The Cal Poly football team has only next season left to spend in the Great West Conference, and the Mustangs announced the completion of that final schedule Thursday.
After 2011, there will be no more need to independently schedule seven nonconference games. It’s on to the greener pastures of the 13-team Big Sky Conference.
But this last one, is going to be a doozy.
This year’s slate will include trips to two Football Bowl Subdivision bowl winners, a visit from the defending Football Championship Subdivision champion, a road game at FCS title contender Montana and a late-season matchup with a program that has yet to lose a game in its short history.
“It’s a difficult schedule,” Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh said, “but our players look forward to playing that type of schedule, and the expectations are that we’re going to compete and compete well against every opponent we play.”
Though the schedule lacks anything resembling the brutal five-game road stretch in the first half of this past season, it could be even tougher considering the opposition. Plus, three of the first four still come away from Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
The season kicks off with a trip to San Diego State on Sept. 3. The Mustangs will then travel to Montana and host South Dakota State in successive weeks before paying a visit to Northern Illinois heading into a bye.
Though they lost head coach Brady Hoke to Michigan and enter having lost the past two games to Cal Poly, the Aztecs were 9-4 last season and put up 555 yards of offense in a 35-14 Poinsettia Bowl victory over Navy.
Northern Illinois finished 11-3 after making a perfect run through the Mid-America Conference and demolishing Fresno State 40-17 in the Humanitarian Bowl.
The Mustangs beat Montana 35-33 at home last season, but that victory remains their lone regular season win over the Grizzlies in 13 games.
In the final two games of the regular season, Cal Poly will host Eastern Washington on Nov. 12 and will visit South Alabama on Nov. 19.
The Eagles finished 13-2 and toppled Delaware 20-19 in the FCS national championship game last month. In two seasons since the football team was founded at South Alabama, the Jaguars have yet to lose, and their 17-0 record includes a 24-21 win over UC Davis last year.
“I definitely look at it as a challenge,” senior fullback Jake Romanelli said of the schedule strength. “The big venues, that’s why we play the game. Who else wants to play a weak schedule? I look at it as a challenge and an obstacle.
“Personally, I like going on the road kind of early. We can focus on the football and then come back home to play for the students.” Four of Cal Poly’s five home games will come after students move in for the first week of classes.
Aside from the early-season game with South Dakota State, the home slate includes matchups against Division II Central Oklahoma (Oct. 8), which was 2-9 in 2010, and Great West opponents Southern Utah (Oct. 15) and South Dakota (Oct. 29).
The Mustangs’ final go-round in the Great West also includes trips to North Dakota (Oct. 22) and to rival UC Davis (Nov. 5).
After 17 combined seasons as both an FCS independent and as a member of the Great West, which has never provided more than four conference games, Cal Poly is likely to have eight Big Sky games — half of which will be at home — in 2012.
The next athletic director will no longer have to find three nonconference teams willing to travel to San Luis Obispo from year to year, making this schedule the last in what has been a grueling annual task.
“If people really understood how difficult it is for us to get five home games as it is,” Walsh said, “we now have the potential of having six. All we’ll have to do is find one home game each year, and we’ll have our five home games given to us. One more and we’ll have six.”
CAL POLY SCHEDULE
Sept. 3, at San Diego State, TBA
Sept. 10, at Montana, 12:05 p.m.
Sept. 17, vs. South Dakota State, 4:05 p.m.
Sept. 24, at Northern Illinois, TBA
Oct. 8, vs. Cent. Oklahoma, 4:05 p.m.
Oct. 15, vs. Southern Utah, 6:05 p.m.
Oct. 22, at North Dakota, TBA
Oct. 29, vs. South Dakota, 6:05 p.m.
Nov. 5, at UC Davis, 1:05 p.m.
Nov. 12, vs. East. Washington, 6:05 p.m.
Nov. 19, at South Alabama, 2 p.m.