Instead, I'll go with another season opener and introduce you to the 1966 team. 1966 is an interesting case study. As a whole, Arlington State College excelled in the junior college ranks in all sports. UTA won two Junior Rose Bowls in the 1950's, including at least one national championship. Men's basketball had a winning record over 60%. The track teams won conference championships. The various other sports were quite competitive.
But once the SLC started play in 1963-64, the teams just weren't competitive. There were four other teams competing for conference championships in football, basketball, tennis, golf and track. Trinity did not compete in cross country and Arlington State did not field an SLC baseball team until 1969.
The best basketball did in that time frame was a fourth place finish in 1963-64. Tennis had a tie for second in '64-65. Golf was 2nd in '65-66. The cross country teams finished last at every SLC meet and track had a 3rd and two 4ths. In total, UTA was the only school to not get a championship in the burgeoning conference entering the 1966-67 athletic season. They did have a combined four last place finishes and four second-to-last placings. In short, of the sixteen possible conference championship finishes, UTA was in the bottom two half the time. Combined with only three second place finishes, (two were a tie), UTA was easily the worst athletic program in the SLC.
But as far as football goes, things were looking up. After a 3-6-1 overall record and a 0-3-1 SLC record, good for last place, in the inaugural SLC football season, Arlington State finished tied for second at 2-2 (6-3 overall) in 1965. Included in that win was Lamar Tech, who won the conference title.
The '66 team was young, but certainly talented. After the conclusion of the '65 season, there were many calling UTA the team to beat, though that distinction had to belong to Lamar, who had lost only that game to ASC all-time in SLC play.
Adding another wrinkle was the change of an era. For the previous 13 seasons, going all the way back to the junior college days, the then-Rebels were coached by Claude "Chena" Gilstrap. He had a career mark of 85-40-3. He was the reigning SLC coach of the year. While he went out on a high as far as coaching goes, he stayed on as the school's athletic director.
In was Burley Bearden. He had been at ASC longer than coach Gilstrap, having served as an assistant since 1946. After being an assistant under four different head coaches, this was his debut as the leader of the team.
ASC had already begun the idea of moving up to the University Division level. This meant facing opponents of higher talent and classification. That was a philosophy that would carry over until the 1980's. It also meant more losses than UTA's peer institutions. Occasionally, UTA would get a W, but more often than not, it meant a loss, especially in the 1970's.
The other milestone of the 1966 season will be evident later this season, but as it stands at this point in the year, expectations were certainly high. On this day in UTA football history, the College Division Arlington State College Rebels begin the year against University Division West Texas State in Canyon.
West Texas Rocks Rebs In Opener________________________________
First Downs..........................13 19
Rushing Yardage.................108 328
Passing Yardage....................54 221
Passes Intercepted By.............0 3
Fumbles Lost..........................3 5
CANYON, Texas (Sp.) - Quarterback Hank Washington led the way as West Texas State pounded Arlington State, 38-6, in the season opener for both teams before 15,000 here Saturday night.
Washington completed 10 of 19 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns as the Buffs ripped the Rebel defense for 547 yards total offense.
Complementing the aerial attack were fullback Albie Owens and halfback Gene Morris, both of whom scored two touchdowns. Owens ripped for 146 yards in 13 carries and Morris for 116 in 14 tries.
The leading Arlington State rusher was freshman fulback Danny Griffin, who had 53 yards in 10 carries.
ASC made it close until the third quarter when the Buffs scored 17 points and turned the game into a rout. Only Rebel touchdown came in the second period on a 12-yard pass from Carl Williams to Raymond Mathews.
West Texas led at the half 14-6.
The Rebels are on the road again next week, meeting New Mexico State at Las Cruces, N.M.