Season four of University of West Florida football kicks off this evening against Carson-Newman in Jefferson City, Tennessee. The Argonauts are picked to finish fourth in the Gulf South Conference preseason coaches' poll.
“I love our team; we’ve really spent a lot of time getting to know each other but also a lot of time figuring out who can do what,” said UWF Head Coach Pete Shinnick. “Every head coach will tell you, ‘first game, and now let’s go see what we’ve got.’ And I’m excited to see what we’ve got.”
One of the challenges of playing a season opener is that there’s no recent video of your opponent – to a certain extent, you fly by the seat of your pants. But Shinnick says in this case, it’s not that big of an issue.
“For Carson-Newman, they’ve been running the same offense for a while, had similar staff,” Shinnick said. “They’ll always do something new; they did something new against us last year. So, you’ve always got to prepare for the unexpected; but you pretty much prepare for what you know, and then you adjust as you go along.”
One of UWF’s main issues, both in spring ball and fall camp, was finding a starting quarterback. On opening night, 2019, that battle continues between graduate senior Sam Vaughn and J.C. Robles, a transfer from Colorado State.
“We’ll make a decision pregame before we take the field; we’ve got to send one of them out there, joked Shinnick. “The biggest concern is now going out and playing live. We’ve had two live scrimmages, so now it’s how our guys are going to handle more plays live; tight situations, those type of things. But I think we’ve seen a lot and we like what we’ve seen.”
Another pre-season goal was to add to the 40 minutes in which the Argos were tied or trailed by only a touchdown in those final five games in 2018.
“I don’t know if we’ve found them all – and I don’t know if we were trying to get all of them in fall camp – but we found a lot of them just based off the competition, going against each other and the tight battle that we’ve had and the back-and-forth between the offense and defense,” said Shinnick. “So we feel like we’ve gotten the beginning of that.”
The 2019 season also signals the final go-round for most of Shinnick’s inaugural-season roster from 2016.
“I mean, those are the guys that you just sit here and go, ‘OK, they’re going to leave a great legacy as to what we’re trying to accomplish and what it looks like,’” Shinnick said.
“We want to send them out with their best season ever.”
“The preseason all-[South Atlantic] conference; we’re ranked third and that’s where we finished [in 2018],” said Carson-Newman Head Coach Mike Turner at their media day last month. “That’s fair. I think it’s motivation for our kids, absolutely; it’s motivation for me as a coach.”
The Eagles lost 19-9 to UWF in last year’s season-opener at Bayfront Stadium. But this year, Turner says his team is more mature.
“We’ve played two years with freshmen and sophomores, and sophomores and freshmen; now we’ve got some guys that are juniors and some guys that are seniors,” Turner said. “That’s a great luxury to have on a football team; and I think they’ve got great expectations. I think they look at this [as] this is not fantasy football; this is real-world football.”
Starting with West Florida, Carson-Newman will play four of their first five games at Burke-Tarr Stadium – aka “Mossy Creek.”
“I just wish we had five out of the first five at home,” said Turner. “I think playing here at Mossy Creek is a great advantage to us. It allow our kids to be in their normal routine, that type of thing – meetings at the same time in the same places. I think psychologically, that’s very, very strong to you.”
The Argos will dress 66 players out of its more than 100-man roster. A far cry from 2014, when Coach Pete Shinnick was hired and nine players made up the spring practice roster the following year.
“[A] tremendously far cry; we’ve come a long way and we’re standing on Pen Air Field right now looking at the Darrell Gooden Center,” said the coach. “Things that we didn’t have and we’re blessed to have them. We’re excited to play and look forward to going [to Jefferson City] and playing our best.”
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Central time. And you might consider the game as a case of the old-timers versus the young whipper-snappers. Carson-Newman begins its 150th season of college football, by taking on the four-year-old program from Pensacola.