The Lincoln Blue Tigers don't want the repeat to be a repeat.
As Lincoln opens the 2013 season at 7 p.m. tonight at Lindenwood, it will mark the second consecutive season the Blue Tigers begin the year against the Lions.
It didn't turn out so well a year ago, as Lincoln lost by 21 points. Now the Blue Tigers hope to turn their fortunes around by getting off on the right foot.
"It's been a long time since we've played a game. We've got a lot guys excited to play," Lincoln head coach Mike Jones said Wednesday. "Hopefully all the hard work we've put in, we'll get an opportunity to show it (today)."
Lindenwood is coming off an 8-4 season, including going 7-3 in its inaugural year in the intimidating Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. The Lions completed their three-year transition period from the NAIA to NCAA Division II on July 1, and are eligible to compete in the Division II playoffs this season.
While Lindenwood features a bevy of new faces, as the Lions bring back just seven starters from that 2012 squad, the MIAA media and coaches respected them enough to rank them fifth in both preseason polls. Lincoln, meanwhile, ranked 14th in both.
"They have a lot of guys that they're replacing from last year, and their offensive coordinator left for Southwest Baptist," Jones said. "They have a new running coordinator and a new passing coordinator. It's going to be a great challenge for us."
Among those new faces is starting quarterback Dillon Miller. The son of former St. Louis Rams and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Chris Miller, the sophomore signal-caller gives Lincoln a different look than what the Blue Tigers saw last season.
Lindenwood began 2012 with Ben Gomez at quarterback, and he threw for 407 yards and five touchdowns in that season-opening win against Lincoln. Miller took over as the starter for the last five games, throwing for 1,189 yards and 12 touchdown passes.
While Gomez is still on the roster, Miller was named the Week 1 quarterback earlier in the week.
"He has the pedigree because his dad played in the NFL," Jones said of Miller. "We don't know a lot about him. We know the kid last year lit us up. We know they're going to come in with a similar mindset, where they're going to want to run the football but knowing they threw the ball well on us last year."
In that regard, Lincoln can expect to have to score a lot of points to come out with a win.
"We just have to score enough points to win, whatever that may be," Jones said. "We're not set on, "We have to score 28 points, 35 points.' I just want to be consistent, I want to be able to run the ball and I think we can throw the ball. If we can run the ball and do a good job with time management, I think we have a good chance to win."
On the other hand, Lindenwood must replace a lot of lost offensive firepower, including one player in particular that stands out. Wide receiver Andrew Helmick terrorized MIAA defenses last year to the tune of 1,363 yards and 14 touchdowns. He recently was cut by the Rams.
"Andrew's outstanding," Lindenwood head coach Patrick Ross said last year. "We've had three free-agent NFL signees at receiver the past few years, and Andrew's as good as any of them."
While Lindenwood may be searching for playmakers on offense, the Lions are blessed with a couple of them on defense.
Cornerback Pierre Desir returns following a 2012 campaign that culminated in him being named an American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division II All-American. He intercepted nine passes a season ago.
"Pierre is a big, physical, strong cornerback," Jones said. "With guys like that you've got to be able to get him moving. With a big corner like that you don't want him to get his hands on you. He gets his hands on you, you're going to have problems."
The other is linebacker Connor Harris who led the MIAA with 126 tackles in 2012.
"With the linebacker you've got to get a hat on him," Jones said, meaning Lincoln needs to block him. "He's a good football player. He's a guy that flies around and gets to the football. He's going to make a lot of tackles because that's the way their system's made.
"We know they're good football players. We respect them, but in the same sense, we have to challenge them as well."
Lincoln isn't just ready to challenge Lindenwood. The Blue Tigers want to prove this actually can be a breakthrough season.
"Every game we want to go in with the mindset that we can win the football game," Jones said. "That starts with game one. Last year, we came out and played decent for 2.5 quarters. We have to play four quarters of football. We haven't done that yet. We do that and we have a good chance to win."