HAMMOND – Non-conference games against SEC newcomer Missouri and Conference USA opponent UAB, along with non-conference dates against South Dakota State and UT Martin and a challenging Southland Conference slate highlight the 2012 Southeastern Louisiana University football schedule that was released Tuesday by Athletic Director Bart Bellairs.
Southeastern, which will open its 10th season of football since being reinstated in 2003 after an 18-year hiatus, will play five games at home for first-year coach Ron Roberts. The Lions, who will play all of its games against Division I opposition for the third consecutive season, will play a pair of Thursday night games on the road, including the regular-season finale at arch-rival Nicholls State in the annual River Bell Classic.
"We're very excited about the 2012 football schedule," Bellairs said. "To open our 10th season (since our return in 2003) against an SEC team in the University of Missouri and playing in one of the most historic venues in college football (Legion Field) is a tremendous opportunity for our student-athletes, coaches and fans.
"Our home schedule will be the most challenging one for us since we brought football back, with four of our five opponents having participated in the FCS playoffs within the last three years. We look forward to our fans attending games in Strawberry Stadium, tailgating in Friendship Circle and supporting the Lions in our road contests."
Southeastern will open the season on Sept. 1 against Missouri, which will compete for the first time as a member of the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers, who ended the season with a 41-24 win over North Carolina in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, finished 8-5 in 2011 and won their last four games. The meeting will be the first-ever between the schools and the Lions' fifth against an SEC school.
"It's obviously a very challenging schedule and one that we're very excited about," Roberts said. "I love the opportunity to play an SEC school right out of the gate and get a chance to evaluate our kids against the best personnel that we'll play all season. The speed of the game will be a huge opportunity for us to evaluate and learn from. We just want to make sure we go through our schedule and get better on a week-to-week basis and playing the best football we can at the end."
The Lions will return to action on Sept. 8 when they open their home schedule against FCS opponent South Dakota State. SDSU, a member of Missouri Valley Football Conference, won its final three games of the season in 2011 to finish at 5-6 overall. The game, the first-ever meeting between the schools, is part of a home-and-home series with Southeastern traveling to face the Jackrabbits in Brookings, S.D., in 2013.
Southeastern will then return to action five days later in the first of its two Thursday night contests as it travels to face Ohio Valley Conference member UTM on Sept. 13. The game, the sixth in the series with the Lions holding a 4-1 advantage, is the conclusion of a home-and-home series between the schools with Southeastern claiming a 24-10 victory at Strawberry Stadium in 2010. The game against the Skyhawks, who finished 5-6 in 2011 and averaged nearly 35 points per game, marks the homecoming for Roberts, who played his final two seasons at UTM and is a 1988 graduate of the University.
"South Dakota State is a strong traditional program that comes from a very tough conference in the Missouri Valley," Roberts said. "I know they're going to be a very tough opponent coming into our place. I hope our fans appreciate the quality of opponents that we're bringing in here.
"Obviously, we have a quick turnaround when we go to UT Martin and get the opportunity to play a Thursday night game. I expect it to be a good atmosphere to go up there and compete. During that stretch (SDSU and UTM), hopefully you're seeing us playing better football each time we hit the field."
Southeastern opens its eighth season as a football member in the Southland Conference on Sept. 22 when it hosts in-state rival McNeese State. The Lions will look to snap a six-game losing streak to their league foe, who won their final three games of the season to finish at 6-5. McNeese State claimed last year's contest in Lake Charles, 48-27, to improve to 22-15 all-time against the Lions.
The Lions then head west to the state of Texas as they visit Lamar at Provost-Umphrey Stadium on Sept. 29. The game will mark Southeastern's first trip to Beaumont since 1967 when it dropped a 34-21 decision. Lamar, which reinstated its football program in 2010, has defeated Southeastern in the two previous meetings between the schools capped by a 48-38 victory in last year's contest in Hammond.
After facing Lamar, Southeastern will wrap up its non-conference schedule on Oct. 6 when it ventures east to Birmingham, Ala., for its first-ever meeting against UAB at historic Legion Field. The meeting will pit Roberts against fellow first-year coach Garrick McGee, who spent the past two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas and helped direct one of the most prolific offenses in the nation.
Southeastern returns to Southland Conference action on Oct. 13 when it hosts in-state rival Northwestern State. The game against the Demons – Southeastern's most common opponent – will be the 56th between the schools in a series that dates back to 1935 with Northwestern State holding a 29-26 lead. The Demons, who finished 5-6 overall last season, have won the past two meetings in the series, including a 35-16 victory in Hammond in 2010.
After an open date the following week, Southeastern will celebrate Homecoming on Oct. 27 when it faces Southland Conference rival Central Arkansas. UCA, which finished 9-4 last season and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Division I-FCS playoffs, have won four of five meetings between the schools. The Lions' lone victory in the series, a 26-21 decision, came in the last game in Hammond in the 2009 season.
Southeastern continues its daunting schedule one week later when it travels to Huntsville, Texas to face defending Southland Conference champion and FCS national runner-up Sam Houston State on Nov. 3. The Bearkats, who finished 14-1 overall last season, finished a perfect 7-0 in league games last season that included a 38-9 victory over Southeastern in Strawberry Stadium. The meeting will be the 14th in a series that dates back to 1940 with SHSU holding a 9-4 advantage.
The Lions will close out their home schedule on Nov. 10 when they face Stephen F. Austin. SFA won its final five games of the season, including a 28-20 victory over the Lions in Nacogdoches, to finish 6-5 overall and 5-2 in league play. The game will be the 16th all-time between the schools with SFA holding a 9-5-1 lead.
Southeastern will close out the regular season on Nov. 15 with its annual Thursday night matchup against arch-rival Nicholls State in the River Bell Classic. Southeastern claimed a 31-14 victory in last season's contest in Hammond as it claimed the River Bell for the first time since 2007. The game will mark the 22nd meeting between the schools since the series began in 1972 with the Colonels holding a 12-9 lead, including six straight victories in Thibodaux dating back to 1982.
For season ticket information, contact the Southeastern Athletic Ticket Office at (985) 549-5466.
2012 SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
All game times TBA
* - Southland Conference game
HC - Homecoming
RBC - River Bell Classic
Home games in bold; schedule subject to change