Bears face Missouri-Rolla Miners in grid season opener Thursday at Plaster
The football Bears start their third campaign as Missouri State University and their second year under head coach Terry Allen when they open their 2007 grid schedule Thursday night against the University of Missouri-Rolla at Plaster Field.
The Bears open the year with four non-conference games and then begin play in the 23rd season of the Gateway Football Conference Sept. 29 at Youngstown State. The Gateway remains the premier league in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
Missouri State has six home games in 2007, including three home league games. In contrast, however, to the last five years, the Bears have non-conference play after their league schedule begins. MSU closes its campaign at home Nov. 10 vs. Southeast Missouri State. That addition to the schedule came when Western Kentucky left the Gateway after the 2006 season to go to the Sun Belt Conference.
After Thursday’s game with UMR, the lone non-Division I opponent on the slate, the Bears play five of their next seven on the road before finishing the season with three home games. Missouri State visits Tennessee-Martin Sept. 6 and then goes to Kansas State Sept. 15 before its second home test, a visit to Plaster by Central Arkansas Sept. 22. This year marks the first time the Bears have played two Thursday night games in a season. The Bears’ first four games this year are night contests and the last seven outings are day games.
The Coaches: Terry Allen (UNI, ’76) is 2-9 with the Bears as he begins his second year at Missouri State; 97-68 overall in his 15th year as a college head coach. He’s 0-0 vs. Missouri-Rolla. (Allen detailed bio and Missouri State and Gateway win lists attached).
Kirby Cannon (Missouri State, ’81) is 20-69 in his ninth year at UMR and overall as a college head coach. He’s 0-0 vs. MSU.
Cannon played both football and baseball when he was in school at Missouri State. He lettered at quarterback in football in 1979 and 1980 and, as a starting righthanded pitcher in baseball from 1977 to 1980, his 25 victories on the mound established a new Bears’ career record. In addition, Miners’ first-year offensive line coach Andy Ball is the son of former Bears’ head mentor Randy Ball.
Missouri-Rolla: Under Cannon, UMR has been 7-4 and 6-5 its past two seasons, the first time the Miners have put back-to-back winning seasons together since 1984 and 1985. Cannon is in his ninth season as UMR head coach. The Miners got an early opener last weekend when they hosted MIAA member Truman State in Rolla and the Bulldogs trimmed the Miners 38-31.
Series record: UMR leads 29-26 with three ties. The Bears and Miners last met on the gridiron in 1980. Missouri State was a charter member of the Missouri Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1924 and left the MIAA after the 1980 to move to Division I. UMR, then the Missouri School of Mines, joined the MIAA in 1934 and left the league after the 2004 season to move to the Great Lakes Football Conference. UMR will become Missouri University of Science and Technology on Jan. 1, 2008.
Affiliation: Missouri State is in its 26th Division I FCS season and 22nd Gateway Football Conference year. MSU was in the NCAA College Division from 1956 until Division II was established in 1974. League affiliations have included the Missouri Intercollegiate Athletic Association (1924-81), Mid-Continent (1981-84) and Gateway (1985-05). Missouri State has had winning seasons 11 of 25 FCS years, and reached FCS playoffs in 1989 and 1990. The 1989 and 1990 seasons included the Bears’ only league (Gateway) titles since moving to FCS. The 2005 season marks the 23rd year for Gateway competition in what has become the top FCS league in the country. The Gateway:
l Has had two or more teams in the FCS playoffs each of the last 12 years.
l Has had a playoff semifinalist eight of the last 11 years.
l Is the only FCS league in which every league member has had at least one playoff appearance.
l Owns national titles from Youngstown State (1997) and Western Kentucky (2002).
l Became the first FCS league to put four teams in the playoffs the same year (2003).
l Had both the I-AA National Coach of the Year (Jerry Kill of SIU) and the I-AA National Player of the Year (Boomer Grigsby of Illinois State) in 2004.
Missouri State All-Time: Missouri State is in its 96th football season with a mark of 420-420-40 (.500) for 880 games. The Bears first played in 1909 and have had a team all but three years since. MSU has had 45 winning seasons, 47 losing seasons and three .500 years. The longest MSU string of consecutive winning seasons is five, done three times (1947-51, ’62-66, ’89-93). The Bears’ most recent winning seasons were 2001 and 2004.
Missouri State in 2006: In their first year under head coach Terry Allen, the Bears finished with a 2-9 season record and were 1-6 in Gateway Football Conference play. Missouri State beat Southwest Baptist in its home opener and clipped GFC foe Western Illinois in the home season finale for the team’s only wins. Missouri State lost four games by a touchdown or less and dropped another contest by 10 points. Two seniors--free safety Mike Radon and offensive tackle Justin Williamson--shared the football Coors Player of the Year honor. Radon led the team in interceptions and was third in total tackles while Williamson was the line’s top graded blocker throughout the campaign. The Bears began the year with an entirely new quarterback corps and had injuries at that position to compound the inexperience. Matt Krapfl and Tyler Horner, both redshirt freshmen in 2006, wound up starting four games each as the team’s signal-caller. Missouri State had 25 seniors on its ballclub in 2006.
NFL Bears: Missouri State has two players on current NFL rosters, including OL Jason Whittle (Bills) and LS/TE Brad St. Louis (Bengals). Whittle spent four years with the Giants, including an appearance in the 2002 Super Bowl. He spent a year with Tampa Bay and two more with the Giants before moving to Minnesota last year and Buffalo this year. St. Louis is in his eighth year with the Bengals.
Personnel: The Bears are young. Half the 90 squad members have never played in a Missouri State game. There are 26 lettermen back from last season with a good deal of playing time this season to go to freshmen, redshirt freshmen and transfers. QB Matt Krapfl, QB Tyler Horner, OC David Tillman, WR Jeremy Nicholson, WR Chris Geisz, FB Jeff Sargent and WR Eric Davis on offense and LB Jeron Poole and CB Marcus Colbert on defense are returning regulars from last year. Geisz has moved from wide receiver to the defensive secondary this year.
Captains: The Bears’ 2007 captains include LB Jeron Poole, CB Marcus Colbert, TB Gerald Davis and OC David Tillman. All are seniors.
l MSU won its third straight season opener in 2004 after losing its opener eight years in a row (1994-01). With the loss at Oklahoma State in 2006, MSU is 11-14 in openers in Division I FCS. The Bears last year won their home opener for the ninth year in a row and are 19-4-2 in home openers in FCS. The all-time Missouri State record in season openers is 47-45-3.
l The Bears averaged 10,045 fans a game last year, their second year in a row above 10,000. MSU ranked 34th among FCS schools in attendance average. MSU has been in the top 40 schools in FCS average attendance for the past 11 years, with a top ranking of 11th in 1997.
l The youth on the Bears’ roster also means that not many players rank high on Gateway career stat lists. KR Eric Davis was among the league leaders last year in kickoff returns (23.7 yards) and punt returns (16.4 yards) and had 29 receptions for 332 yards. Three-year letterman Jeremy Nicholson is the leading active receiver on the team with 56 catches for 790 yards and six touchdowns. P Nathan Stokes let the league in punting average last year and his 42.3-yard figure was the second best average for a single season in Bears’ gridiron history. He also led last year’s team in scoring with 50 points.
l There are two newcomers on the Missouri State coaching staff in Terry Allen’s second season at the Bears’ helm. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rob Christophel has joined the squad, coming to MSU after five years in a similar post at Louisiana-Lafayette, while running backs coach Michael Hunter joined the staff in late summer. Hunter’s background is primarily at the high school level in Jacksonville, Fla.