FLORENCE, Ala. -- University of North Alabama Head Football Coach Bobby Wallace says his two-time defending Gulf South Conference Champion Lions will have their work cut out for them this fall as UNA takes on one of the toughest schedules in school history.
In addition to a rugged seven-game GSC slate that includes road games at 2014 NCAA Division II Playoff participants Valdosta State and West Georgia, the Lions will open their 2015 season at Legion Field in Birmingham against Miles, will travel more than 2,400 miles one way to take on Western Oregon and another 630 miles to face Langston (Okla.).
"Our schedule will be extremely difficult, not only because we are playing tough competition but the travel will have an impact," said Wallace, who is set to begin his 14th season as head coach of the Lions. "There will be at least five teams in our league this year that should be very very good. It might be the most quality teams that the GSC has ever had in one season, and this league is always tough."
"We also have long road trips to Langston (Okla.) and Western Oregon and have tough competition before and after those trips so our recovery times will be a challenge," Wallace added.
Wallace's 2015 UNA squad returns 15 starters and more than 50 lettermen from a team that went 9-2 last season, won a share of the school's 11th GSC football crown and advanced to the Division II Playoffs for the 19th time. That group includes numerous three-year starters.
"Our strength going into 2015 is that we are a very experienced football team that returns 56 lettermen and 15 starters from teams have won a share of back-to-back GSC championships," said Wallace. "It starts with a three-year starter back at quarterback in Luke Wingo who knows how to win. We have a three-time all-conference running back returning in Lamonte Thompson and several other returnees at the skill positions on offense. The strength of our defense will be secondary. Three of our returning starters have been All-GSC selections (Floyd Jones, Philbert Martial and Levi Fell). If we can fill in a few areas and stay healthy, we can have an outstanding team."
Wallace said there are also areas of concern entering 2015.
"Our biggest areas of concern going into fall practice is depth on the offensive line and who will step up at linebacker," Wallace said. "We have three full-time starters back on the offensive line and four others who have started for us at some point but we have to get them in the right spots and the develop depth behind them. We also have good experience back at linebacker but it's an area where we need some folks to step up and be leaders for us."
UNA holds a winning record in the all-time series with all 11 of its 2015 opponents. The Lions will be facing three teams (Delta State, Valdosta State, West Georgia) that were in the 2014 Division II Playoffs, and Langston participated in the NAIA Playoffs.
UNA will open the 2015 season on Sunday, September 6 in the Labor Day Classic against Miles at Birmingham's Legion Field. The Lions will then open GSC play at home against Mississippi College on Sept. 12. It will be the Choctaws first trip to Florence since 1994.
UNA will travel to Langston, Okla., for a Sept. 19 non-conference matchup with the Tigers and will then return home to face a Florida Tech program that has already put itself on the map as a contender in the GSC after just two seasons of football. Week five will have the Lions making the long road trip to Valdosta State but the Lions have historically fared well in Valdosta. Beginning in 2009, UNA has won its last four games in Valdosta by a combined score of 192-77, including a 57-7 win in 2013. Kickoff for this year's game is set for 1 p.m. Central on Oct. 3.
Following the VSU trip the Lions will have a short week as they will depart on a Thursday to travel cross country to Monmouth, Ore., to face Western Oregon. After those two weeks on the road, the Lions will celebrate Homecoming on Oct. 17 against North Carolina Pembroke. It will be the third game in the series between UNA and UNCP but the previous two games were played on the road.
The Lions will be back on the road on Oct. 24 to face West Georgia in Carrollton. The Wolves went 12-3 last season and advanced to the semifinals of the Division II Playoffs. One of the Wolves losses was a 31-28 defeat at the hands of UNA in Florence.
UNA will host Delta State on Oct. 31 at Braly Stadium in an afternoon game at 1:30. The Statesmen went 9-2 last season and also advanced to the Division II Playoffs. DSU downed UNA 33-28 a year ago and has won five of the last six series meetings.
UNA's final regular-season road trip will be to take on Shorter on Nov. 7, in Rome, Ga. The Lions have won all three previous meetings in the series.
North Alabama will then close the regular-season at home on Nov. 14 against its oldest rival, West Alabama. The 1:30 game will be the 69th all-time meeting, with UNA holding a commanding 50-17-1 record against the Tigers.
DATE OPPONENT SITE TIME
Sept. 6 Sun at Miles College Birmingham, Ala. 6:00
Sept. 12 Sat *MISSISSIPPI COLLEGE HOME 6:00
Sept. 19 Sat at Langston Langston, Okla. 2:00
Sept. 26 Sat *FLORIDA TECH HOME 6:00
Oct. 3 Sat *at Valdosta State Valdosta, Ga. 1:00 (2:00 Eastern)
Oct. 10 Sat at Western Oregon Monmouth, Ore. 3:00 (1:00 Pacific)
Oct. 17 Sat NORTH CAROLINA-PEMBROKE HOME 6:00
Oct. 24 Sat *at West Georgia Carrollton, Ga. 1:00 (2:00 Eastern)
Oct. 31 Sat *DELTA STATE HOME 1:30
Nov. 7 Sat *at Shorter Rome, Ga. 12:30 (1:30 Eastern)
Nov. 14 Sat *WEST ALABAMA HOME 1:30
Nov. 21 Sat NCAA Division II Playoffs Round 1 TBA
Nov. 28 Sat NCAA Division II Playoffs Round 2 TBA
Dec. 5 Sat NCAA Division II Playoffs Quarterfinals TBA
Dec. 12 Sat NCAA Division II Playoffs Semifinals TBA
Dec. 19 Sat NCAA Division II Playoffs Championship Game Kansas City, Mo.
All Times Central
* Gulf South Conference Games