The University of Central Arkansas got its first wish with a first-round bye in the NCAA FCS playoffs. Its second wish is a quarterfinal appearance.
UCA is in the playoffs for the fifth time since it began FCS play in 2006 but has yet to advance beyond the second round. In 2016, the Bears defeated Illinois State 31-24 in the first round but lost 31-14 at Eastern Washington the following week.
A first-round bye in 2017 resulted in a 21-15 second-round loss to New Hampshire at Estes Stadium in Conway.
UCA Coach Nathan Brown has arranged a new approach that he hopes leads to success when the Bears host today's first-round winner between Illinois State and Southeast Missouri State on Dec. 7.
"I've been on a bye week into the second round with two different staffs and both had similar schedules," Brown said.
"We're going to do something a little different."
Playoff preparation began with full practices Monday and Tuesday followed by three consecutive days off. Players will return today to participate in a scrimmage at Estes Stadium. Brown has set the start for 2 p.m., same as the scheduled kickoff time for UCA's second-round game.
"In years past, when we've had these byes, we haven't returned to practice until Sunday," Brown said.
"I'm going to bring them back and we're going to simulate a football game on Saturday minus the tough, physical side. We're not going to tackle to the ground, but we're going to simulate a game at the same time we're going to play next week. I just want to keep us sharp so that we're not just going through the motions. I don't want us to lag like we have sometimes coming off bye weeks. Hopefully, this will be a good change."
Whereas tickets are currently available for UCA's second-round NCAA Division I FCS playoff game next Saturday at 2 p.m. in Conway, the Bears' opponent won't be decided until today when Southeast Missouri State hosts Illinois State at Houck Field in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
"Sunday night, we'll be rolling on one or the other," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said.
Southeast Missouri State (9-3, 7-1 Ohio Valley Conference) was its league's co-champion. Illinois State (8-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley Conference) finished tied for third in conference play.
Brown said the teams take different offensive approaches.
"That's predicated by what conference they're in," Brown said.
"Illinois State is in the Ohio Valley, and they recruit big bodies and play that Big Ten kind of football. SEMO is in a little more of a spread-it-out kind of conference with a little more speed."
Southeast Missouri State has rushed for 1,992 yards and passed for 2,434. Illinois State has rushed for 1,997 yards, led by senior running back James Robinson with 1,316 yards and 15 touchdowns, and passed for 1,606.
"They play with different philosophies, different styles," Brown said.
"You have to take that into account as a coach, depending on who wins. You have to be prepared for either one."
UCA's 52-35 victory over Incarnate Word on Nov. 22 in San Antonio was the 2019 regular-season finale for teams that could be among the Southland Conference favorites next season.
"We both have a lot of guys coming back," Brown said. "I think both teams will have high expectations next season."
It would be familiar preseason territory for UCA and Incarnate Word, picked to finish second and third, respectively, by Southland coaches before this season began. UCA finished in a tie for first with the top choice, Nicholls State, but Incarnate Word finished 5-7 overall and 4-5 in the Southland, tied for sixth in the 11-school conference.
Incarnate Word began Southland play 4-1 but lost five consecutive games to finish its season, a stretch Brown said reminded him of UCA's 1-4 finish last season.
"They were in a lot of games this year, kind of like we were in 2018," Brown said.
"If you talk to their coaching staff, they'd probably say we could've had two or three extra wins that we don't have. That was the difference between our 2018 team and this team, our offseason was all about finishing football games."
Sports on 11/30/2019
Print Headline: Brown: Bye week variation