Football season starts in less than 30 days and the University of Northern Colorado has a lot to prove this year.
Five games will be played at home and five games away, seven of which will be Big Sky competitions. The Bears have a lighter load this year than last year — they faced Montana State, UC Davis, Sacramento State, Eastern Washington, Montana and Weber State — but it still won’t be easy.
Northern Colorado was voted #11 in Big Sky by the media and tied last by the coaches.
Here are the teams the Bears face this fall.
Houston Baptist (September 3, Greeley)
UNC will open the season at home against the Houston Baptist, a team that visited last year. The Bears defeated the Huskies 45-13 but were under pressure late in the first half.
HBU went 0-11 last season, so they’ll try to start their season on the right note. Five Husky players were named to the preseason All-Southland teams, including linebacker Rodney Dansby and punter Brady Buell.
Dansby returns to the Huskies for his second season after securing a spot on the HERO Sports freshman All-America team last season. He was also a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award and a second-team All-Conference selection.
Buell, now a senior, was a semi-finalist for FCS Punter of the Year and was recently named to the FCS Punter of the Year watchlist for 2022. Buell also earned a first-team berth in the All-Southland Conference.
Vic Sealy returns as head coach for the Huskies and hopes the team makes a step forward. He said at the Southland Conference media day that the 2021 squad is young and relatively inexperienced, struggling with multiple injuries. He believes the team will return to their strong offense this season despite being picked last in Southland.
Wyoming (September 10, Laramie)
UNC will be the third game on the Cowboys’ list, following matchups against Illinois and Tulsa. Wyoming is coming off a 7-6 season in 2021, including two Mountain West wins. Despite struggling in conference play, the Cowboys beat FCS runners-up and UNC opponent Montana State by three points.
During the offseason, Chad Muma was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2022 NFL Draft and signed four other free-agent deals. Wyoming’s staff has also shifted slightly on both sides, with several hires and promotions from assistant coaches.
The team is relatively young and lost some starters to the transfer portal. However, it has also added its own transfers, some of which come from programs such as Alabama and USC.
Running back Titus Swen was named to the Doak Walker Award watchlist, which goes to the best RB in college football, and the Paul Hornung Award watchlist, which is given to the most versatile player.
Swen was named the All-Mountain West’s second team member following his 2021 season with 785 yards and seven touchdowns. He was also a member of the Special Teams Squad and recorded 12 kick returns for 231 yards.
Lamar (September 17, Beaumont)
UNC are looking to avenge their 2021 overtime loss to Lamar in a rematch this season. The Bears lost 17-10 to the Cardinals after an embarrassing performance that included an 80-yard loss in nine penalties. About half of the penalty meters were within a few minutes of each other.
At the time, UNC coach Ed McCaffrey called the loss “hard to stomach” due to the team’s own problems on the pitch.
Lamar didn’t have a great 2021 season and didn’t win after upsetting the Bears. It has since returned to the Southland Conference and was selected second from bottom.
It has a young team with 41 total returners and 12 starters. The Bears’ roster situation isn’t much better. After losing more than three dozen to the transfer portal and graduating, UNC has 45 freshmen – True and Redshirt – and 35 high school seniors.
State of Idaho (September 24, Greeley)
Northern Colorado will host the state of Idaho for the homecoming this year. Unlike the women’s basketball team, which is considered the standard in the conference, the Bengals football team was ranked last in the preseason poll. They took last place in the coaches’ poll with UNC.
The Bengals had a busy offseason with the hiring of Charlie Ragle, previously an assistant coach in California, and his staff. Ragle announced the addition of two assistants just last week. The team also added several new players to the roster.
The ISU has a 1-10 record, with their only win being a 27-17 home win over UC Davis. Over the past decade, the program went out 6-5 in 2018 and 8-4 in 2014.
The two teams have only played twice since 2014. The last time was in 2019 when UNC earned a 26-20 win at Pocatello. In 2017, the Bears clinched a one-point win at Greeley.
With the hiring of Ragle, the Bengals hope to put the ship back on track and look to beat UNC for the first time in eight years.
Idaho (Oct 1, Moscow)
UNC will travel to the University of Idaho this year and it will be the first meeting between the two teams since 2019.
The Vandals were selected to finish in the bottom half of the conference, finishing 8th in the Coaches Poll and 9th in the Media Poll. They finished last season 4-7 overall and 3-5 in Big Sky play.
Idaho heads into the season with a new head coach and several new assistants. The program added new players to the roster but is also returning a number of starters. One of the players to watch is Fa’Avae Fa’Avae, who was named All-Big Sky’s central defender last season.
