremely sound on defense. Their team speed equals some of the teams in our conference. They have great diversity on offense."
This begins a rugged month for the Bears. After a road game against Murray State next week, the Bears open Southland Conference play with favorite Sam Houston State, then perennial power Southeastern Louisiana.
"The good part of this game is Kansas State is so good in every phase, they will expose you," Campbell said. "If something needs to be shored up before we begin our conference schedule, they will point it out to you."
The Bears are coming off a 10-3 season, reaching the second round of the FCS playoffs. Kansas State was 9-4 but won six of its last seven, capped by a victory over Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl. The Wildcats lost to four 10-win teams (Stanford, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
"I tell our players we were a 10-win team, too," said Campbell.