As far as FCS opponents go, the Central Arkansas Bears appear to be no slouch.
Oklahoma State hosts Central Arkansas at 6 p.m. Saturday in Boone Pickens Stadium to kick off the Cowboys’ 2023 season. The Bears were picked second in the United Athletic Conference’s preseason poll, picking up five first-place votes.
UCA returns some firepower from last season’s squad that went just 5-6, but the Bears also added some skill this offseason.
Here are three things to know about the Central Arkansas Bears.
1. A Veteran FCS Quarterback
Will McElvain already has experience taking a Big 12 team to deep waters — nearly forcing a monumental upset.
As a redshirt freshman at Northern Iowa in 2019, McElvain took No. 21 Iowa State to three overtimes in Ames, throwing for 228 yards and a touchdown before UNI eventually fell the the Brock Purdy-Breece Hall Cyclones 29-26.
McElvain finished the 2019 season having completed 53% of his passes for 2,778 yards and 20 touchdowns — setting a UNI freshman passing record in the process. He led UNI to the FCS quarterfinals that year before falling to national runner up James Madison.
He transferred to Central Arkansas ahead of last season where he turned in his best performance since that redshirt freshman campaign. In his first season with the Bears, McElvain threw for 2,592 yards and 18 touchdowns.
For his career, McElvain has thrown for 6,545 yards, 40 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. It’s obviously a different level, but the trio of Alan Bowman, Garret Rangel and Gunnar Gundy have combined to throw for 6,287 yards, 41 touchdowns and 27 interceptions during their college careers. So, McElvain is no spring chicken.
“They do have an advantage with a mature quarterback,” Gundy said. “The things we’re talking about today [playing multiple quarterbacks], they’re not talking about. A guy that’s experienced and they know who their guy is.”
2. Watch Out for David Walker
The 2022 season was also David Walker’s first with UCA, and he made an immediate impact.
Walker won the ASUN’s Defensive Player of the Year last season after leading the conference with 12 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. He was an FCS All-American and also was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the best FCS defender in the country.
Listed as a 6-foot-2, 260-pound junior, Walker played at Division-II Southern Arkansas in 2021, where he again led his conference in sacks and tackles for loss.
OSU’s offensive line struggled in 2022, so Walker ought to be a decent test to start 2023.
“There are probably not enough adjectives for me to use to describe him,” UCA coach Nathan Brown said. “I think he’s just an amazing human, someone that has grown so much in the year he’s been here. And not just how good a player he is on the field, but just the man he’s becoming. He’s taken on a leadership role in that short time.”
3. The Bears Have Options in the Backfield
The Bears’ running back duo of Darius Hale and Kylin James combined to rush for 1,603 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2022.
And the room somehow got better in the offseason with the addition of ASUN rushing leader ShunDerrick Powell. A transfer from North Alabama, Powell ran for 1,508 yards and 18 touchdowns last season on his way to FCS All-America honors.
Hale and James appear to be bruisers. Hale is listed as a 5-11, 225-pound junior, and James is listed as a 6-0, 220-pound junior. Meanwhile Powell brings a change of pace at 5-9, 180 pounds.
“I think what these three guys have bought into is feed off each other,” Brown said. “Kylin James does a lot of great things. He’s as good an all-purpose back to me as there is in the country. I don’t think he gets the respect he truly deserves. And Darius can really do it all. He’s a big back who can make all the cuts. He’s got speed to break away. He sees something and tries to get better at it and he usually accomplishes it. And ShunDerrick is just an extremely talented running back.”