The University of Central Arkansas football team was a bit reserved after earning a piece of the Southland Conference title Friday night, but the Bears were in more of a celebratory mood Sunday.
UCA (9-3) was awarded a No. 8 national seed and a first-round bye in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs when the selections were revealed Sunday morning.
"There are certainly a lot of emotions going through your head when you get the final verdict, but it was just so exciting to see how our players reacted in the moment," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said. "All the hard work and effort put into a season, even going back to the offseason and report day. The ups, downs, injuries and everything that goes through a college football season. ... And then to come out as a top eight team in the country is the icing on the cake."
"We still have work to do, but the emotions are at an all-time high."
The Bears, who will be making their fifth appearance in the FCS postseason and third in the past four years, are one of three teams from the Southland to be included in the 24-team field. Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana also were chosen and will host opening-round games Saturday. UCA will play the winner of Illinois State and Southeast Missouri State in the second round Dec. 7 at Estes Stadium.
Two-time defending champion North Dakota State is the top overall seed after cruising to a ninth consecutive Missouri Valley Conference championship. James Madison is the No. 2 seed, followed by Weber State, Sacramento State, Montana State, Montana and South Dakota State. Of the top eight seeds, five, including UCA, received at-large berths.
After being picked to finish second behind Nicholls State in the Southland's preseason polls, the Bears managed to share the conference crown with the Colonels by winning their final two games, including an impressive 52-35 dismantling of Incarnate Word in Friday night's regular-season finale. Nicholls State acquired the league's automatic bid by beating UCA 34-14 on Oct. 5, but considering the Bears have several impressive victories on their schedule, their inclusion in the postseason was never really in doubt.
Whether they would be a national seed, however, was.
"I think we knew we were in because we felt like we'd earned the right to be a playoff team," said Brown, whose team won on the road at Football Bowl Subdivision member Western Kentucky 35-28 in its season opener and followed it up with a 24-16 victory at No. 19 and Ohio Valley Conference champion Austin Peay. "But I think the nerves came from the anxiousness of just seeing if we'd be a top eight seed. All of us in our program felt like we'd done enough to earn that spot, but you just never know.
"You're at the mercy of a selection committee, and they may have different opinions of what our resume looks like."
In the end, that committee agreed with Brown's sentiments, and now the Bears have a chance to atone for what happened the last time they were in the playoffs. UCA was a No. 4 seed when it was upset by New Hampshire 21-15 in 2017. Brown said his team would practice today and Tuesday, then take a few days off before reconvening Saturday.
"We're going to change it up a bit," he said of the team's normal routine. "We'll get a chance to relax, go enjoy our families and kind of get a mental break. But we'll come back and simulate a game.
"I don't want us to get out of football mode, practice mode and game mode with the bye week. I want to definitely take advantage of that [Saturday] and get a good practice in."
Sports on 11/25/2019
Print Headline: UCA Bears rejoice, earn FCS national seed