For the first time since early in the 2002 season, the Tarleton State football program is being mentioned among the elites on the national stage.
Tarleton has broken into the top 10 in the weekly American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division II football poll, released Tuesday.
That's obviously an honor,” Tarleton Head Coach Sam McElroy said. “It's a great honor for our program to be mentioned among the best teams in the country.”
The climb to their current status as No. 10 has been a gradual one for the Texans, who were not in the top 25 in the preseason poll. They broke in at No. 22 after beating East Central and Division 1-FCS member Stephen F. Austin in the first two weeks of the season.
Tarleton then climbed five rungs up the ladder to No. 17 after a one-sided defeat of Southeastern Oklahoma State. The Texans moved up one spot in each of the next four polls, landing at No. 13 in last week's list.
The three-spot jump by the Texans this week comes as a result of losses suffered by three previous top 10 teams, and the Texans' 44-32 win over then No. 17 Midwestern State Saturday. MSU dropped to No. 23.
Seven consecutive wins to begin a season is the most for a Tarleton team since joining the NCAA. The Texans raced through an undefeated 10-game regular season in 1990, and won an 11th consecutive contest before falling in the second round of the playoffs. That was in the NAIA.
While honored to receive recognition on the national landscape, Coach McElroy and staff pay more attention to the Southwest Region Poll conducted by the NCAA. Tarleton is currently fourth on the list. The top six in the final regional rankings will go on to compete in the national playoffs.
The Texans have been in position to qualify for the post season entering their regular season finale each of the past two years. Both times, however, losses to West Texas A&M have ended their playoff hopes. WTAMU is once again the final opponent on the slate for Tarleton this fall.
Before battling their nemesis of recent years, the Texans must also face off with three more Lone Star Conference South Division rivals. They visit Eastern New Mexico in Blackwater Draw, NM Saturday, a place where Tarleton has won only once in school history. Abilene Christian then visits Stephenville for the annual Tarleton Homecoming weekend. The Texans must also pay a visit to Angelo State before facing off with WT in the finale.
“The great thing is that we have two highly-ranked opponents still ahead of us, so our strength of schedule is one of the best things we have going for us,” McElroy said. “Our goal every year is to win a conference championship and to make the playoffs, and if we take care of business we will have the opportunity to do those things. It's all out there in front of us.”
Brad Keith is the sports editor at the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at (254) 965-3124, ext. 241, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.