(Stats Perform) - By playing the largest schedule in FCS college football this fall, Central Arkansas is surrendering the spring season and a chance to compete for another Southland Conference title and playoff bid.
Still, the Bears believe they've secured the biggest opportunity available with Saturday's first-time matchup at North Dakota State, the three-time defending FCS champion.
"If we come away from North Dakota State with a win, we might fly a national championship flag around here," coach Nathan Brown joked on Wednesday.
Brown is hoping Central Arkansas (2-1) has an advantage in playing the fourth of its 10 games and North Dakota State in action for the first and only time this fall. The Bison are riding an FCS-record 37-game winning streak, so an opponent's advantages are usually few and far between.
Still, the 34-year-old Brown, one of Central Arkansas' all-time greatest players and a member of the program since 2005, embraces the chance to gain a measuring stick if not an upset.
"We know that this is obviously a tall task and something that our players are excited about competing against the best," he said. "I think that's what the most exciting thing is about this trip is an opportunity to see what it looks like and see where we want our program to get to at some point."
The magnitude of the game, Brown adds, is "at the top. We've coached the big FBS games and we've been in the playoffs and we've played for conference championships, but you don't not know what North Dakota State has done over the last 10 years."
The Bears boast All-Southland quarterback Breylin Smith and All-America quarterback Robert Rochell, but Brown believes much of his team's success will be determined at the line of scrimmage, an area usually won by North Dakota State. The Bears' offensive line has to protect Smith better than it did against Missouri State last Saturday and their defensive line - a strength - seeks to limit the Bison run game and collapse the pocket on quarterback Trey Lance, maybe even force his first career interception.
Central Arkansas will be paid a reported $100,000 game guarantee. The Fargodome crowd will be limited to player families out of an abundance of caution surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.