Football releases 2018 schedule

The North Alabama football team battles against West Florida Nov. 5, 2016. West Florida is one of the DII opponents UNA will face in the 2018 season.

After a year of anticipation, the North Alabama football team posted the schedule for its first year as a Division I school.

The Lions will have 11 games against six Division I schools and five Division II schools.

UNA will play five games at home and six games on the road. The shortest distance is a 1-hour drive to face in-state rival, Alabama A&M, and the longest is 26 hours away to face Southern Utah in the opening game.

UNA will begin its season Sept. 1 and will play three away games before returning to Braly Stadium Sept. 22 to face Azusa State.

“We’re excited to have a finished schedule, and we’re excited about the team we’re playing in 2018,” said UNA head football coach Chris Willis in a article. “Moving up to the FCS being an independent next year made it challenging to get a schedule.

We’re very happy that we were able to get five home games, and I’m sure our players will be excited about getting to travel to places we don’t normally play like Utah, North Dakota, North Carolina and Texas.”

One of the Lions’ toughest opponents this season will be an away game against North Dakota State. The Bisons have won six of the past seven Football Championship Subdivision national championships and are currently reigning FCS champions.

Senior Zachary Lindsey said it will be interesting to see how the Lions compare against such a well-established team as North Dakota State.

“I think playing big teams like this could benefit them in the long run,” Lindsey said. “Are they completely prepared? No. But it could be a lesson to learn and to test them.”

Although the Lions have a packed schedule against new Division I opponents, UNA will also face familiar foes from Division II, such as Mississippi College, West Florida and Shorter.

All three of these games will be at home in Braly Stadium.

Midway through the season, the Lions will travel to Campbell University, the only game against a Big South Conference opponent.

Since this is UNA’s first year in Division I, it is unable to fully compete in the BSC, the conference it will play in for football. The Lions will begin competition in the BSC fall 2019.

The Lions are no strangers to championship games, with 17 conference championships in the Gulf South Conference and three Division II national championships. However, the move to Division I leaves the Lions ineligible for post-season play for the next four years.

When the Lions are eligible for post-season play in 2022, they will compete against many of the same teams they are playing this year.

With the first football game less than seven months away, fans still have time to stock up on game-day gear and prepare to cheer on the Lions in the historic first year of Division I.