The Salina Liberty have a leg up on the Sioux City Bandits.
Well, actually, the Bandits have a half-game lead on the Liberty in the standings but Salina has already played its season-opener.
Salina played an exhibition game against the Kansas City Marshalls two weeks ago, winning 56-0, and the Liberty opened the season last Saturday. Even though the Liberty lost 63-57 to the Amarillo Venom, it's still one more game than the Bandits have played so far.
Sioux City played an exhibition game against the Sioux City Stampede last week, winning 35-18, but Erv Strohbeen admits the Liberty have a bit of an advantage going into Saturday's season-opener in Salina. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:35 p.m. and the game can be seen on Pluto TV.
"I think it's a definite disadvantage. Every week is very important. Some of our guys haven't seen a real, regular season CIF game. It will be interesting how they react and I hope we are prepared for them," Strohbeen said. "They have a little more experience under their belt. We definitely have to be focused and ready to play.
"We are just hungry to get the season started. It's never ideal to start on the road with a lot of new players. Our job is to get them ready and you can tell a lot by that first game."
The two teams had two close games last season. Salina won the first meeting in Sioux City 60-58 and the Bandits won the meeting in Salina, 45-39. The Liberty finished right behind the Bandits in the standings last season.
"They have an experienced coaching staff. He's a great coach and they have guys who are ready to play," Strohbeen said. "They have some vets on the team that are known names. They came into our house and beat us and we returned the favor. They are going to be hungry for revenge."
This isn't the same Bandits team as last year. Strohbeen is working in seven new players on the offensive side of the ball. Cory Murphy is the starting quarterback and running backs Todd Macon, Dorian Cowart and Braden Meints will all see carries.
While the offense may be inexperienced, the veteran defense looked ready for the season in last week's exhibition win over the Stampede. Third-year linebacker Zac Schleuger, a Morningside graduate, was all over the field. Strohbeen liked how his veteran defensive line, led by Devon Bridges and Ben Pister, looked last week.
"The defense will definitely be the key to our team right now. Our front four are very experienced. The bulk of our experience is on defense," Strohbeen said. "They have to keep us in the game if the offense struggles. It's a good group of guys to have and their play speaks for the team."
The Bandits defense will have its hands full since Salina scored 57 points last week. But the Liberty gave up 63 points.
Strohbeen isn't concerned with what Salina did in that game, though. With it being the first game of the season, he's more focused about seeing what his team can accomplish.
"Our focus has been on us. We just have to go out and execute our responsibilities. Get the guys in the right spots and run the right plays and execute," Strohbeen said. "I really haven't thought about Salina's personnel. I am just worried about our guys. We will see how the guys play under real pressure. It's a whole different ball of wax on the road against a good game than the first preseason game."