HUNTSVILLE - With a pair of home non-conference games and five total homes games at Bowers Stadium, in addition to two more games in Houston, Bearkat football fans will have plenty of opportunities to see the Kats play in 2018.

The Sam Houston State Bearkats, who have consistently been one of the top teams in the FCS for the last seven years with four semifinal appearances since 2011, will leave the state of Texas just twice in the regular season.

The Bearkats will kick off the 2018 slate at home on September 8 against Prairie View A&M. This is a return trip for the Panthers after hosting the Bearkats last season. Last year, the Kats traveled to PV, knocking off the Panthers 44-31. It will be the first time Prairie View A&M has made the 70-mile drive to Huntsville since 1985, the only meeting between the two teams prior to last year’s contest.

Sam will follow that up by hosting North Dakota, a team who was just 3-8 last season but was a playoff participant in 2016. That season they fell to Richmond in the second round of the FCS playoffs. A member of the Big Sky Conference, North Dakota is a relative newcomer to the FCS, gaining playoff eligibility in 2012 after a four-year transition to Division I football. They won a national championship in 2001 at the D-II level.

“I’m really happy we could find two non-conference opponents to come this way and play us here in Bowers,” said head coach K.C. Keeler, who will enter his fifth season as the head coach of the Bearkats. “With the way the schedule worked out with the SFA game a home game at a neutral site, we were limited on our other conference home games. I’m glad we were able to get two quality opponents, giving us five good games at Bowers Stadium”

The Kats will open Southland Conference play on September 22 with the first of two tough games to start league play. They will travel to Thibodaux, La., to take on Nicholls, who earned a spot in the FCS playoffs last season. Then, it’s another FCS playoff participant on the slate, when defending Southland Conference champions Central Arkansas will pay a visit to Huntsville. The Sept. 29 game against UCA will be Bearkat Family Weekend.

“We really feel that the schedule is top heavy and we are going to have to be playing our best football from early on because we are going to face two playoffs teams early on,” Keeler said. “Nicholls and UCA are both going to be huge tests for us right out of the gate.”

Things don’t get any easier following the contest with Central Arkansas, as the Kats will play three straight away from Bowers Stadium, beginning with the annual Battle of the Piney Woods game against Stephen F. Austin on Oct. 6 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

The game against SFA will be followed by road trips to Northwestern State (Oct. 13) and Lamar (Oct. 20) before returning home on Oct. 27 to take on Southeastern Louisiana for the 2018 Bearkat Homecoming Weekend game.

The November slate for the Bearkats will be against the three newest members of the Southland Conference. They will head to UIW in San Antonio on Nov. 3 and then return home on Nov. 10 to face Abilene Christian. The regular season will conclude on Nov. 17 with a short trip down Interstate 45 to take on Houston Baptist.

“We are going to have to make our hay early and then go be road warriors the rest of the season,” Keeler said. “Obviously we have been very good at Bowers, but to be a championship caliber team you have to go beat good teams on the road.”

Game times will be set no later than 12 days prior to kickoff based on the Southland Conference television contract.

The first round of the FCS playoffs begins Nov. 24 with the teams earning bye’s opening in the second round starting on Dec. 1. For the ninth straight season, the National Championship game will be played in Frisco and is once again hosted by the Southland Conference. This year’s title game will be played on Jan. 5, 2019.