The Missouri State Bears kick off their 102nd season of varsity football Thursday (Aug. 29) when they host Southland Conference foe Northwestern State in a 6:05 p.m. contest at Plaster Field in Springfield. Eighth-year head coach Terry Allen returns 40 lettermen and 17 starters from 2012, when his MSU club won three of its last five games.  Under Allen the Bears are 4-3 in home openers and 2-5 overall in season openers; NSU has lost seven straight road games dating back to 2011.

Thursday’s contest marks the first official night home opener since 2009; MSU has been playing home games under the Plaster Field lights since 1951, compiling a 131-151-11 overall record at night and a 19-14-3 mark in Thursday games.

Missouri State and Northwestern State have split two previous meetings (both season openers), with NSU claiming a 24-8 win in Natchitoches in 1988, and the Bears returning the favor the following year with a 20-10 decision over the eighth-ranked Demons at Plaster Field.

Three Bears earned preseason All-MVC recognition, as Caleb Schaffitzel (Jr., S, Fair Grove, Mo.) and Dorian Buford (Sr., WR, Florissant, Mo.) picked up first-team honors, while Anthony Grady (Sr., DE, Texarkana, Ark.) was an honorable mention selection.

The Bears return 10 starters from a defensive unit that ranked 33rd nationally in pass defense (190.4 ypg) and 42nd in total defense (353.0 ypg) last fall; the Bears welcome back five regulars with at least 100 tackles for their careers, including a secondary consisting of Schaffitzel, Sybhrian Berry (Sr., CB, Camden, Ark.), Mike Crutcher (Jr., S, Wentzville, Mo.) and Howard Scarborough (Sr., CB, Tulsa, Okla.) that combined to make 38 starts last year.

Schaffitzel was a consensus preseason All-America choice after leading the Bears with 109 tackles and fi ve interceptions to rank 23rd and 10th nationally in those respective categories a year ago to earn All-America and the CFPA’s FCS Defensive Back of the Year honors; the junior was also named to the Buck Buchanan Award watch list over the summer.

On the offensive side of the ball, MSU returns an experienced cast that accounted for 100 percent of its rushing and passing yardage a year ago, led by Buford’s 642 receiving yards on 59 catches (good for second in school history), Ryan Heaston’s (So., RB, Cordova, Tenn.) 424 rushing yards and the quarterback duo of Ashton Glaser (Sr., Springdale, Ark.) and Kierra Harris (Jr., Texarkana, Ark.), who combined to throw for 2,218 yards.

Missouri State was 3-1 when scoring 20 or more points last season and 0-8 when producing less than 20 points.