The University of Central Arkansas took its licks in nonconference play, but Coach Nathan Brown is hoping his team's performance against teams like Oklahoma State and North Dakota State -- even in losses -- were positive for the Bears' chances in the newly formed United Athletic Conference.
"We're battle-tested," Brown said. "So you hope, in playing two of the first three weeks against teams like Oklahoma State and North Dakota State, hopefully it bodes well for you starting this weekend and getting into conference play.
"We feel like we match up well in our conference. We feel like we have the talent, skills, speed and size that matches up very similar to a lot of our teams in this conference, and we feel like we can gain an edge in some areas as well."
The Bears (1-2) open the inaugural UAC season today when they welcome Abilene Christian (2-1) to Estes Stadium in Conway.
The Wildcats have faced three FCS opponents thus far, defeating Northern Colorado and Prairie View A&M and falling to Incarnate Word last Saturday, 27-20.
"We're hoping that what we've played to this point will give us an opportunity to have an edge," Brown said. "I feel like our schedule is a little bit tougher than what Abilene's has been so far and hopefully, that will give us a chance [today] to have a step on 'em."
Abilene will feature 23 transfers on its two-deep depth chart, including a bevy from FBS schools. ACU quarterback Maverick McIvor came from Texas Tech. Its leading tackler, Izaiah Kelley, transferred from SMU. Both starting offensive tackles, Reese Moore and Rafiti Ghirmai, joined from Texas.
"Abilene is a great program," Brown said. "Obviously they're a hot team right now. A lot of people like them, they see the talent they have. They have reloaded and they are going to look the part. When they walk out here on Saturday, you're going to say that's an impressive looking team. Because a lot of those are Power 5 transfers.
"They are just littered with bounce-back players. They are at a spot in Texas where they get a lot of those, and they've taken full advantage of that. They are impressive on the hoof. We know they are going to run an attacking style defense, they're going to be very multiple on offense. Their quarterback is a very good player. They've got some really long wide receivers that they want to take shots with."
UCA is tied for 10th in FCS in scoring offense with 38 points per game behind a dynamic rushing attack. Through three games, UCA running back ShunDerrick Powell leads FCS with 11.39 rushing yards per carry and is third with 376 rushing yards on 33 carries. He also has four touchdowns, which is tied for ninth.
The Bears are second in FCS with 7.79 yards per carry and seventh in both rushing yards per game (246.7) and total rushing yards (740).
Abilene Christian is averaging 32 points per game behind a balanced offense that averages 242.7 passing yards and 159.3 rushing yards per game. Defensively, they are holding opponents to 18 points per game, allowing 176.3 rushing yards per game.
Today will be the 14th meeting between the Bears and Wildcats, with the former holding the all-time series lead 11-1-1. UCA has won the past six meetings.