OK Small College Roundup

Wednesday, August 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Bronchos face tough opener Thursday

Central Oklahoma's football team ended last season by losing three straight games, something that had not happened to the Bronchos since 1995.

They begin their season Thursday night with another oddity. Stephen F. Austin will be UCO's first higher-division opponent since the Bronchos lost to Southwest Missouri 20-7 in 1987.

Central Oklahoma is an NCAA Division II school. Stephen F. Austin is Division I-AA, which means the Lumberjacks have a bigger budget and more scholarships.

"It amounts to numbers. It amounts to people," UCO coach Gary Howard said. "There's quite a bit of difference, in my opinion."

Howard, starting his 24th season as the Bronchos' coach, would have preferred to begin the year against a Division II opponent. But efforts to schedule such teams in surrounding states came up empty.

So he wound up with Stephen F. Austin, which won its conference a year ago and begins this year ranked 19th.

"We can't travel halfway across the United States to play people," Howard said. "To play at least 10 games, that's the game we had to play. It's a good challenge for us. We're not backing down from it at all."

Central Oklahoma was 8-3 last year and won a share of its second straight Lone Star Conference title. The Bronchos have six starters back on offense, including 1,300-yard rusher Greg Briley, and nine returnees on defense.

Northwestern Oklahoma, defending NAIA national champion, opened its season last weekend with a 67-0 victory over Panhandle State. It was a memorable debut for Ranger head coach Garin Higgins and a forgettable one for Ralph Young of Panhandle State.

Al Hunt scored four touchdowns and ran for 138 yards on just seven carries. The Rangers totaled 424 yards on the ground, compared with 71 for Panhandle.

Northwestern plays host to East Central this week. Other games Saturday have Northeastern State playing host to Missouri Southern, Southeastern Oklahoma taking on Southern Arkansas, Southwestern traveling to Adams State, Colo., and Panhandle playing host to Dana College of Nebraska.