UCA adds North Dakota State

Conway High School grad Breylin Smith will lead the UCA Bears this season, which kicks off Saturday in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. UCA takes on Austin Peay at 8 p.m. on ESPN. (Photo courtesy of UCA Sports Information)

The University of Central Arkansas Bears added an exclamation point to their 2020 football schedule Monday when they announced a three-game series with perennial FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) power North Dakota State.

The series begins on Oct. 3 when the Bears travel to Fargo, N.D., to take on the three-time defending FCS champion Bison at the Fargodome. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.

“What a great opportunity for our program to get to play a team and a university like North Dakota State,” said UCA Head Coach Nathan Brown. “This has been a whirlwind with the way the season has happened and the decisions to not play by a lot of conferences and schools. One thing I do know is we were willing to play North Dakota State from the start and I am glad it is going to work out in the end. 

“We want to be where they are. They have been not only the best program at the FCS level the past decade-plus, but also in the nation regardless of level. It will be an opportunity to go against the best and see where we are as a program.’

The Bears and Bison will meet again in 2023 in Fargo, with a final meeting set for 2025 on “The Stripes” at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.

“I think what makes this even sweeter is the fact that we get to see this play out over the next several years,” said Brown, whose Bears won a share of the Southland Conference championship last fall and are the preseason pick for the title this year. “What a great opportunity to go to Fargo and then in a few years get the Bison back down on “The Stripes.” Our student athletes and coaches are very excited about this opportunity.”

The Bison have won the past three FCS national championships, and eight of the past nine dating back to 2011. NDSU beat James Madison 28-20 last season in the title game in Frisco, Texas, which is hosted by the Southland Conference.

UCA has reached the FCS Playoffs three of the past four seasons and five times since becoming eligible in 2011. However, the Bears and Bison have never met in the regular season or postseason in football. 

The UCA-NDSU matchup caps a nine-game fall schedule for the Bears that begins this Saturday with the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. UCA takes on Austin Peay at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

Both the Southland Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference shifted fall sports to the spring semester due to COVID-19, leaving open the option for schools to play non-conference competition in the fall. UCA has put together an impressive slate that features three FBS (Football Bowl Championship) programs for the first time, in Arkansas State, UAB and Louisiana, along with six FCS opponents. 

NDSU plans to play just once in the fall, against the Bears on Oct. 3, and then play the remainder of its schedule in the spring. 

“We are excited to be able to play the elite team in the FCS three times over the next five years,” said Dr. Brad Teague, UCA’s director of athletics. “To have them come to Conway for a game will be thrilling. This 2020 game will be unique as it is their only game of the season on Oct. 3 against our Bears. 

“This further cements the 2020 Central Arkansas football schedule as the most exciting and challenging ever.”