South Dakota State Preview: Jackrabbits at Texas Christian
But this will be a much taller task.
Last season, the Jackrabbits jumped out to a big lead and then hung on late to beat Kansas, 41-38. But that was a Jayhawk team that finished the season 0-12.
This season's Big 12 foe is 13th ranked Texas Christian, a team with one of the most explosive passing attacks in the nation, owners of a 23-2 record the past two seasons. The Horned Frogs finished last season with an Alamo Bowl win over Oregon.
South Dakota State will be going with sophomore Taryn Christion at quarterback. The Sioux Falls native (Roosevelt) beat out last season's #1 starter Zach Lujan for the job, but Lujan will be ready to play, and could see some time under center if the Jacks decide to switch things up from time-to-time on offense.
SDSU's running attack may take on a committee approach in 2016. Junior Brady Mengarelli, sophomore Issac Wallace, and senior Kyle Paris each rushed for more than 100 yards in a game last season. Offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness may end up going with the 'hot hand' strategy this season - adjusting the amount of playing time to who is running the ball best that week.
On the outside, All-American wide receiver Jake Wieneke is back for his third year. The key for the Jackrabbits passing game is finding someone to take the pressure off the star wide out. Senior Connor Landberg and junior tight end Dallas Goedert will also be featured parts of the passing game, while redshirt freshman Marquise Lewis could be an impact player in his first season.
Up front, the Jacks have a new offensive line coach (Jason Eck) and a trio of new starters, including a pair of sophomores - Sepestiano Pupungatoa and Matt Clark. The ability of this group to come together quickly will greatly influence SDSU's offensive success in the first month of the season.
Defensively, the Jackrabbits have senior leadership is several key positions. Jared Blum and Cole Langer anchor the line, Jessie Bobbit and Dallas Brown are back at linebacker, and Nick Mears returns at safety.
Juniors Kellen Soulek (nose tackle) and Nick Farina (safety) are returning starters, but SDSU will be relying on a number of young players to step in right away. That includes Christian Rozeboom, (linebacker) and Zy Mosley (cornerback), who will be be in the starting lineup as redshrit freshmen.
The Jackrabbit defense will be in a for a supreme test Saturday.
TCU ran up 42 points per game last season and gained nearly 350 yards per game thru the air. Their 'Air Raid Offense' is in new hands in 2016, as Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill takes over at quarterback. In just eight games with the Aggies in 2014, Hill threw for 2,649 yards and 23 touchdowns. He'll have a host of different targets to throw to in Fort Worth.
Defensively, the Horned Frogs have a pair of proven pass rushers in James McFarland and Josh Carraway, both pre-season All-Big 12 selections. The two have a combined 21.5 sacks in their careers.
The biggest question mark for the TCU defense is in the defensive backfield, where the Horned Frogs will be starting a sophomore at one safety and a redshrit freshman at one corner.
Kickoff in Fort Worth, Texas is 7:00 PM, Saturday.
I talked with Jackrabbits head coach John Stiegelmeier about his team's readiness for the season opener: