GAC Preview Week One

August 28th, 2023 7:00am

GAC Preview Week One

The long offseason is over. Thursday night, the Great American Conference returns to the field. Football fans everywhere rejoice!

The 2023 season begins with a bit of a dull slate, with a few could-be-intriguing games, but no true blockbusters. As always, we’ll break down each of those games below with our predictions on the winners. Last year, we went 50-16 in our predictions, so the bar has been set incredibly high for 2023. Also, if you missed our season preview breaking down each team, be sure to check it out here.


Game of the Week: Southeastern OSU at Southern Arkansas

The winner gets to sport their traditional yellow and blue all season, while the loser has to switch to brown and pink. Who wouldn’t watch that? Also, who wouldn’t want to watch this Southern Arkansas offense, which promises to be quite explosive this season. The Muleriders return nearly their entire starting 11 from a season ago when they averaged almost 500 yards of offense per game. They’ll be able to put up yards and points on a young Southeastern defense that wasn’t outstanding even with all the veterans who are no longer in Durant.

It’s the second first game at Southeastern for coach Bo Atterberry, who led the Savage Storm from 2014-18. He’ll need his new quarterback to step up quickly, along with several members of the offensive line, who have some big holes to plug following the departure of several seniors. Receiver Marquis Gray should get plenty of attention in this one, both from his new quarterback and from the SAU secondary. The Savage Storm are going to need others to step up. 

Southern Arkansas is the more proven commodity in this matchup, but Southeastern will be the first to tell the Muleriders that returning the majority of your starters doesn’t guarantee anything. The Savage Storm experienced that the hard way last year. This year, though, things get off to a good start for the Muleriders. 

Southern Arkansas 37, Southeastern OSU 24


Arkansas-Monticello at Northwestern OSU

A cool 546 miles and eight hours separates these two schools. The distance isn’t quite so far between what these teams will be putting on the field, though. It will be the debut for Northwestern coach Ronnie Jones, who is taking over at his alma mater with a long rebuilding road in front of him. The Rangers also have a new quarterback leading the offense, but whoever starts on Thursday won’t be completely in the dark thanks to a solid offensive line, running back Darian Gill and receivers Travis Romar and Torrance Stevens.

The Weevils will go as quarterback Demilon Brown goes this year. Brown is as good a dual-threat quarterback as this league has and he also has his top four receivers back from a season ago. If UAM has found some good pieces to plug in on the offensive line, the offense could be in for a big day against a rebuilding Northwestern defense. 

There are so many unknowns in this one, but there will undoubtedly be a lot of emotions for the Rangers. I don’t think emotions carry the day, though. 

Arkansas-Monticello 27, Northwestern OSU 17


Harding at Southern Nazarene

This game could be over quickly, and I'm not talking about a blowout. With the way these two teams run the ball, this one has the potential to be short and sweet. The 2019 edition of this game in Searcy took a cool two hours and 13 minutes. Last year, these were the best two rushing teams in the conference, and from a personnel standpoint, there’s no reason that won’t be the case again in 2023. Both teams want to run the ball, burn clock and keep the other team off the field. 

The question comes on defense. The Bisons will be stout on defense once again, while the Crimson Storm are looking to improve on a tough 2022. Whichever team can make life more difficult for the opposing offense should win this one. Production-wise, these two teams were quite even on offense a year ago. However, Harding recovered three fumbles, recovered a surprise onside kick and also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in last year’s 56-28 win. The intangibles matter, and that will also be a big focal point in this game.

SNU has a lot of momentum as a program right now after a strong close to 2022 and the return of quarterback Gage Porter. The Bisons have been the class of the conference for awhile now, and this looks like the prime spot for an upset. It’ll be close, but Harding holds on.

Harding 35, Southern Nazarene 28


Ouachita Baptist at Southwestern OSU

Southwestern OSU is on their third head coach in three years, as last year’s defensive coordinator Ruzell McCoy takes over on an interim basis. Nothing like facing the defending conference champion to start your head coaching tenure. This will obviously be a tough test for the Bulldogs, particularly on offense, as they’ll be replacing a lot of talent from last year’s group, including a new quarterback The Tigers are stacked defensively, returning nine starters from an already really good group a season ago. 

On the flip side, the Tigers will be working in a few new offensive linemen to the mix to protect Riley Harms and open holes for Kendal Givens. The Bulldogs have a few good pieces along the defensive line that have to be accounted for, so there could be an opportunity to exploit the inexperience of the Tigers up front. However, the Tigers just have a tremendous amount of firepower overall, and it’s hard to see the Bulldogs being able to do much more than be a nuisance early on in this game. 

The Tigers were disappointed in how their season ended in the Division 2 playoffs last year and will be out to prove they are better than the team that was smothered by Northwest Missouri State. Expect a strong message to be sent in this one.

Ouachita Baptist 52, Southwestern Oklahoma State 10


East Central at Henderson State

In a week largely devoid of intriguing matchups, this might be the most intriguing one. Now, that’s not saying a whole lot, to be fair. The Tigers took care of Henderson State in 2022, forcing four turnovers in a 31-10 win in Ada. This ECU team looks drastically different than the one that won nine games last season, but several key pieces on the defense remain. The Tigers are going to have to rely on those veterans to hold down the fort while a decimated offense puts things together in the early part of the season. 

Henderson State looks very similar to the team we saw last year with a lot of returners on both sides of the ball. Who will step up at receiver is a big question for the Reddies, but the rushing attack and the front seven of the defense will be among the conference’s best. I’d expect the Reddies to smother the Tigers’ new offense in this one. The Tigers might be able to hold down the HSU offense for a bit, but will most likely be worn down by the Reddies’ backs and O-line.

I think this would be significantly more interesting in Ada, but as it’s in Arkadelphia, I think the Reddies will cruise.

Henderson State 34, East Central 13


Arkansas Tech at Oklahoma Baptist

Another color war! Winner keeps the green and gold, loser gets maroon and aquamarine. But seriously, I think this is a matchup of two programs desperately looking to start the season with some positive momentum. The Wonder Boys have a totally new coaching staff as coach Kyle Shipp hopes new voices will raise Tech to new heights. OBU really needs to see some positive things after a dreadful 2022 where it seemed like just about everything went wrong. I think we’ll see a lot of good energy in this one.

Schematically, there are a lot of unknowns on both sides. New quarterbacks, new schemes for Arkansas Tech, lots of young guys being counted on offense and defense for both teams. This is about as close to a throw up your hands and guess kind of game as there is this week. Both teams return some good pieces at the skill positions, but the quarterback questions and uncertainty along the offensive line leave doubt about their effectiveness this early in the season. Defensively, there are lots of questions as well. Either way, we’re going to learn a lot about these two teams this week. 

Tech rolled up 517 yards of offense in Shawnee a year ago. I don’t think they’ll be able to do that this year, but I do think they’ll still leave town with a win.

Arkansas Tech 28, Oklahoma Baptist 21