LEBANON — Mike Babcock's debut as McKendree University's new head football coach has been a long time coming.
Babcock, who was hired Dec. 5 to replace the retired Carl Poelker, has waited 276 days for the Bearcats' opener, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday against visiting Tiffin University.
"We've been waiting, whatever it's been, 250 days, 300 days, since I've been hired," said Babcock, 34. "Now all of a sudden we're finally playing in a game. It's an exciting time for the guys to actually go out there and see what they can do.
"The guys on the team are wondering, 'Are we any good? Are we a good football team?'"
Today's game: Tiffin (3-8 in 2012) at McKendree (3-7 in '12), 1:30 p.m. at Leemon Field.
Last meeting: The Dragons defeated the Bearcats 23-13 in the season opener for both teams last year in Tiffin, Ohio. It was the first meeting between the schools.
Big test for offense: Babcock believes the Bearcats will have a formidable offense behind sophomore quarterback Isaac Fisher, junior running back Ryan Herring, a Belleville East graduate, and sophomore running backs Jeruel Taylor and Cameron James, an Edwardsville High graduate.
Tiffin, however, returns 10 starters on defense and has a quality front four in senior left end Joe Collard (6-foot-4, 240 pounds), sophomore left tackle Bill McCague (6-4, 260), freshman right tackle Al Thompson (6-4, 300) and sophomore right end Judes Amilcar (6-3, 250).
"Those are some big guys," Babcock said. "Our guys need to play with great pad levers. They need to play with great fundamentals and need to be able to take guys who probably are just a hair bigger than them and be able to play against them."
No predictions: Babcock isn't expecting a particular number of victories, and he admits he's not sure what to expect once the Bearcats hit the field.
Babcock does expect genuine effort for 60 minutes and insists that his players put their teammates first.
"I'm trying to get the team to understand that there's going to be games where the defense might be struggling a little bit and the offense is going to have to pick it up," Babcock said. "And there might be times where the offense struggles a little bit and the defense has to pick it up."
Notes: The Dragons have been members of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which they joined in July 2008 after Mercyhurst College left the league. ... Two former Tiffin players are in the NFL: wide receiver Nate Washington of the Tennessee Titans and running back Chris Ivory of the New York Jets. ... Fisher will open his first full season as the Bearcats' quarterback. His brother, Austin, also played quarterback at McKendree. ... Gary Goff is in his third season as the Dragons' head coach. He previously was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at West Virginia Wesleyan. "Tiffin's a good opponent," Babcock said. "This isn't their first road trip. I know Coach Goff will have them ready to go."