Familiar foe to meet Jacks in season opener


A better start for the Jacks means a win over a difficult Southern Utah squad.

For the 2011 SDSU football team to find success, it will start at the beginning in the most literal sense.

They need a strong start to the season, beginning on Saturday when the Jackrabbits host Southern Utah at Coughlin Alumni Stadium. Winning early would be contrary to how SDSU started its slate a year ago, when the Jacks lost their first four games and ultimately setting back the high expectations from the preseason.

The Jackrabbits can’t afford to do that again. SDSU will not have another home game in September, making trips to play Illinois, Cal Poly, and Illinois State in three consecutive weeks and playing opponents that will be as difficult as the travel.

“It’s very important because it will change the whole season. If you can come out and start strong in your first game it will give you more confidence,” wide receiver Aaron Rollin said. “Last year, we lost the first game and it made everybody fall back a little bit. If we start this season off with a win, it makes a huge difference for our season.”

SDSU will face a familiar opponent, as the Jacks and Thunderbirds met four times from 2004-2007 as members of the Great West Football Conference. The Jackrabbits won the last three of those games and by an average margin of victory of 27.6 points per game.

The likelihood of similar scenarios playing out again this time are unlikely. For starters, Southern Utah has a stellar junior quarterback in Brad Sorensen, who completed over 65 percent of his passes in 2010 and is on numerous preseason national award lists. The Thunderbirds return eight starters on each side of the ball and are the preseason selection to win the Great West, providing the Jackrabbits with worthy opponents for the season opener.

Southern Utah is in the midst of a huge turnaround but they have only won eight road games in the last nine seasons, leaving questions about the Thunderbirds ability to win away from home. The Jacks struggled last year with turnovers and an emphasis has been placed on protecting the ball throughout the offseason.

“We want to prove something and we feel really confident about ourselves too.” Jackrabbits quarterback Thomas O’Brien said. “We’ve got a team that is really going to fight for everything and not take anything for granted. We’re going to make sure that we come into every game ready to just do our job.”

“We’re going to play hard,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “I said ‘Men, when we walk off that field after that last second of play, I want Southern Utah to look back at us and say ‘That’s a good football team.’”