West Texas A&M is opening up its Lone Star Conference portion of the schedule when they play host to the Tarleton Texans at 6 p.m. tonight on Happy State Bank Field at Kimbrough Memorial Stadium.
Entering league play, WT finds itself in one of the top conference's in the country.
Defending Division II national champion, Texas A&M-Commerce, coached by Friona graduate Colby Carthel, is ranked No. 1 in the Division II American Football Coaches Association Poll. Not far behind is, MSU Texas, formerly known as Midwestern State.
The Mustangs are ranked No. 5 in the country at 2-0 overall after whipping national runner-up West Florida last Saturday.
"I think everyone has gotten better in the league," WT coach Hunter Hughes said. "Texas A&M-Kingsville is better, UT Permian Basin played tough with Northern Michigan. The key is, you have to get off to a good start. There is a challenge coming in Tarleton, and we're ready to accept it."
The Buffs are 1-1 overall after a 42-7 rout of Oklahoma Panhandle State last Saturday.
The WT defense is off to a great start, leading the nation in interceptions with seven. Buff cornerback's Keith Blank and Tobias Harris ran two of those pick's back for touchdowns against the Aggies.
However, second-year Hughes knows his team will need a better offensive performance if they want to be in the game with a team like the Texans.
WT starting quarterback Mitch Hood was 8-of-18 with an interception, throwing for 142 yards. But did have timing issues with some of his receivers.
"I'd like to see Mitch make some of those throws he's been a little off on," Hughes said. "I'd like to see our receivers run crisper routes. But, on the defensive side, I'd like to see our linebackers attack hard and not get pushed around. I'd like to see our secondary not only be good at going to get the ball, but be good tacklers."
Tarleton (1-0) has only played one game so far this season. The Texans demolished Delta State 44-13, on Sept. 1. The Texans second game against Stephen F. Austin State last Saturday due to inclement weather.
Against the Statesmen, the Tarleton offense put up 448 yards of offense behind running back Daniel McCants. McCants packed a punch, rushing for 145 yards with a score.
Defensively, the Texans are stacked with a senior laden front seven led by Tyrell Thompson. Thompson (6-foot-4, 330 pounds) leads a defensive line that averages 300 pounds.
Also rotating on the line, is Perryton graduate Sean Walton.
"Their running backs can break tackles," Hughes said. "We have to tackle well. We didn't tackle well last year. Defensively, they are very physical up front. They dominated us last year a little bit. Anyone would want that front seven. They can play at any level. Our receivers will be challenged and we'll need to step up."
The series: The Buffs lead the all-time series 15-12 and are 8-6 in games played in Canyon. Tarleton held off a late rally from the Buffs for a 30-20 win on Sept. 23, last season.
Lone Star Conference Standings
Texas A&M-Commerce 2-0;1-0
West Texas A&M 0-0 1-1
Eastern New Mexico;0-0;0-2
Western New Mexico 0-0 0-2
UT-Permian Basin 0-0 0-2
Tarleton State at West Texas A&M, 6 p.m.
Midwestern State at UT Permian Basin, 6 p.m.
Texas A&M-Kingsville at Angelo State, 6 p.m.
Texas A&M-Commerce at Eastern New Mexico, 8 p.m.