The University of Central Arkansas has part of the Southland Conference crown and amenities, but they are seeking full benefits Saturday afternoon when they close the regular season against Abilene Christian at Estes Stadium.
The Bears (9-1) have clinched a share of the SLC title. By virtue of Southeastern Louisiana’s victory Thursday over Nicholls, they have secured the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA FCS playoffs. Because UCA defeated Sam Houston head-to-head, Nicholls was the only team that could have taken the automatic bid from UCA if the two teams had tied with one conference loss, having not played each other.
Now, UCA, third-ranked in FCS in all polls, is playing to become a national seed. The NCAA FCS Selection Committee, of which UCA athletic director Brad Teague is a member, is meeting this weekend to determine the 24-team playoff field and the eight national seeds. The national seeds get a bye in next weekend’s first round and will have a home game leading up to the championship game at Frisco, Texas, as long as they are a higher seed than the opposition.
The committee has its own rankings — with at eight Division I victories, strength of conference and strength of schedule major considerations —and the various other polls have no direct effect.
If the Bears secure the 3 national seed, for example, they get a bye in the first round and could host two subsequent games.
If UCA does not defeat Abilene Christian, 2-8 under first-year coach Adam Dorrel, gaining a national seed is iffy.
"A share of the championship is nice, but we are playing for bigger and better things," said UCA coach Steve Campbell. "And we’re playing an Abilene Christian team that is getting better every week. They have played the top teams in our league tough. They lost to Nicholls, 29-20, and to McNeese, 13-3. Last week, they led Sam Houston State with five minutes to go."
"Their record doesn’t indicate how good they (the Wildcats) are and the growth they’ve made," said Sam Houston coach KC Keller on the Southland teleconference this week after the Bearkats pulled away late for a 44-35 victory over ACU last week.
"They are a physical team," Campbell said. "Last week, they threw 67 time. They’ll throw the football around the park."
"(UCA) is a complete football program from top to bottom," said Dorrel, who led teams to three Division II national titles at Northwest Missouri State. "I don’t see a lot of chinks in their armor."
Any surprises in FCS competition?
"Maybe the size — height, weight and growth — of the offensive and defensive linemen, that jumps out at you," he said.
The Bears will find out their pairing and seeding during the FCS Selection Show at 10 a.m. Sunday. A watch party will be held Sunday morning at Estes Stadium with the Selection Show telecast on the video board. All fans are invited.