CONWAY, Ark. (UCA) - Over the next five seasons, the University of Central Arkansas football Bears will make a return trip to the Hawaiian Islands, resume an in-state rivalry and challenge a pair of Southeastern Conference schools in the non -conference portion of their upcoming schedules under new head coach Nathan Brown.
"We are pleased to have our football schedule full for the next five years,' said Dr. Brad Teague, UCA's director of athletics. "To be able to meet our criteria of proximity contests with one FBS and one FCS team is satisfying. We look forward to watching Coach Brown and his great new staff prepare for these challenging yet exciting schedules.
The Bears, who won 10 games for the second consecutive season this fall and won the Southland Conference championship with a 9-0 league record, will play at FBS Tulsa and FCS Murray State during the 2018 season. FBS programs Hawaii and Western Kentucky, along with FCS Austin Peay are on the schedule for 2019, while FBS Missouri (SEC) and Austin Peay are set for 2020.
Old rival Arkansas State returns to the schedule in 2021 along with regional FCS foe Missouri State. The Bears will travel to Oxford, Miss., to take on the Ole Miss Rebels for the first time since 2012, along with another matchup with Missouri State.
"With an ever-changing climate and stance on scheduling, it was important to get our schedules set for a few years in advance,' said Teague. "Fortunately, our location and reputation allowed us to do that.'
Brown is excited about the challenge of playing quality FBS programs and solid regional FCS opponents, starting with Tulsa and Murray State next season.
"We look forward to going over to the University of Tulsa in 2018 and renewing that match up,' said Brown. "We have been a part of that game twice before and have always had great support from our Bear fans making the regional trip over to Tulsa. Any time you get a chance to play close to Conway it is a plus. But what makes it even better is to play a team that is the caliber of Tulsa out of the American Athletic Conference. Our players will be looking forward to competing at the highest level in a regional match up.
"We are also looking forward to getting Murray State back in Conway. We had a good trip to Murray, Ky., last year (41-13 victory) and we welcome the opportunity to host a great Ohio Valley Conference program in Conway. This game is always important in the playoff picture. Getting a chance to go head to head with another FCS opponent from another conference is important.'
Brown, one year removed from his record-setting playing career, was UCA's quarterbacks coach the last time the Bears played at Hawaii in 2009, and nearly upset the Rainbow Warriors, leading the game until the final 1:21 when Hawaii secured the 25-20 victory.
"Our program made a similar schedule run in 2009 with Hawaii and Western Kentucky,' he said. "I look forward to continuing to grow the University of Central Arkansas brand across the country. We will have a great opportunity to make a trip to the islands and play a great program in Hawaii. Our kids will cherish those memories for the rest of their lives.
"Western Kentucky has been a perennial bowl team for the last four or five years. That will be a great challenge to go to Bowling Green to compete with one of the top programs in this region. It also will be a great game for our fans to get to logistically. And Austin Peay is one of the rising programs in our level of football. They have a lot of energy and momentum going in their direction right now. We will get another opportunity to play an Ohio Valley Conference member. They were right on the edge of being a playoff team this past year, I would expect them to be a playoff caliber team for years to come.
The meeting with the Missouri Tigers in 2020 will be the first for the Bears in football.
"Anytime you get a chance to play a team like Missouri out of the SEC you do it,' said Brown. "Our kids like to compete against the best this country has to offer and the SEC is the best. This is a fairly close game to Conway so our fans ought to be in full force in Columbia. We have competed very close with the Power 5 schools over the years. I look forward to the opportunity of breaking through.
"And it is always critical to get home and home series with FCS opponents, so we look forward to hosting Austin Peay here in Conway in a regional FCS battle in 2020.'
Brown and several of his coaching staff were part of UCA's thrilling 28-23 victory over Arkansas State in Jonesboro in 2017.
"Arkansas State has been the standard for the Sun Belt Conference for the past five or six years. I give Dr. Teague and ASU' AD Terry Mohajir a lot of credit for making this game happen again. This is a game that should happen more often and needs to happen more often for this state. People love rivalries within the state and this is no exception. We look forward to our trip over to Jonesboro and seeing a lot of purple in the stand.
"Missouri State has always been a great game to play ever since I was a player at UCA. Logistically it is easy for the fans to go in both directions and it allows us to compete against one of the best conferences in the country in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. We look forward to renewing this rivalry with a good regional foe.'
Brown was also coaching UCA quarterbacks the last time the Bears took on the Ole Miss Rebels to open the 2012 season. UCA led that game 20-14 at halftime before falling 49-27 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
"Ole Miss is one of the most known brands in college football,' said Brown. "To have the opportunity to drive four hours down the road to play in Oxford will be a joy. Our kids want to compete against SEC schools and this will be an opportunity for them to do that. We recruit the state of Mississippi heavily. This game will let us get our brand into that state and show what we are all about.
"And again, the importance of having a home and home series is important at the FCS level of football. Dr. Teague has done a great job finding regional FCS opponents to commit to this. I am excited to host Missouri State in Conway. This game will help in the overall playoff outlook during the season.
UCA opens the 2018 season on Sept. 1 at Tulsa.