Northern Colorado hasn’t played Idaho since 2019, when the Bears picked up a three-point win at Greeley. That was the only time the two teams faced each other. Idaho was previously at the Sun Belt Conference and joined Big Sky in 2018.
State of Sacramento (8 Oct, Sacramento)
The Bears will take on the Hornets — Big Sky’s regular-season champions — on the road this year. Last season, UNC fell at home with a 27-24 nail-biter to Sac State.
Sacramento State went undefeated in conference play in 2021 and advanced to the FCS playoffs. It was selected to finish #2 (coach) and #3 (media) in the pre-season polls.
In addition, five players were named to the preseason All-Big Sky team, including quarterback Asher O’Hara, wide receiver Pierre Williams and tight end Marshel Martin. All three received first-team honors last year, and Martin was an All-America selection.
Sac State leads the all-time streak against UNC 13-1, with the Bears’ only win coming against the Hornets in 2015.
State of Montana (Oct. 15, Greeley)
Northern Colorado will host the FCS State Championships in Greeley this year. Montana State is expected to once again be one of the top teams in the league. It was picked to finish No.3 (coaching) and No.2 (media) despite being a relatively young team.
Last time out, the Bobcats defeated UNC 40-7 in Bozeman. It was a frustrating game for the Bears and a comfortable win for Montana State, marred by the incident in which offensive coordinator Max McCaffrey threw a broken clipboard in the stands.
Seven MSU players were selected as preseason All-Conference selections, including star running back Isiah Ifanse, QB Tommy Mellott and fullback RJ Fitzgerald. Ifanse and Mellott were selected as preseason All-America winners and players on the Walter Payton Award watchlist. However, the RB is still recovering from knee surgery and is “month in and month out”, as reported by 406 Sports.
UC Davis (Oct 22, Greeley)
The Bears face another top team in the league midseason when UC Davis comes to Greeley.
The Aggies were selected as the No. 5 finishers in both preseason polls. They come off an 8-4 season that included a trip to the FCS Playoffs. UC Davis fell to South Dakota State in the first round, finishing at No. 5 in the league.
UNC traveled to UC Davis last season and lost 32-3 in one of his offensive performances of the season. The Bears recorded eight total penalties for a 62-yard loss and could never find a rhythm against the Aggies’ top defense.
UC Davis is expected to have another talented team this season, with several returnees being named last-season All-Americans.
Running back Ulonzo Gilliam, in particular, is set to have another big season. He was named the All-Big Sky Preseason Offensive MVP, a Walter Payton Award Watchlist Athlete, and a two-time Preseason All-American.
State of Portland (Nov. 5, Portland)
UNC will travel to Portland in November and face the Viks for the first time since 2019. The Bears will be looking to win their first game against PSU since 2016, when the team clinched a 56-49 overtime win at Greeley.
Northern Colorado has won 3-2 against PSU over the past decade, and the last two games have been losses for the Bears. Last time, Portland State won 38-30.
Portland State is also selected to finish the league. The Viks were No. 8 (media) and No. 9 (coach).
Three players were named to the All Big Sky preseason team, with two on defense.
Northern Arizona (November 12, Greeley)
UNC meets NAU for the second straight game in Greeley and hopes to grab back-to-back wins for the first time in series history.
The Bears defeated Northern Arizona 17-10 in overtime last year with an impressive game that resulted in wide receiver Jaren Mitchell scoring — despite the throw being destined for Dylan Thomas. It was the second of three wins in 2021.
NAU ranked 7th last year after winning 5-6 overall and 4-4 in conference play. It’s been chosen to land in the same spot this year, but it’s hoping to surprise the conference. The Lumberjacks landed seven on Phil Steele’s All-Big Sky preseason, and there are 15 starters back.
Running back Kevin Daniels is returning for his second season after earning Conference Second Team and Freshman All-America honors in 2021. Daniels rushed for 1,146 yards and finished third in the FCS with 114.6 rushing yards per game.
The Lumberjacks have led the series since 2012 against UNC 6-15 and 5-4.
East Washington (November 19, Cheney)
Finally, the Bears will face one of the most prolific offenses in the 2021 season. Eastern Washington defeated UNC, 63-17, on homecoming.
UNC is heading into enemy territory this year to face a team that, despite being picked for sixth place by coaches and media polls, is returning 13 starters and 47 overall letter winners.
Last year, the Eagles finished 10-3 overall and 6-2 in Big Sky and finished third. It also made its 15th appearance in program history in the FCS playoffs.
Long snapper Cody Clements was a third-team All-America selection in Phil Steele’s preseason teams. He was joined by eight other members of Big Sky’s specific preseason squad.
Eastern Washington has also enjoyed success over the past decade, winning five conference titles.
UNC begins its season on September 3 at 2 p.m. against the Houston Baptist.