FLORENCE -- It will be a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup Thursday night at Braly Stadium when the NCAA Division II's top ranked North Alabama Lions host the second ranked Delta State Statesmen. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised regionally by Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast (CSS).
UNA, 6-0 overall, moved into the top spot in Division II a week ago and responded with a 44-10 road win over Arkansas Tech. Delta State, 6-1, was ranked No. 3 last week but jumped unbeaten Bloomsburg in this week's poll to set up a 1 vs. 2 matchup.
A lot has changed on the Gulf South Conference football landscape over the last year with the departure of the league's six Arkansas members. It has left the GSC with just five football-playing institutions and plenty of scheduling challenges. What hasn't changed is the league's dominance of outside competition or the nationally prominent rivalry between North Alabama and Delta State.
The two schools are definitely familiar with each other. Not only are both charter members of the GSC, but UNA and Delta State have played a remarkable ten times in the last six seasons - playing in both the regular season and post-season three straight years from 2006-08, and again in 2010.
Both teams are also used to playing each other with a lot on the line. This will be the ninth time since 2004 that both teams were nationally ranked when they met, and will be the fifth time in that eight-year span that both were in the Top 10 when they played.
"As always this will be a huge game, but the 1 vs. 2 matchup adds a little something extra," said UNA head coach Terry Bowden. "We are playing a fast and athletic team and we will have to show up ready to play."
Bowden said the Lions come into the game relatively healthy but will have a short week to prepare for the Statesmen.
"Anytime you play on Saturday and then turn around and have a Thursday game it shortens your preparation time," Bowden said. "But both of these teams are familiar with each other and no matter how long you prepare, it's going to be a hard-fought, hard-hitting game."
Delta State is also familiar with the venue, having played at Braly Stadium as recently as December 18, 2010, when the Statesmen lost in the Division II National Championship Game to Minnesota-Duluth.
UNA is also accustomed to having the target of No. 1 on its back. This will be the 45th all-time game that the Lions have played as the No. 1 team and UNA has a 41-3 in those contests. This will be the third time that UNA has been involved in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup and UNA is 2-0 in those games, defeating No. 2 Valdosta State and No. 2 Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1994.
Through the first seven weeks of non-conference competition, the GSC's five football schools have a combined 25-5 overall record. With two of those losses coming against NCAA FBS schools, that means the GSC is 25-3 against Division II opponents. The GSC is also 14-2 this season against its former member schools from Arkansas, including a complete five-game sweep of the Great American Conference members last weekend.
Now the GSC schools will turn their attention to each other beginning this week as each school faces four tough challenges from inside the league over the final five weeks of the regular season. There is no better contest to kickoff league play than a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup.
UNA quarterback Lee Chapple will lead the Lions into the battle, coming off one of his best career performances last week at Arkansas Tech. Chapple threw for 339 yards and three scores, completing 28 of 36 passes.
The UNA defense has also stepped up the last two weeks, holding its opponents under 300 yards of total offense. While the Lions have ranked among the national leaders in scoring defense all year, UNA was giving up an average of better than 400 yards per game through the first four weeks.
Delta State has pulled out a couple of close wins this season but has hammered its last two opponents. The Statesmen, under the veteran leadership of quarterback Micah Davis, are averaging 34 points and 486 yards per game. DSU has turned the ball over 21 times through seven games and turnovers have been key in this series over the years.