(STATS) - Welcome to the Missouri Valley Football Conference, Charlie Fisher.
He gained a first-hand look at the strongest conference in the FCS as Richmond's offensive coordinator last year, but next season, Fisher will try to navigate through the tough MVFC as Western Illinois' coach.
The Leathernecks' 11-game slate will be among the most rugged in the FCS again, but it paid off last season when they qualified for the playoffs with an at-large bid. They went 7-6 in what the NCAA deemed the subdivision's toughest schedule, including a win over Dayton in the first round.
At the time, Fisher was busy in the playoffs and Richmond beat MVFC power Illinois State in the quarterfinals before losing to North Dakota State, the eventual national champion for the fifth consecutive year, in the semis.
"The 2016 schedule is exciting, challenging and as competitive as any in the country in FCS football," Fisher said. "Playing in the premier Missouri Valley Conference is as tough as it gets. It is an opportunity to showcase our team against the very best week in and week out. My staff and I cannot wait for spring practice to get here (March 22) and start preparing for the 2016 season."
Western Illinois opens on the road for the first time in five years in a matchup with Eastern Illinois, a playoff qualifier out of the Ohio Valley Conference. The Leathernecks then host Big Sky member Northern Arizona and star quarterback Case Cookus, the 2015 STATS FCS Freshman of the Year, on Sept. 10, have a bye the next week and visit FBS opponent Northern Illinois on Sept. 24.
Within the Missouri Valley, the Leathernecks host Indiana State (Oct. 8, Homecoming), NDSU (Oct. 22), Illinois State (Nov. 5) and Northern Iowa (Nov. 12). Their road conference games are against South Dakota State (Oct. 1), Missouri State (Oct. 15), South Dakota (Oct. 29) and Southern Illinois (Nov. 19).
In the 10-team MVFC's unbalanced schedule, WIU won't play Youngstown State in each of the next two seasons.
2016 Western Illinois Schedule
Sept. 1, at Eastern Illinois
Sept. 10, Northern Arizona
Sept. 24, at Northern Illinois
Oct. 1, at South Dakota State*
Oct. 8, Indiana State* (Homecoming)
Oct. 15, at Missouri State*
Oct. 22, North Dakota State*
Oct. 29, at South Dakota*
Nov. 5, Illinois State*
Nov. 12, Northern Iowa*
Nov. 19, at Southern Illinois*
* - Missouri Valley Football Conference game