AZUSA, Calif. -- The full schedule for Azusa Pacific’s first football season in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference has been finalized, and it features a season-opening visit to NCAA Div. I FCS UC Davis for the Cougars’ lone non-conference contest before taking on the 10-game GNAC slate at the NCAA Div. II level of competition.
The addition of UC Davis marks Azusa Pacific’s fourth-ever meeting with a scholarship program at the NCAA Division I FCS level. Most recently, the Cougars nearly upset nationally-ranked Nicholls State in a 30-28 loss in 2007. Azusa Pacific’s history against NCAA Division I opponents also includes visits to Cal State Northridge (1997) and Sacramento State (2005), as well as the program’s longest-running rivalry with the University of San Diego, a non-scholarship FCS program the Cougars met once in 1960 and then annually for a 43-year run from 1969 to 2011.
“We strongly believe that championship football begins with a willingness to meet challenges,” Azusa Pacific head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “Playing an FCS program like UC Davis will only help us as we prepare for the upcoming challenge of competing in a great Division II conference like the GNAC. I couldn’t be more excited for us to start the next chapter of Azusa Pacific football with this type of challenging schedule.”
Following the season opener, Azusa Pacific gets its official welcome to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference when it takes on defending conference champion Humboldt State. The Cougars had played Humboldt State on an annual basis from 1990 through 2010, although the teams’ schedules did not align for a 2011 meeting.
Of the remaining four GNAC football programs (Central Washington, Dixie State, Simon Fraser, Western Oregon), Azusa Pacific has played three of them at least four times previously. The only new rivalry established with GNAC membership will be with Simon Fraser, a Canadian institution located in Burnaby, British Columbia which will be entering its third year of GNAC football competition in 2012.
“Having played many of our new conference rivals several times in the past, we know that we’re joining a group of quality programs who play a very high level of football,” Santa Cruz said. “As the only Division II program in the south-western region, we hope that our entertaining brand of football helps continue to build on the GNAC’s growth into one of the best Division II football conferences in the nation.”
After the Sept. 8 visit to Humboldt State, the Cougars’ conference home opener follows on Sept. 15 against Dixie State. Azusa Pacific’s remaining home games are Sept. 29 against Western Oregon, Oct. 13 against Humboldt State, Oct. 20 for a Homecoming matchup with Central Washington, and the Nov. 10 regular-season finale against Simon Fraser. The conference road games are Sept. 22 at Central Washington, Oct. 6 at Simon Fraser, Oct. 27 at Western Oregon, and Nov. 3 at Dixie State. (Click here to view the full season schedule by date)
“As we progress towards our goal of NCAA membership,” said Santa Cruz, “we feel that being located centrally within the Southern California population footprint of over 20 million people really gives Division II’s ‘Life in the Balance’ mission statement a real market presence. We hope that our proximity to one of the world’s largest media markets and access to industry leaders in this area can provide a boost to the GNAC and Division II, while helping our student-athletes discover a significant advantage to their educational experience.”
Azusa Pacific wrapped up its final season of NAIA competition in 2011, advancing to the quarterfinals in its eighth playoff appearance since 1998 while earning a No. 5 final national ranking. The Cougars’ associate membership in the GNAC for football will be the first conference affiliation for Azusa Pacific’s football program in the school’s history. The rest of the Cougar Athletics program will compete in the Pacific West Conference as the school enters its second year of a three-year transition into NCAA Division II membership.