In an alternate universe, I was excited to write about college football’s 2020 debut with a 6 game slate during week 0. That schedule would have included Hawaii vs Arizona, UCLA vs New Mexico State, and Cal vs UNLV.
Instead, the cancellation of PAC-12 football season (and other seasons) has led to a revamped schedule that includes only one game this weekend – an FCS matchup between Austin Peay and Central Arkansas.
Not what anyone expected and not what the majority of football fans want to watch. But here are 5 reasons to be excited about this game.
Football is football. If you love football (or gambling) you’ll watch this game. Sure, the stakes aren’t high, the talent level may not be SEC-esque, and you may know nothing about either program, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be excited.
2020 has been WEIRD! And with all of the cancellations around sports, specifically college football, let’s just turn on ESPN and appreciate that, at least for one night, football is back.
2. Austin Peay’s upward trajectory
From 2014-2017, Austin Peay lost 29 consecutive games. But on September 16, 2017 something incredible happened – the Governors won. Not just that, they WON 69-13 at home against Morehead State.
Between 2010-2016, AP won 8 TOTAL games, including 3 win-less seasons. But in 2017, they miraculously won 8 games, with coach Will Healy leading the way. AP would fall to 5-6 in 2018 and Healy left for Charlotte. In his first year at the FBS level, 49ers had their most productive season and made a bowl game.
But back to AP – after a 5-6 year, they went 11-4 in 2019 and made the playoffs for the first time.
3. Both schools made the playoffs in 2019
For Austin Peay, it was the school’s first FCS playoffs appearance. AP won 2 games, scoring 42 points a piece in the first round (vs Furman) and second round (vs Sacramento State). After blowing out consecutive opponents, they fell in the quarterfinals to Montana State, losing 24-10.
Central Arkansas finished 9-4 and spent all but week 1 of the season ranked in the top 20. Following a first round bye in the playoffs, Central Arkansas lost their first game to Illinois State, 24-14. 2019 was the Bears’ 5th FCS Playoffs appearance (all since 2011). They are 2-5 overall.
4. Central Arkansas success
While AP lacks historical success until recently, UCA has won the Southland Conference 4 times since 2008, and all-time have claimed 3 NAIA National Championships.
5. Potential for high scoring affair
2020 off-season and practices have been different, so it’s possible these teams get off to a slow start, especially with new pieces in prominent roles. However, in 2019 AP averaged 34.5 ppg and UCA averaged 30.1 ppg, so the potential for offensive fireworks is there.
6. Players to Watch
Austin Peay WR DeAngelo Wilson led FCS in receiving yards (1,546), second in touchdowns (15), and had the 5th most receptions (89).
Central Arkansas WRs Tyler Hudson and Lijuan Winningham combined for 105 catches, 1,789 yards, and 20 touchdowns. While AP has a legit #1 WR, UCA has 2 top guys. QB Breylin Smith returns – his 32 TD passes were 4th in FCS in 2019 and his 3,704 yards were 5th.
7. Familiar names from familiar places
Wilson’s QB in 2019, JaVaughn Craig, graduated and should be replaced by Rhode Island transfer Vito Priore, who started 10 games in 2019.
One of the most notable transfers on AP’s roster is RB Brian Snead. Coming out of high school, Snead was a 4-star recruit and ranked 80th overall by 247Sports. He placed for JUCO (Iowa Western) in 2019 and should have a role in 2020 with the departure of 2019 leading rusher Kentel Williams. QB JaVaughn Craig was the second leading rusher.
AP has 4 players who initially committed to Mississippi State on their roster (WR Vincent Taylor, OL Blake Mitchell, LB Cameron Miller, K Cole Deeds).
Central Arkansas WR Jarrod Barnes caught 24 passes for UCA in 2019. He previously was a 4-star prospect (per ESPN) out of high school in 2016 and committed to Arkansas.
8. Awareness for future games
After Saturday, AP has two games scheduled – 9/12 @ Pittsburgh and 9/19 @ Cincinnati. Pitt is currently unranked and Cincinnati is #20, but after week 1, once the Big Ten and PAC-12 teams are removed from the top 25, Pitt is expected to enter and Cincinnati should jump into the top 15. We will be seeing AP again, after Saturday.
Central Arkansas has 9 games total scheduled for 2020 and enter 2020 ranked #10. They play UAB next Thursday (9/3) and Arkansas State on 9/19. Beyond that, their most notable game is scheduled for October 3rd, when they travel to Fargo, North Dakota to face North Dakota State. The Bison have won 8 of the last 10 FCS Championships and each of the last 3. They won’t be playing in 2020, beyond one scheduled game against UCA, which is meant to serve as a showcase for NDSU quarterback Trey Lance, a projected first round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
9. Scottie Pippen
Pippen has absolutely nothing to do with Saturday’s game, but you can’t mentioned Central Arkansas sports and not reference Pippen, who was a 2x consensus NAIA All-American playing basketball for UCA. Despite playing for a small school, Pippen was the #5 pick in the 1987 Draft and….well, the rest of history!
10. History of matchup
This is only a reason to be excited if you are an AP fan, who is 0-2 all-time against Central Arkansas. UCA won 14-13 in 1975 and 24-16 in 2019.
Saturday night isn’t what anyone expected or prefers, but it’s FOOTBALL! So let’s enjoy it!!!