|« GWU less than week away from season opener||Despite losses, ASU Hornets feel they have talent to succeed »|
Ambitious slate awaits Monmouth in 2011 and beyond
On a bright, sunny September day in 1993, players wearing Monmouth University football helmets took the field for the first time at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass.
In those infant days of Monmouth football, the Hawks’ opponents included other small school programs including Hartwick, Mercyhurst Pace, Albright and Western New England.
But now fast forward to 1 p.m. Sept. 3 when Lehigh, No. 13 in the Sports Network Top 25 Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Poll, becomes the highest nationally ranked football team to visit Kessler Field.
“I think what you’ve seen over the years, in each succeeding year, our schedules have become more and more challenging and more and more difficult,” Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan said. “Philosophically, I think you need to do that in order to keep improving as a program.
“It also sends a message when you go out and recruit that you’re going to play quality football against quality football programs and quality football leagues when you come to Monmouth.”
The Mountain Hawks are part of a 2011 non-Northeast Conference schedule that appears to be the most ambitious ever undertaken by Monmouth on the gridiron.
It includes a Sept. 17 first-ever game at No. 14 Villanova, two years removed from winning the FCS National Championship, and an Oct. 8 visit to Monmouth by Colgate, picked second to Lehigh this season in the Patriot League.
Lehigh and Colgate, which Monmouth defeated on the road in 2006, are making their first trips to West Long Branch.
“By playing these types of teams over the years, we’ve shown we’re worthy of these home-and-home arrangements,” Callahan said.
Since 2005, Monmouth has been making it a habit of taking on nationally recognized FCS opponents including Delaware in 2007.
“It was all part of the plan moving forward,” Callahan said. “While it wasn’t until last year that the NEC (Northeast Conference) received an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs, that was a work in progress going back to 2005. I was on the national committee working on that. I knew it was going to come sooner or later.”
“I wanted to expose our players to playoff-caliber teams. I didn’t want the first time we played a nationally ranked playoff-caliber team to be when we won our league championship and went to the playoffs.”
Monmouth’s non-conference schedule in 2012 is comprised of road games at Lehigh, Cornell, and home against Rhode Island which joins the NEC as an associate member as the league’s 10th football school in 2013.
In 2013, Callahan said Monmouth will host Cornell and visit Columbia.
In 2014, Columbia will come to Monmouth and another non-conference game is still being sought.
Though nothing beyond that is concrete, Callahan said Monmouth has had conversations of renewing series with Colgate and Old Dominion, and of playing Georgia Southern.
As for playing “big time” programs such as Rutgers and Penn State, Callahan said those FBS teams would not gain bowl eligibility credit with wins over the NEC due to the league’s scholarship restrictions.
Callahan also sees the arrival of Rhode Island in the NEC as limiting factor in non-conference scheduling
“In most years, that will give you only two non-conference opportunities,” he said.
“I think that’s something NEC football has to look at.”