After a 1-1 nonconference start to the season, the University of Central Arkansas Bears begin conference play in Hammond, Louisiana, against the 0-2 Southeastern Louisiana University Lions.
The game begins a nine-game stretch of Southland Conference play, which will showcase whether or not the Bears can defend its 2017 SLC title after going 9-0 in conference last year.
UCA started their quest last season at home against the Lions in a 38-6 affair.
This year, however, the schedule flipped so the Bears will travel the roughly 500 miles to Hammond.
Though the Lions are winless through two games, UCA coach Nathan Brown said the team or fans should count this as an easy win.
“They lost a close one to Louisiana-Monroe (34-31), who beat a good Southern Mississippi program last week. ULM had to score with 1:10 left to beat SLU. Last week, SLU got to go down to Death Valley at [Louisiana State University], and we all know that’s a tough task. The score was not indicative of how close the game was.
“The score was 31-0, but part of that was on a Hail Mary at half time and the total yards was 330 to 250. Some turnovers in the game hurt Southeastern. Maybe LSU was not playing as high or as fired up as they do in most weeks. SLU will be a tough challenge because it is a long bus ride against a good football team and a late kickoff at 7 p.m.”
Throughout the matchup history, the Bears have won eight of 11 previous matchups, including the last three. The Lions haven’t beaten UCA since 2014.
However, this year, SLU has new coaches on staff, including a pair that has coached in the National Football League and that was previously a coach on the Lions’ staff.
“Their new coach Frank Scelfo is in his first year as a head coach,” he said. “He has a long history of Division I coaching. He was most recently the offensive coordinator at the University of Texas at San Antonio and got the head coaching job from there. He was in the NFL for 10-plus years as a quarterbacks coach. He coached Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, so he has a track record of putting good offenses and good quarterbacks on the field.
“I would expect SLU to be a high-powered offense. They’re offensive coordinator is back from when they had their really good teams under Brian Bennett, the Oregon transfer. He left to go to Eastern Illinois and coach Scelfo brought him back. Their defensive coordinator is a lifelong NFL defensive back coach for the last 30 years. He’s a first-year defensive coordinator. They’ve got some experience, some good talent and a good coaching staff.”
Through two games, the Bears lost against Football Bowl Subdivision opponent University of Tulsa in week one when it lost 38-27 after two costly fumbles late in the game.
In week two, UCA won a rain-filled game at home against Murray State that featured an hour, 13 minute lightning delay.
This week, there is a 50 percent chance of rain for Saturday in Hammond.
As for his team, Brown recognizes the youth but is ready to go.
“We have a young team and its the first conference game for a lot of these guys,” he said. “We’re excited about it.”
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. and the game will be played on subscription service ESPN+.