Special to The Sun
Central Oklahoma begins its 108th season Thursday when the Bronchos travel to Joplin, Mo. to take on Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association rival Missouri Southern.
Kickoff at 7,000-seat Fred G. Hughes Stadium is 6 p.m.
It’s the latest season opener since 2003 for UCO, which went 2-8 last year in its inaugural season in the MIAA. The Lions are coming off a 6-5 campaign.
The Bronchos were picked 10th by the coaches and 11th by the media in the pre-season polls for the 14-team league, while MSSU was tabbed eighth by the media and ninth by the coaches.
UCO and MSSU met for the first time last year in Edmond, with the Lions prevailing 25-20 in the season opener for both teams.
A fourth-quarter surge fell short and Central Oklahoma came up empty in its MIAA debut under first-year head coach Nick Bobeck as the Bronchos dropped a 25-20 home decision to Missouri Southern.
UCO scored twice in the final nine minutes to trim a 25-9 deficit to 25-20, but the Lions converted a fourth-down gamble with less than two minutes to play and ran out the clock to clinch the win.
The Bronchos were limited to 249 total yards, while MSSU rushed for 249 of its 298 yards and owned a 19-minute advantage in time of possession.
The Bronchos are 53-49-5 in season openers, including a 4-9 mark in the 2000s. UCO has lost five straight season openers, falling three times in a row to Pittsburg State (2008-10) before losing to North Alabama in 2011 and to Missouri Southern last year.
UCO’s last season-opening win was a 27-17 victory over Abilene Christian in 2007.
The Bronchos ended a 15-game road losing streak that dated back to 2009 in their final away contest last season, routing Lincoln 56-25.
Central Oklahoma’s last road win before beating LU was 42-25 over East Central on Oct. 31, 2009.
All UCO games will be broadcast live on the True Oldies Channel, KZLS-99.7FM and KOAG-1640AM. Veteran broadcaster David Garrett calls the action, with former UCO All-American John Fitzgerald adding color commentary. All 10 games are also webcast live on americaonesports.com.
Next week UCO opens a two-game Wantland Stadium homestand Sept. 14 when the Bronchos host 2011 national champion and league rival Pittsburg State. Kickoff is 6 p.m.
In his second year as head coach at Central Oklahoma is Nick Bobeck, who returned to his alma mater in January 2012 after a phenomenal four-year stint at Navarro (Texas) College.
Bobeck went 2-8 in his first season at the helm in 2012. A four-year standout at fullback for the Bronchos from 1999-02, Bobeck had a 42-5 record at Navarro and led the Bulldogs to the 2010 junior college national championship.
The Bronchos have an extremely young team in 2013, featuring 72 underclassmen on the 98-player roster with 35 freshmen, 21 sophomores and 16 redshirt freshmen. Central Oklahoma possesses 23 underclassmen — 13 sophomores, eight redshirt freshmen, two freshmen — listed on the offense and defense two-deep.
UCO’s offense will feature five new starters, including three on the offensive line.
The Bronchos have back key weapons in senior RB Joshua Birmingham, senior QB Adrian Nelson and junior WR Christian Hood in addition to returning two offensive linemen in senior C Cameron Pound and sophomore RG Landon Chappell. Senior HB Christian Bobo saw part-time starting duty last year.
New to the starting offense this season will be freshman LT Brandon Waggoner, redshirt freshman LG Mason McLaughlin, sophomore RT Denton Simek, redshirt freshmen WR Connor Pulley and junior WR Marquez Clark.