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What to know about America’s new college football team, the Central Arkansas Bears

Not too sure about the mostly anonymous FCS team? Well now they’re your favorite because they’re going to play the first two football games of 2020.

Carlos Blackman of the Central Arkansas Bears runs the ball during the game against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Aloha Stadium on September 21, 2019 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

If you’re a college football fan, you’re about to become very familiar with the Central Arkansas State Bears.

The FCS team known as “UCA” will be playing on ESPN in not just the first college football game of the 2020 season Saturday night at 9 p.m. when they face Austin Peay, but also the second game on Thursday, September 3rd at UAB. And if you love The Best Sport, it’s likely you’ll be tuning in to see them twice.

But who is UCA exactly? What is your favorite new school known for? And what do you need to know about your now-favorite academic institution you never attended?

Who is Central Arkansas?

Founded in 1907 in the city of Conway as the Arkansas State Normal School, the total enrollment at UCA as of 2020 is 10,870, with an average ACT score of 24. Wikipedia says as of 2015, and the acceptance rate is 91% for undergrads. The university endowment was about $48.6 million according to Wikipedia in 2015, but there should be someone in a university communications office or in development updating said Wikipedia page with new and often misleading facts and/or points of pride. This one hasn’t been touched in years. Let’s go UCA! Get it together!

Is UCA any good?

Central Arkansas is a 3.5-point favorite against Austin Peay at DraftKings Sportsbook. The Bears made the 24-team FCS playoffs last year, and actually got a bye in the first round as the #8 seed in the tournament, but fell 24-14 to Illinois State at home.

There have been some big wins in UCA’s history. In one of the stranger footnotes in college football ever, they actually tied in the NAIA national championship game two years in a row (1984 against Carson-Newman, 1985 against Hilldale), before finally winning it outright in 1991 19-16 over Central State.

The Bears joined the NCAA’s Division II in 1993, well after Scottie Pippen was a four-year letter winner for the NAIA basketball program and two-time NAIA All-American. He’s still the only UCA hooper to play in the NBA. While in D2 they made the playoffs twice before heading to FCS status (then Division I-AA) and the Southland Conference in 2007.

It’s been a successful first 12 seasons at the second-highest level of college football, as the Bears have made the FCS playoffs five times and have won two games.

Do they have a weird field?

They’ll be hosting Saturday night’s game on a pitch with which college football fans will be familiar. Estes Stadium has “The Stripes,” one of the more colorful fields in the sport. Eat your heart out Boise State Smurf Turf.

Although the signature field, they could use a bit of help on the sports information side. There’s no game notes for Saturday’s tilt yet, and we were going to tell you about their “Night on The Stripes” event that’s a fundraiser for the team, but the link on their website points to one from 2018. We judge SID work around here as a sign of programmatic health, and this isn’t great!

Who went there?

As far as football alumni, former Memphis head coach and now Florida State’s man in charge Mike Norvell also played there from 2001-2005, and remains the school’s all-time receptions leader. And Louisville, Texas, and South Florida coach Charlie Strong is a Bear graduate, playing defensive back from 1980-83.

The Bears current head coach Nathan Brown was also a four-year starter in Conway, and the Southland Player of The Year in 2008. He took over the job at his alma mater in 2018, and has been with the school as an assistant since graduation.

As for non-football alumni? Basketball Hall-of-Famer Scottie Pippen is arguably the most famous, but let’s not forget James Bridges, who directed Academy Award-nominated films The China Syndrome and The Paper Chase.

So that’s everything you need to know about your new favorite team, and a preview of the storylines you might be hearing a bit more than usual over the next six days as the world returns to college football.