As we rise on the 64th day of the 97th month of the Year of our Lord, 2020, there are so many reasons to see darkness when we look out the window. You know them. I need not recap them. Well, hit play and crank it up.
Football. Is. Back.
Sure, it’s one game. It’s an FCS game. It’s in the Cramton Bowl. It’ll be a good game.
But, realistically, who cares? Our long national nightmare — well, this one, anyway — is over. Before the main course, we offer you the trivia appetizer.
TRIVIA (answer at the end of the column): Three coaches have won conference titles as head coaches at Austin Peay. One of those coaches won a conference title at another school after bringing one to Clarksville. Who was that coach?
#13 Austin Peay (0-0) vs. #11 Central Arkansas (0-0) | Montgomery, Ala. (Cramton Bowl)
9:00pm ET | ESPN
The Govs and Bears hit the UBU Speed S5 (Google it — I had to) surface in Montgomery Saturday night for what would be a marquee game in a normal FCS season, but the completely odd nature of this campaign makes for must-see television.
Austin Peay looks to achieve a milestone 300th win in a program that dates back 90 years, and it does so with a new leader for the third time in three seasons. Following Will Healy’s departure to Charlotte before last season — he led the 49ers to their first-ever bowl appearance — Mark Hudspeth came to Clarksville and led the Govs to new heights, including their first-ever playoffs appearance.
Hudspeth resigned after last season, citing the desire to spend more time with his family. which led to the ascension of associate head coach Marquase Lovings to the top spot. Lovings brings experience and expertise on both sides of the ball, which he will look to leverage with a Governor offense that averaged 34.5 points per game last season.
Star quarterback JaVaughn Craig departs the program following a 28-touchdown, 3,206-yard senior campaign, but the cupboard is nowhere near bare under center. Redshirt junior Jeremiah Oatsvall — who, in an unfortunate coincidence, suffered a season-ending injury against Central Arkansas last year, returns off a 26-for-42, 237-yard abbreviated effort. Austin Peay is a bit limited behind Oatsvall, however, especially with Rhode Island transfer Vito Priore opting out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns.
The Bears lose just two starters on each side of the ball from a 9-4, playoff season that showed continued development under head coach and UCA alum Nathan Brown. UCA were the co-champs of the Southland Conference this season, though they will not defend that crown in this campaign. The club will take part in a nine-game season that will place it on the road or at a neutral site for all but two of those tilts. Brown acknowledged the challenges of that campaign in comments to Stats Perform.
“To now getting the opportunity through the adversity that this country went through and obviously the decision-making of a lot of schools and universities and conferences to not play football or maybe choose to play a limited schedule in the fall, it’s just really surreal to be looking at game week right in the middle of it,” said Brown. “An exciting time here in Conway, Arkansas – our young men have worked very hard for this moment.
“We’re representing football players and football coaches across the country right now and this weekend.”
UCA quarterback Breylin Smith represents both an incredible story and a hellacious challenge to an Austin Peay defense that yielded just 20 touchdowns last season. Smith accounted for 32 touchdowns through the air last season for the Bears, completing 64.5 percent of his throws and turbo-charging an offense that posted 30 points or greater in seven contests last season. Perhaps no effort was more impressive than his 404-yard, four-touchdown stat line in a 35-28 victory at Western Kentucky to start the season. The Hilltoppers went 9-4 (6-2 C-USA) en route to an impressive season.
Big-play receivers Tyler Hudson and Lujuan Winningham — they combined for 105 grabs, 1,789 yards, and 20 touchdowns in 2019 — return alongside Smith. Defensive back Robert Rochell returns off a five-interception season to helm the defensive backfield.
Don’t just watch this game because you’re so starved for college football. Watch it to see two talented, rising programs that move the ball down the field on offense and hit like crazy on defense. See an outstanding young coach lead his charges onto the field for the first time. See another guide his alma mater, knowing he’ll potentially be doing the same with a much larger program in the near future.
Oh, fine. Enough justification. We have football — good football — back. Praise be.
Before I give you the trivia answer, a note from me.
This begins my ninth season here at FBSchedules. It’s been a crazy time, with personal highs and lows, immeasurable excitement, and even more immeasurable loss. That’s not even counting this crazy year that I think we’d all like to count as a redshirt season.
I can’t string together enough words to say how much I appreciate Kevin, and all of you. This silly little feature has brought some welcome — and unwelcome — attention, and a number of friends.
That said, I don’t know how many of these features will appear this season. I might have a nine-game season like Central Arkansas, or a one-game showcase like North Dakota State.
I’ve gotten a lot of energy from showcasing FCS and non-P5 teams in this space. With most of them not playing this fall, that takes a bit of the steam off the regular focus of the feature. That’s to say nothing about what life has brought this year.
Fear not — or maybe curse a lot, depending on your view — I’m not going anywhere. I’m still open to ideas for how to spice this up in this weird season, if you have them.
In any event, thank y’all. My best to you and yours.
TRIVIA ANSWER: We asked earlier: Three coaches have won conference titles as head coaches at Austin Peay. One of those coaches won a conference title at another school after bringing one to Clarksville. Who was that coach?
Boots Donnelly won the Ohio Valley Conference title with the Govs in 1977, his maiden season as the head coach in Clarksville. He then returned to his alma mater, Middle Tennessee, where he led the Blue Raiders to four OVC crowns (1985, 1989, 1990, 1992) and seven appearances in the I-AA playoffs.