Cal Poly’s 2010 football schedule presents a problem for its students.
Unless they report to school early or have a ton of frequent flier miles saved up, they won’t see their football team play until late October.
That, however, might be the least of the Mustangs’ worries.
At the heart of Cal Poly’s upcoming tableau, which was confirmed by the university Thursday, is a brutal five-game, five-week stretch of tough opponents — all on the road.
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The consecutive weeks of travel to play Texas State, McNeese State, Fresno State, Old Dominion and Southern Utah between Sept. 18 and Oct. 16 is a gauntlet.
The biggest challenge for the Mustangs will be keeping their playoff hopes intact by the time the team returns home to face North Dakota on Oct. 23.
“It presents challenges to keep people engaged in what we’re doing, but I think we have the opportunity to have an exciting season next year,” Cal Poly athletic director Alison Cone said, “and, hopefully, when we get back for our home stretch, people are engaged.
“It isn’t perfect, but it’s a schedule I feel pretty good about.”
The Mustangs (4-7 overall last season) open the year at home with games against Humboldt State and Montana on the first two weekends in September. Classes for the 2010 fall term aren’t scheduled to start until Sept. 20.
The next five opponents Cal Poly will play on the road combined for a 38-20 record last season. In order, the Mustangs will be going to Texas, Fresno, Louisiana, Virginia and Cedar City, Utah.
Cal Poly was 0-6 on the road last season and lost four of those first five after leading at the half.
“You have to win some games on the road,” Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said. “That’s just a fact. For us to get to the playoffs, we have to win some games on the road.”
Cal Poly will also visit South Dakota in Great West Football Conference play Nov. 6, and the home schedule concludes with Football Championship Subdivision opponent St. Francis (Pa.) on Oct. 30 and UC Davis on Nov. 13. If the Mustangs do make a return to the FCS playoffs, they will go into them on a bye.
“I’m glad that we are playing quality football teams and are going to some quality locations to play,” Walsh said. “We’ll find out how good we are, and it’s not going to be easy, but that’s the schedule we’ve been dealt. “You hate to say it this way, but you’ve got to take what you can get.”
The five-game road trip wasn’t by design.
The Mustangs lost a home game late last year when Idaho State announced it was backing out of a trip to San Luis Obispo to take a higher-dollar guarantee from Georgia.
Fresno State also requested that its matchup be moved from the season opener to accommodate a game between the Bulldogs and Cincinnati.
Cone said scheduling has gotten increasingly tougher in recent years for a variety of reasons — reasons that distinguish Cal Poly from a similar program like UC Davis, which is set to leave California just three times in 2010.
With only four guaranteed conference games, both UC Davis and Cal Poly are usually looking to find seven nonconference games while most other teams are in need of only three or four.
In the down economy, however, fewer schools are willing to travel to San Luis Obispo — whose relative isolation makes it a tougher road trip.
The Mustangs are also less enticing to Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. Cal Poly has three wins over FBS teams since 2003, and its near-upset of Wisconsin in 2008 opened plenty of eyes.
“I just get laughed at when I try to schedule,” Cone said.
Opponents might also be scared away by Cal Poly’s triple-option offense. Being one of only four notable Division I teams to use the triple option — including Army, Navy and Georgia Tech — the Mustangs present a unique preparation challenge for every team they play.
Still, Walsh said he’s not interested in changing the direction of the offense, even if it would alleviate one of the scheduling concerns.
“You’d be talking about a completely different personnel group than what we’ve been recruiting the past four or five years,” Walsh said. “You’d have to talk about a complete overhaul in the program to do that, and it would lead to some pretty tough years.”
Cal Poly Schedule
Sept. 4 vs. Humboldt State, 6:05 p.m.
Sept. 11 vs. Montana, 6:05 p.m.
Sept. 18 at Texas State, 4 p.m.
Sept. 25 at McNeese State, 5 p.m.
Oct. 2 at Fresno State, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 at Old Dominion, 3 p.m.
Oct. 16 at Southern Utah, TBA
Oct. 23 vs. North Dakota, 6:05 p.m.
Oct. 30 vs. St. Francis (Pa). 6:05 p.m.
Nov. 6 at South Dakota, TBA
Nov. 13 vs. UC Davis, TBA