Bring on the...Bearkats?

There's no question why the NCAA allowed a 12th regular season game, starting this season (Cha-ching). And there's little question in head coach Mack Brown's mind as to whether Texas should be playing a Division I-AA program. But one of the biggest questions surrounding the defending national champ's matchup against the Sam Houston State University Bearkats is...

…what the heck is a Bearkat?

"I don't even know what a Bearkat is," said NT Derek Lokey. "Is that even a real animal?"

Or, is it the type of creature that Napoleon Dynamite would draw?

"It's a combination of a 'bear' and a 'cat'," Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik quipped.

Chizik would know. His Stephen F. Austin teams battled SHSU when he was an assistant coach, and then the defensive coordinator, in Nacogdoches from 1992-97.

Now, what everyone else wants to know is why Texas would fill its open date with a Division-1AA school, picked to finish sixth in the seven-member Southland Conference. It's a question that should be directed to Men's Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds, Brown suggested. But there was enough media buzz directed at Texas' schedule-makers that it prompted a late-afternoon follow-up from UT Men's Sports Information Director John Bianco, hoping to frame the discussion within a national perspective.

Texas has not scheduled a D-IAA program since North Texas participated at that level from 1978-92. But, within the past five years, every other Big 12 Conference team has played three ball games against D-IAA competition. Fourteen of the programs ranked in this week's Top 25 have D-IAA schools on their schedule this year. And more than half (67) of 119 Division-I teams will play a D-IAA this year.

Still, in early spring, Brown let it be known (briefly) that he was none-to-pleased that his defending national champs would face D-II program. ("That isn't us," Brown said). Brown is also on record in opposition of the 12th regular season game. Brown has previously questioned the logic of extending the regular season when the NCAA, as well as the vast majority of university presidents, oppose any semblance of a post-season playoff.

"I wasn't for the twelfth game," Brown said, "and most of the coaches I know weren't for the twelth game. We felt like we needed an open date for injuries, which would have been great for us this weekend. But it was a vote by the NCAA, and it was decided after input from (coaches). They decided to play it, so we'll play it."

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and Texas A&M Dennis Franchione spoke in support of the additional game while at the Big 12 Football Media Conference in Kansas City last July. Stoops logic was that players would simply prefer to play.

"It was about money; it wasn't about the kids," Brown said Monday. "But none of that is an issue. It's on the schedule, and we'll be excited about playing this weekend."

The biggest difference between D-I and D-IAA, programs, Chizik believes is depth.

"It's because of scholarship issues," Chizik said. "They (D-IAA) are at 65 (scholarships) and we're at 85. That's huge. But there are a lot of examples across the board right now if Division-II schools giving Division-I schools all they want."

Case-in-point: D-IAA Montana State shocked Colorado during the Buffaloes home-opener.

The Bearkats have played 21 Division-I foes, losing 19, but only twice has SHSU met a squad ranked in the Top 25 (No. 21 Texas A&M in 2001, No. 22 Texas Tech in 2004). The Bearkats only wins against D-I opponents was against UL-Lafayette in 2000 (20-14) and UL-Monroe in 2001 (20-9). SHSU has participated at the D-IAA level since 1986, and No. 7 Texas is clearly the highest ranked program the Bearkats have ever faced.

"It will be a good mental test for us this week because the media and fans will not be talking about this game," Brown said. "Our guys have got to be mature enough that they focus on getting better as a football team rathr than listening to everybody around them."

Kick-off is set for 6 p.m. and will be broadcast by FSN on a pay-per-view basis.

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