(STATS) -- Hopefully, it will be a September to remember at Furman for all the right reasons.
The Paladins have an unforgiving month to start to their 2016 season, opening with Big Ten champion and College Football Playoff semifinalist Michigan State in East Lansing on Friday, Sept. 2. Given the Spartans are all but certain to be in the preseason AP Top 25 later this summer, they would be the third ranked FBS team Furman has faced under coach Bruce Fowler, who enters his sixth season.
"I think it's great. I had the opportunity to coach in the SEC for nine seasons and being in that environment and atmosphere is different in those stadiums," said Fowler, whose team split two games against FBS teams last season, stunning UCF 16-15 on the road en route to a 4-7 finish. "When guys are being recruited, they look at schedules, they look at who you play and it attracts competitors."
It gets no easier after Michigan State - Furman then faces the reigning Southern Conference co-champions in the next two weeks. The Paladins first travel to The Citadel to face the Bulldogs' triple-option offense Sept. 10 and open their home schedule against three-time champ Chattanooga.
"I don't know if anyone is starting up with four playoff teams and three on the road," Fowler said. "Obviously, Michigan State is a phenomenal program and The Citadel and Chattanooga had great years."
Both reached the round of 16 in the 2016 FCS Playoffs and were ranked 13th and ninth, respectively, in the final STATS FCS Top 25, but Fowler isn't overly concerned about facing them early in conference play.
"You've got to play the games you're scheduled, first, last and in between," he said. "It's more about our team and improving every day. It's a great challenge and a great opportunity."
The gauntlet ends Sept. 24 with a non-conference contest at Coastal Carolina, another 2016 postseason entrant that finished No. 16 in the poll and is beginning a two-year transition from FCS to FBS. Furman will also play Kennesaw State for the first time and renew acquaintances with East Tennessee State, which resumed play last season for the first time since 2003 as an independent and returned to the Southern Conference.
The Paladins host rival Wofford - their series dates back to 1899 - on Nov. 5, and they close the season two weeks later at Mercer.
2016 Furman Schedule:
Sept. 2, at Michigan State
Sept. 10, at The Citadel*
Sept. 17, vs. Chattanooga*
Sept. 24, at Coastal Carolina
Oct. 1, vs. Kennesaw State
Oct. 8, vs. Samford*
Oct. 15, at East Tennessee State*
Oct. 29, at VMI*
Nov. 5, vs. Wofford*
Nov. 12, vs. Western Carolina*
Nov. 19, at Mercer*
* - Southern Conference game