esu uco

Emporia State at Fort Hays State
Kickoff: 7 pm Thursday
Pregame: 6 pm, Mix 104.9 and

The 2013 college football season begins Thursday for the Emporia State Hornets, and it starts the way it has the past few seasons — against in-state rival Fort Hays State.

Two years ago, the Hornets couldn’t get out of their own way in 104-degree heat and wound up wilting in Hays. Last year, ESU was focused and pretty well ran roughshod over the visiting Tigers.

So how does the 2013 season opener play out? I see four areas which could decide the game.

Quarterback. Both teams are relying on youngsters, with the Hornets turning to sophomore Brent Wilson and Hays putting Treveon Albert under center. Because of injuries to All-Region QB Tyler Eckenrode, Wilson perhaps got more playing time than expected last year, which should help him ease into the starting role this year. Albert, meanwhile, played QB in high school but was utilized as a running back, receiver and kick returner last season. Advantage: Hornets

Defense. Hornets were strong defensively last year, and despite the losses of leading tackler Ben Carlson and interception guru Derek Lohmann the D should be strong again, anchored this year by LB Jordan Sanders and CB Chris Poston. Secondary could be a strength for Hays, but the Tigers don’t have as much depth as ESU does along the line or at linebacker. Advantage: Hornets

Special teams. ESU will rely on Eli Kuhns, mainly used for lengthy field goals last year, as the team’s primary kicker. The Tigers will counter with Drew O’Brien, a sophomore who struggled at times with extra points. Both teams should be explosive returning kicks at times during the season, but the question Thursday becomes which team makes more mistakes in the opener. Advantage: Push

Coaching. It’s Garin Higgins’ seventh season at the helm for ESU and Chris Brown’s third leading Fort Hays State. Higgins is tasked with continuing the momentum that started building last year, no small order given the loss of Eckenrode at QB and the talent lost on defense. However, Year 3 has become the year when people expect moribund programs to take significant strides forward. Hornet coaching staff has come into its own the past few seasons, so expect ESU to make the right calls in critical situations. Whether they get executed properly…Advantage: Hornets

Final score: ESU 27, Fort Hays 13