University of La Verne football coach Andy Ankeny is going to find out fast just how much his Leopard team has improved.
The Leopards, just 1-8 in Ankeny’s inaugural season in 2007, dropped their season opener to Whitworth (Wash.) two weeks ago 22-13. That was the defending Northwest Conference champion so it was a moral victory of sorts.
But the tests won’t get any easier. Today Willamette (Ore.), which plays in the same conference as Whitworth, marches in for a 1 p.m. showdown at Ortmayer Stadium. The Bearcats (3-0) moved into the D3football national rankings this week at No. 25.
Then next week the Leos open SCIAC play against No. 20 University of Redlands.
“We’ve decided to play as many ranked teams as possible,” Ankeny said sarcastically.
“But this is really exciting for us as a program. What better way to see exactly where we are and how we stack up.”
It will be the first meeting between the two schools. It will also be the second against a SCIAC team for Willamette, which bested Cal Lutheran 31-17 two weeks ago in Thousand Oaks.
The visitors will have one big advantage. Willamette, coming off a 31-23 win over Southern Oregon, will be playing its fourth game while La Verne will be playing just its second.
The Bearcats return 12 starters while La Verne has a steady mix of veterans and newcomers but hasn’t had quite the chance to see how the rookies will fare.
Willamette is also making the road trip which might neutralize its other advantage.
La Verne also had an extra week to prepare.
“It’s tough flying and then playing, no matter where you’re going to or from,” Ankeny said. “It makes a big difference. Hopefully that will be to our advantage.”
The Leopards will be looking to get more out of the running game than it did in the opener. They are averaging 195 passing yards a game, ignited by junior quarterback Anthony Andre, a product of Riverside Poly High school and Riverside Community College.
But the running game is averaging just 34 yards per game.
Willamette is the opposite. It is averaging 219 on the ground and 79 through the air.
Defensively the Leopards, gave up 400 yards in their opener, 269 of that on the ground. The Bearcats have given up an average of 162 on the ground and 183 though the air.
Ankeny recognizes that the tough early schedule might mean his team’s progress may not be reflected in the win column. But he likes what he is seeing from his players.
“Our guys are working hard and they are coming in expecting to win. We know it won’t be easy but we’re ready to compete,” he said. “They have bought in to what we’re trying to do. Now we’ll see where we really are.”
It is a light schedule this week among local colleges. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (1-1), Pomona-Pitzer (1-1) and University of Redlands (3-0) are all idle this week.
Injury-riddled Chaffey (3-0) will hit the road for a 1 p.m. game at Grossmont (1-2). It will be the final tuneup before the Panthers start National Division Central Conference play next week.
San Bernardino Valley College (0-3) will travel to Victor Valley (0-3) for the first game of American Division Mountain Conference action.