Abilene Christian had a tremendous season in Keith Patterson’s first year leading the program when you consider what outside expectations were going in. The Wildcats finished 7-4 overall and 3-1 in the WAC, with their only loss being a 24-21 heartbreaker to SFA in the unofficial “WAC Championship” game.
However, when Patterson reflects on 2022, he sees plenty of room for improvement, and rightfully so. Three of ACU’s four losses were by three points. Two of those losses were to WAC champion SFA while the third loss came on the road against No. 23 North Dakota. The Wildcats fourth loss was by a mere 17 points at FBS Missouri.
“Those two games against SFA were decided by a field goal. We led the whole game at home until the final minute and 23 seconds,” Patterson said. “At North Dakota, we score a touchdown on first-and-goal from the 1, and we just walk into the endzone. However, they call us for an illegal chop block on the 1-yard line. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.
“We lost that game by three points, and that (penalty) took seven points off the board and backed us up 15 yards. We ended up having to kick a field goal on that drive. You’re talking about three plays determining the difference between being 10-1 last year, but that’s how the old ball bounces.”
Last season’s success has set fan and booster expectations much higher for 2023. Patterson, for one, welcomes it.
“That’s always gonna be our expectations,” he said. “You sure don’t want to be coaching in a football program that has no expectations. We welcome the expectations and are excited about where we’re headed as a program.”
Where are the Wildcats headed as a program?
The seven victories last year were the most for the football program since its final season as a Division II Lone Star Conference member in 2012.
“Last year was great, as far as creating some momentum for our program, but we can’t sit here and think that’s gonna equate to a good year this year,” Patterson said. “It’s almost like you have to recalibrate and hit the restart button each year.”
The Wildcats hit the restart button with many of the same players from last season.
“The core of our roster is the same,” Patterson said. “We signed 17 high school players back in February and brought in seven mid-year transfers. We’ll probably continue to bring some transfers in the months of May and June.”
Patterson is continuing to add to the roster due to ACU’s lack of depth, which most coaches face when they take over a program in the era of the transfer portal.
“While we continue to build the program, we’re trying to establish a winning tradition, and another winning season this year will help build toward having a successful program,” he said.
Patterson understands the lifeblood of a good college football program begins with Texas high school players. One benefit of the transfer portal is it can create a chance to recruit those players again a year or two later. Wide receiver Jacoby Boykins (Alabama) and running back Jay’Veon Sunday (Washington) are two transfers from ACU’s signing class returning to Texas.
ACU’s coaching staff excelled using the transfer portal last year, and five of the seven transfers inked this year come from Power 5 programs. Nine players in the Wildcats’ 2023 recruiting class were offensive or defensive linemen. Patterson expects the fans to notice a difference along the line this year.
“We’re going to look different up front than we did a year ago,” he said. “But we still have the young guys behind them that we’re going to continue developing.”
Patterson knows ACU will be near the top of the UAC preseason rankings, and he doesn’t shy away from admitting that winning the conference every year is the first goal for his teams.
“We want to win the conference, make the playoffs, and try to make a run toward the national championship every year,” Patterson said. “That’s our goal, and we’re not shying away from it as long as I’m the head coach of our football program.”
ACU continues to scour the transfer portal, searching for depth at most positions. Every team wants more offensive and defensive linemen, but the Wildcats need to find depth at linebacker. Also, expect to see ACU add more defensive linemen considering six of the current roster’s eight linemen are in their first year of college football.
The Wildcats fan base has a tendency to raise their expectations rather quickly, but Patterson seems to have this program lining up for success at the national level. That might not happen this year, but winning the UAC title and an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs is a reasonable expectation.
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