CONWAY, Ark. _ The University of Central Arkansas Bears have compiled a rather unique fall football schedule for 2020, one featuring three FBS (Football Bowl Championship) programs and at least one rare home-and-home series, according to Dr. Brad Teague, UCA’s director of athletics.
The original 11-game schedule was disrupted due to nationwide changes to fall sport schedules due to COVID-19, leaving UCA with just one originally scheduled game, the season opener next Saturday against Austin Peay (Ohio Valley Conference) in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. From there, the remainder of the schedule was a blank slate, leaving Teague and third-year head coach Nathan Brown the flexibility to fill it in a number of different ways.
Teague said it was, and is, an extremely fluid situation, to say the least.
“Our scheduling has certainly been simplified by the fact that Coach Brown is willing to play anybody,’ Teague said. “He has said yes to every opponent that I brought to him as a potential game. That has made this process so much easier than it could have been.’
The Bears have assembled, as of now, a six-game schedule that is as impressive as it is challenging, with up to five more dates/opponents pending. The 2020 slate includes games with in-state FBS rival Arkansas State (Saturday, Sept. 19) in Jonesboro, with FBS University of Alabama-Birmingham (Thursday, Sept. 3) in Birmingham, Ala., and another against the FBS Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns on Nov. 21 in Lafayette, La. The Bears will face three FBS programs in the same season for the first time in school history.
The Bears lost out on their original FBS guarantee game with the Power 5 Missouri Tigers on July 30 when the Southeastern Conference moved to a conference-only schedule.
“I have told our players that this is going to be a season to remember and won’t look like seasons of the past,’ said Brown. “We knew that with the Southland Conference choosing to move to the spring we would have to be creative in getting a full schedule together for the 2020 season. I can’t thank Dr. Teague enough for being transparent and willing to push forward.
“Our players and our coaching staff appreciate his professional approach and willingness to work through this tough time and find a way to create a phenomenal schedule. We are looking at one of the toughest schedules in UCA football history.’
UCA is one of five Southland Conference teams playing at least a partial fall football schedule. The conference voted on Aug. 13 to move all fall conference competition to the spring semester, while still allowing institutions to play non-conference games in the fall semester. As of now, UCA and SFA are planning a full fall schedule. Abilene Christian, Lamar and Houston Baptist are set to play select games.
“We have been following the guidance of our medical professionals, our medical consortium, the NCAA, and the Arkansas Department of Health since our student-athletes began arriving on campus in late June,’ said Teague. “The NCAA guidance, which became mandates in early August, were easy for us to exceed due to our existing testing protocols and available medical and lab resources to achieve them.
“We are thankful to have the professionalism of Conway Regional Health System, our team doctors, and our athletic training staff. We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to provide a safe and healthy mode for our student-athletes to compete this fall.’
Teague said the consensus was it was best for UCA’s student-athletes to attempt to play a regular fall schedule than to possibly compete in the spring.
“It is, in our opinion, all about the well-being of our student-athletes,’ Teague said. “It’s about having recovery time, and having mental and emotional time off from their sport. And if you play fall ’20, spring ’21, fall ’21, we don’t think that is possible and it’s not good for their health and well being. And also, we don’t know what the spring is going to look like, as far as COVID-19 or scheduling or any of that. So if we can safely provide our fall programs a somewhat normal fall season, we think that is best for everyone involved.’
As of now, the Bears will have one home game vs. Missouri State (Sept. 26), four road games and one neutral site matchup in the revamped schedule. The Austin Peay game was originally a home game for UCA on Sept. 19 but was moved to Montgomery for the FCS Kickoff earlier this year. The UCA-APSU game is the only college football game in the nation scheduled for Week Zero (Aug. 29) and will be the prime time 7 p.m. game on ESPN. The Bears will play the return game at Missouri State on Oct. 17 in Springfield, Mo.
Brown said the Bears, the defending SLC co-champions, just want to know who, when and where.
“We are excited about the challenge of playing multiple FBS opponents, not to mention some great FCS opponents we normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to play,’ said Brown, a former All-American quarterback at UCA. “Arkansas State, ULL, and UAB are all playing at a very high level by their programs’ standards. They will all three be an extreme challenge for us. Austin Peay had a great year in the Ohio Valley Conference last year. We have had some familiarity with Missouri State in the past but they do have a renewed energy with Coach Bobby Petrino being there as their head coach.
“I think the schedule poses a lot of challenges but also gives us an opportunity to gauge ourselves against some of the best programs at the FCS level but also at the FBS level as well. I know this, our young men have worked hard for this opportunity and we look forward to continuing to do things in a healthy and safe manner to help make this season happen.’
UCA will release more games as they are finalized. Information regarding tickets for home games will be shared in the coming weeks.