Big Rapids, Mich. - Five home games, including a second consecutive matchup with archrival Grand Valley State on the home turf at Top Taggart Field, along with four new opponents highlight the 2014 Ferris State University football schedule as announced today.
The Bulldogs will begin their 106th season of varsity competition this coming fall with their sights set on competing for a potential Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Championship and a NCAA Division II Playoff berth after posting only the program's second eight-win season in the last 16 years during the 2013 campaign.
"I'm thrilled we have a full Division II schedule this season for the first time since I've been here," said Ferris State head coach Tony Annese. "There's a lot of challenges to the schedule, but it's one that will be exciting for the fans and we're looking forward to the opportunity in front of us next fall."
For the third consecutive year, the Bulldogs will begin the season on the road. Ferris State opened Annese's first campaign at NAIA member St. Francis (Ill.) in 2012 and stepped up a level in competition by taking on eventual three-time FCS National Champion North Dakota State in week one last fall.
This year, the Bulldogs will square off against a Division II opponent in Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) member McKendree (Ill.) in a Thursday night non-conference matchup on Sept. 4 at Leemon Field in Lebanon, Ill. The Bearcats posted a 4-6 overall record a year ago in their second season of GLVC membership and have won over 78% of their home contests since 1996. Ferris State and McKendree will meet each of the next two seasons as part of a two-year scheduling agreement with the Bearcats returning the visit to Big Rapids on Sept. 4, 2015.
"Having that Division II game as our non-conference contest will be one that will help us when it comes time to compare and examine potential playoff opportunities if we are so fortunate at the end of the season," Annese said.
Following the week one visit to Illinois, the Bulldogs will begin their 10-game GLIAC slate by visiting Northwood on Sept. 13 in Midland. It will mark the second-straight meeting between the Bulldogs and Timberwolves at Hantz Stadium as FSU posted a decisive 42-10 win on the road last fall. The victory was part of a four-game winning streak for the Bulldogs to conclude the 2013 season.
After the visit to Northwood, Ferris State returns to Big Rapids for its home opener against archrival Grand Valley State in the Anchor-Bone Classic on Sept. 20 at Top Taggart Field. The Bulldogs also hosted GVSU last fall and held on to possession of the Anchor-Bone Trophy for the second-straight year by beating the Lakers 54-44 in a memorable matchup on a rainy night.
"We're certainly excited to have Grand Valley State coming to town again for our opening home game," said FSU quarterback Jason Vander Laan, who broke an NCAA Division II All-Time Single Season record with 1,607 rushing yards as a sophomore last fall. "Overall, it's a challenging schedule, but we're looking forward to the opportunity that awaits."
The league-opening challenge continues the following week as FSU faces reigning GLIAC North Division champion Saginaw Valley State on Sept. 27 to wrap up the opening month of play in University Center. It will mark the 40th consecutive year in which the two teams have squared off against each other. The Cardinals have beat the Bulldogs in close fashion each of the last two years, including a 31-24 overtime win two seasons ago at Wickes Memorial Stadium. In 2013, SVSU posted a 9-1 overall record in league play to edge out the Bulldogs (8-2) by a single game in the North Division.
The first three games in the month of October will all come against teams who have not been on the Bulldogs' schedule the last two seasons. FSU hosts Findlay and Tiffin in back-to-back weeks on Oct. 4 and Oct. 11 at Top Taggart Field with the matchup against the Oilers the first week of October marking FSU's 88th annual homecoming contest.
Ferris State's two-game home stretch will be followed by a trip to Columbus, Ohio, to face returning NCAA Playoff qualifier and GLIAC Champion Ohio Dominican on Oct. 18. The two teams last met in 2011 with the Bulldogs recording a 35-13 home victory. FSU also posted a 34-28 win in the initial series' game in 2010 at Columbus and owns a 2-0 all-time record versus the Panthers.
"This year will give us a big opportunity to face some teams that we haven't played the last couple of years," said Vander Laan. "Ohio Dominican is coming off a great year and we expect a difficult test when we travel to Ohio."
A second-straight lengthy road trip follows in week eight as FSU ventures to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to square off against Michigan Tech on Oct. 25 in Houghton. The Bulldogs posted their first win in 15 years at MTU's Sherman Field during the 2013 season by rallying from a 17-point second half deficit for a thrilling 30-27 victory.
The final month of the regular-season in November begins with another set of back-to-back home games against Lake Erie on Nov. 1 and Northern Michigan on Nov. 8. Ferris State also hosted both teams in 2013 and beat the Storm 56-49 in the home opener before wrapping up the season and the four-game winning streak to close the year with a 35-22 triumph over the Wildcats.
Finally, the Bulldogs close the 2014 regular-season against Walsh at historic Fawcett Stadium located at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Nov. 15 in Canton, Ohio. FSU also faced the Cavaliers in the venue last fall and scored an impressive 59-16 win.
"There's some teams on this year's schedule I'm not that familiar with right now since we haven't played them since I've been here when you look at Ohio Dominican, Findlay and Tiffin," said Annese. "We open again with two road games, but having Grand Valley State as the home opener will be one that I hope is fun and enjoyable for everyone involved.
"We've had some great games the last two years with Saginaw Valley State, obviously playing Ohio Dominican on the road will be a huge challenge and we know how strong this league is from top to bottom. So overall, I'm looking forward to this schedule and there's some great matchups in store for the fans," said Annese.
This year's GLIAC scheduling system features a "pod" system for the first time with FSU's cluster opponents consisting of Saginaw Valley State, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan and Northwood. The crossover games for the next two years include Grand Valley State, Findlay, Tiffin, Ohio Dominican, Walsh and Lake Erie.
The NCAA Division II Playoffs begin the week after the regular-season ends on Nov. 22 and run until the Division II Championship game on Dec. 20. The D2 title game moves this fall from its former home in Florence, Ala., to Kansas City's Sporting Park, which is the home of Major League Soccer's Sporting Kansas City.
Official starting times for all contests along with ticket and promotional information pertaining to home games will be announced in the near future at FerrisStateBulldogs.com.
Ferris State wrapped up a successful 2013 campaign and the second season under Annese's direction with a 8-3 overall record along with a second-place 8-2 finish in the GLIAC North Division standings. FSU narrowly missed receiving the school's first playoff bid in 17 years.
The Bulldogs' eight-win campaign last fall was the school's first since 2006 and only the second in the program's last 16 seasons. Additionally, Ferris State's eight league wins in 2013 were also its most since 1996.
Below is the complete 2014 schedule:
Thursday, Sept. 4 - at McKendree (Ill.)
Saturday, Sept. 13 - at Northwood*
Saturday, Sept. 20 - vs. Grand Valley State* (Anchor-Bone Classic)
Saturday, Sept. 27 - at Saginaw Valley State*
Saturday, Oct. 4 - vs. Findlay* (Homecoming)
Saturday, Oct. 11 - vs. Tiffin*
Saturday, Oct. 18 - at Ohio Dominican*
Saturday, Oct. 25 - at Michigan Tech*
Saturday, Nov. 1 - vs. Lake Erie*
Saturday, Nov. 8 - vs. Northern Michigan*
Saturday, Nov. 15 - at Walsh*
Nov. 22 - NCAA Division II Playoffs begin
Note: Home games in Bold and played at Top Taggart Field
Official starting times will be announced in the near future
* Denotes GLIAC game