Last Modified: Thursday, August 07, 2014 1:35 PM
It’s not every day that a league can add a team with a Refrigerator Bowl title on its résumé.
But that’s what the Southland Conference gets with Abilene Christian’s return to the league it helped found in 1963.
Back then the Wildcats’ lone postseason appearance was that Refrigerator Bowl, which resulted in a 13-7 win over Gustavus Adolphus in the hopping winter vacation destination of Evansville, Ind.
ACU moved down when the rest of the Southland moved up, first dropping to NAIA after 1972, which was McNeese State’s first year in the Southland.
The Wildcats found success at that level, winning the 1977 national championship before jumping back into the NCAA. Division II was also good to ACU, which reached the playoffs six consecutive seasons from 2006-11.
Now ACU is ready for a new challenge, and conference coaches and sports information directors respected its lineage enough to pick them ahead of established Southland member Nicholls State in the conference standings.
“We’ve played good football at ACU for a long time now, and we’re used to winning,” said Wildcats coach Ken Collums. “We know these next couple of seasons are going to be tough as we transition to a new level, but we’re striving to be as good or better at this level as we were at the previous level.”
Collums also knows the respect his program has coming into the league will fade if ACU isn’t competitive in short order.
“The other coaches in the Southland don’t care about what we’ve done in the past,” Collums said. “We have to establish credibility within this league, and the way you do that is to go about your business the right way, work hard, out-recruit people and win games.”
ACU’s challenge will be to find its offensive identity early in the season. The Wildcats are replacing their quarterback, top running back, top three receivers and three starting offensive linemen.
Junior Herschel Sims, who was Lamar’s leading rusher in 2012 despite leaving the team midseason, has resurfaced at ACU and will start at running back. His college career began at Oklahoma State.
If scoring is an issue, at least the defense should be stout enough to keep ACU in some games. All four starters in the secondary are back, and 15 defensive players who saw significant time last season return.
HICKEY’S PICK: 4-8, 3-5 in Southland.