For the first time since the 1962 season when they played as an independent, the ACU Wildcats won't play a conference football schedule as their 11-game 2013 slate revealed Thursday includes no conference games and only four home contests.
ACU will move up to NCAA Division I affiliation and join the Southland Conference on July 1, 2013, but because of prior scheduling commitments around the rest of the league, the Wildcats won't begin playing a Southland Conference football schedule until 2014. That made the job of director of athletics Jared Mosley and assistant director of athletics for operations John Houser even more difficult as they had to fill all 11 dates instead of just two or three non-conference dates.
"This has been a challenging process, and I hope we don't have to do this again anytime soon," Mosley said. "We've put together a challenging but fair schedule, and, although I'd like to have been able to schedule more home games, we weren't able to get everything we wanted. John (Houser) did a tremendous job reaching out to universities across the nation trying to put together a schedule. We should have some exciting matchups to talk about in the near future, and those have come to fruition because of John's hard work."
The highlight of the Wildcats' schedule will be an Oct. 26 trip to Las Cruces, N.M., to take on the Aggies of New Mexico State. The Aggies have been a member of the Western Athletic Conference at the Football Bowl Subdivision since 2005, but the WAC will not sponsor football beginning in 2013 and NMSU will play an FBS independent schedule beginning in 2013.
The Wildcats are part of a six-game NMSU home schedule that also features Big 10 opponent Minnesota on Sept. 7, Rice on Oct. 19 and Big East foe Boston College on Nov. 9. The Aggies will enter the 2013 season riding an 11-game losing streak after finishing the 2012 campaign at 1-11. Those 11 losses were by an average of 25.7 points per game.
ACU's game against the Aggies is set for a 7 p.m. (central time) kickoff from Aggie Memorial Stadium and will be the Wildcats' first game against a traditional FBS university since a 41-0 loss at Hawaii in 1980. ACU is 9-36-1 against traditional FBS programs, a mark that does not include its 8-4 record against Hardin-Simmons and West Texas A&M when those two programs were Division I affiliates. Nor does it include the Wildcats' 29-34-1 combined record against Arkansas State, Fresno State, Louisiana-Lafayette (formerly Southwestern Louisiana), Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Texas State or Troy (Ala.), all of which were part of the same division as ACU when they played (small college), but are now affiliated with FBS conferences.
"We're excited about this move because it allows us to compete in a solid conference while expanding from time to time with an FBS game," ACU head coach Ken Collums said. "We will normally play one FBS opponent per year so it will be exciting to see where our schedule will take us each year. It will certainly be an extreme challenge, but as we grow this program I'm confident that we'll represent Abilene Christian University very competitively."
The Wildcats' will open their season on Saturday, Aug. 31, when they host Concordia (Ala.) College, an NAIA program from Selma, Ala. The Hornets finished the 2012 campaign with a 7-4 mark and will be making their first visit to Abilene.
ACU's next two games will also be at Shotwell Stadium as the Wildcat will host McMurry at 6 p.m.m on Saturday, Sept. 7, and the Cowboys of New Mexico Highlands on Saturday, Sept. 14. Both NCAA Division II programs had winning records in 2012 as the War Hawks finished 8-3 as a D-II Independent and the Cowboys were 8-3 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
The Wildcats knocked off the War Hawks, 51-0, in last year's season-opener and are 25-15 all-time against McMurry. ACU is 1-2 all-time against the Cowboys with the last game between the two coming in 1996 when NMHU beat ACU, 32-20, at Shotwell Stadium.
ACU is then on the road for four straight weeks as the Wildcats hit the meat of their 2013 campaign. What might well be the toughest game on the Wildcats' 2013 schedule looms as the first road game of the season as ACU travels to Normal, Ill., on Sept. 21 to take on Illinois State. The Redbirds finished third in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 5-3 mark and qualified for the FCS national playoffs where they lost to Eastern Washington in the quarterfinals. The Missouri Valley Conference was won by eventual FCS national champion North Dakota State.
"Anytime you're walking into new territory you want to know where you stand," Collums said. "We're very realistic in our expectations regarding the teams we'll face this year. We will be prepared, play hard, and play quality football. Certainly Illinois State has proven that it is one of the best programs at the FCS level, and we're looking forward to seeing how we stack up against them."
On Sept. 28, the Wildcats will play former Lone Star Conference foe Tarleton State at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28. The Wildcats are 19-10-4 all-time against the Texans, including last September's thrilling, come-from-behind 34-31 win at Cowboys Stadium.
The Wildcats will then head to the nation's heartland on Saturday, Oct. 5, to take on traditional NCAA Division II powerhouse Pitt State in Pittsburg, Kan. ACU will concludeå its month on the road with an Oct. 12 game in Houston against first-year program Houston Baptist. The Huskies are also in the Southland Conference, but are facing the same scheduling obstacles ACU is facing in 2013.
ACU's traditional Homecoming contest will be on Saturday, Oct. 19, when it hosts the Cardinals of Incarnate Word, which also left the LSC to join the Southland Conference. Kickoff from Shotwell Stadium is set for 2 p.m. ACU – which is 3-0 all-time against the Cardinals – will also play Incarnate Word in San Antonio on Saturday, Nov. 9. The last time ACU played the same opponent twice in the regular season was 2000 when the Wildcats played Texas A&M-Commerce, losing 34-10 and 10-9.
Following the NSMU game on Oct. 26, an open date on Saturday, Nov. 2, and the road game at Incarnate Word on Saturday, Nov. 9, the Wildcats will close out the season on Saturday, Nov. 16, at Prairie View A&M. The Panthers were 3-8 last year and are 0-2 all-time against ACU (35-0 ACU win in 1995 and 30-14 ACU win in 1996).
Information for this story provided by ACU Sports Information.