The ACU football team will enter the Southland Conference for the first time in 42 years and will also take on several talented non-conference opponents.
The ACU Department of Athletics released the 2014 football schedule during spring break, which reveals the teams that ACU will play in its first 12-game regular season in program history.
The ACU football team starts the season when it heads to the Georgia Dome to play Football Bowl Subdivision foe, Georgia State on Aug. 27. Georgia State has not won a game since the 2012 season. The game also marks the Panther’s first season as an FBS team, as they were in the Football Championship Subdivision, which is the same division ACU is in.
“It is going to be a neat experience for the guys and us coaches,” head coach Ken Collums said. “The last couple years we have played in some pretty neat places and we have continued it this year in the Georgia Dome. We will be excited, ready and hopefully we will be healthy and make a good showing.”
The next week, ACU will play 2013 FCS playoff team Northern Arizona in Shotwell Stadium. The Wildcats have never faced Northern Arizona at home, and have not played the Lumberjacks since 1995. The game will be ACU’s home opener.
ACU then travels to Alabama to take on the Troy Trojans. Troy is another FBS team and will provide a tougher test than Georgia State. The Trojans finished above .500 in the Sun Belt last season, lost to Duke by only seven points last season on the road and also beat Texas State by two touchdowns.
“When you look at our first three games you realize how far that we have to grow this thing,” Collums said. “With those three games, that is pretty rough but that is what we signed up for when we moved up.”
ACU will head home after their trip to Troy to play their first Southland Conference game in over forty seasons when they play Incarnate Word. ACU beat UIW at Homecoming last season, losing to the Cardinals in San Antonio a few weeks later.
The Wildcats next game will be on the road against the Houston Baptist Huskies. ACU traveled to HBU last season as well, handing them a 69-12 loss. HBU will only be playing their second season of football in 2014, and ACU will look to beat the Huskies for a second time.
ACU has a two-game home stand after the return from Houston. ACU takes on Lamar Oct. 4 before playing Ave. Maria Oct. 11 for Homecoming. Ave. Maria is an NAIA team and Lamar is a Southland Conference opponent.
The Wildcats travel to McNeese State and Sam Houston State after their two-game home stand to face two of the better teams in the Southland. Sam Houston State played in two straight National Championship games before taking a step back in 2013, and McNeese State spent much of the 2013 season ranked as well.
Nov. 1 ACU will welcome Central Arkansas to Shotwell Stadium with plenty of storylines swirling. Collums won a National Championship with the Bears in the 1990s and also coached as an assistant with UCA. In December, the Bears showed interest in Collums as a head coach, but he instead chose to sign a four-year extension with the Wildcats. The game in November will be the first time Collums has faced UCA in his career.
“It will be a little bit weird when you are playing against your old school,” Collums said. “It’ll feel weird as the week goes on but once the game starts it doesn’t matter if we are playing Central Arkansas or the Dallas Cowboys we have to get out there and execute, communicate and be really sharp about what we are doing in order to win the game.”
ACU will make their second trip to Louisiana the next weekend to play Northwestern State before finishing their season at home against Stephen F. Austin.
The Wildcats’ 2014 schedule could be the toughest ACU has ever played, but should make for an exciting season as the ‘Cats usher in a new era in their second stint in the Southland Conference.
“There is an excitement and a little bit of nervousness too, and there should be,” Collums said. ” When you play against good teams there should be excitement and nervousness because if we don’t play well, we are not going to win. We just have to continue to put this thing together and grow it so that we can withstand and compete in a schedule like this and win some of these games.”