The road back to the FCS playoffs for the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks will run through their home field in 2018, as they will play the other top three finishers in the Big Sky Conference at the Walkup Skydome.
Alternating home and road games through the first six weeks of the season, Northern Arizona will open its five-game home schedule with a nonconference game against Eastern Washington on Sept. 8. While the game with the Eagles, who just missed the FCS playoffs with a 7-4 record in 2017, will not count toward the conference standings, it can be used in the event of a tie between the teams.
Two weeks later, the Lumberjacks will host their rivalry game against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds in Flagstaff, a departure from the recent trend of the two finishing the regular season against one another. Southern Utah finished 9-3 last season, beating Northern Arizona for the fourth straight season and tying for first in the conference. The defending Big Sky champion then arrives another two weeks later, as Weber State faces Northern Arizona in the Skydome after finishing 2017 11-3 overall and as the nation’s No. 5-ranked team.
Staggered between its first three home games of the season, Northern Arizona will travel to UTEP to open the season Saturday, Sept. 1, to the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s Missouri State on Sept. 15 and to Pocatello for its Big Sky road opener at Idaho State.
The trio of home games appears to be tougher than Northern Arizona’s first three road trips. UTEP finished 0-12 in 2017, the lone FBS school to end the year winless, and will enter the game 15-3 overall against FCS opponents. The Miners last lost to a member of the FCS in 2003, falling 34-13 to Cal Poly during a 2-11 season. Missouri State hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2009, last reached seven wins in 1996 and last made the FCS playoffs in 1990. Idaho State tied for ninth in the Big Sky and finished 4-7 overall, with its only two conference wins coming against Cal Poly and Portland State, who combined to finish 1-21 in the Big Sky.
Based on the final 2017-18 Sagarin Rankings, Weber State (59), Southern Utah (88) and Eastern Washington (101) finished ahead of Missouri State (174), Idaho State (191) and UTEP (228). NAU was at 123.
With its bye week falling in the middle of the season, Northern Arizona will begin its second half at Northern Colorado Oct. 20 before hosting Homecoming Oct. 27 against Cal Poly. Wrapping up the road schedule with back-to-back games in Northern California at UC Davis and Sacramento State, Northern Arizona’s regular-season finale is set for Nov. 17 against North Dakota.