This will not be our garden variety, regular-season-finale, non-conference football matchup Saturday at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
The two opponents are blossoming late in the season.
Players from both the University of Central Arkansas and Eastern Illinois have already posed with trophies during postgame celebrations. UCA is co-champion of the Southland Conference, earning the league’s automatic bid into the FCS playoffs. Eastern Illinois is the Ohio Valley Conference champion, earning that league’s automatic playoff bid.
For promotional purposes, it could be labeled as a "Champions Bowl."
It goes beyond that — particularly for UCA, which is ranked 10th (its highest ranking ever) in both NCAA FCS postseason polls.
The Bears are likely playing for a first-round bye when the playoffs begin on Thanksgiving weekend and to possibly host a second-round playoff game. While happy for its team to be in the playoffs, no institution wants to host a first-round game (with all the logistics and personnel involved) on Thanksgiving weekend. A road game on Thanksgiving weekend is no prize either.
Twenty teams will composed the playoff field when the seedings and pairings are announced Sunday afternoon. Twelve of those teams will earn first-round byes. Five of those teams will be national seeds and will be assurred of a first-round bye and home playoff games until the semifinals. The championship game will be at a neutral site in Frisco, Texas.
"I’m not sure our chances are good to be a national seed (1-5), but if we win, I think our chances are excellent to be 6 through 12, get a bye and have the opportunity to host a second-round game," said UCA coach Brad Teague.
Host berths are determined strictly by a bidding process. UCA’s hosting either a first- or second-round game depends on whether the matchup is against a team that has a big stadium or "sugar daddy" boosters. The Bears advanced to the second-round game against the University of Montana. UCA officials made a strong bid. Montana, with a larger stadium and an almost certain sellout, guaranteed a reported $200,000.
It’s the fate of the draw.
"Hosting comes down to their bid vs. ours and we’ve put in a pretty good bid," said Brad Teague, UCA’s athletic director. But the problem could be if we’re matched with a team with a 20,000- or 30,000-seat stadium that can put together a really big bid."
Each school in the playoffs puts in four bids for four poossible weeks of play. The minimum bid increases each week.
"We have bid well above the minimum for each game," Teague said. "We want a home game — or two or three."
Matchups and pocketbooks. They are as key as X’s and O’s at this point.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com)