(STATS) - While some programs avoid playing a difficult non-conference schedule, the poster child for taking on the biggest challenge remains Eastern Washington.
It's benefitted the Eagles, and occasionally been a detriment.
The 2016 season-opening games against Washington State (Sept. 3) and North Dakota State (Sept. 10) on the road and Northern Iowa (Sept. 17) on the red turf at Roos Field is particularly daunting. Last season, Washington State won the Sun Bowl, NDSU captured its fifth straight FCS national title and UNI reached the national quarterfinals as the trio combined to go 31-11.
"It's exciting to play a tough schedule and put ourselves in some challenging situations," EWU coach Beau Baldwin said in announcing his 11-game schedule Monday. "That's what our coaches and players love to do. I always wonder if it can get any more challenging than whatever we did last year or the year before, but this one might be the topper. But it's exciting at the same time."
The North Dakota State game in Fargo is considered the favorite to be turned into the third annual FCS Kickoff - the opening game of the season in NCAA football - on Aug. 27. Eastern won the 2010 FCS title prior to the NDSU streak.
The Eagles were the Big Sky Conference champions in the 2012-14 seasons, but they are coming off a disappointing 6-5 season, including 5-3 and in a fourth-place tie in the conference. They will host UC Davis (Oct. 1), Northern Colorado (Oct. 8), Montana (Oct. 29) and Idaho State (Nov. 12), and go on the road to face Northern Arizona (Sept. 24), Montana State (Oct. 22), Cal Poly (Nov. 5) and Portland State (Nov. 19).
The 2015 Big Sky Conference, Baldwin said, "probably shook out in the end a little bit different than people thought it would. But you have to be ready knowing each week in this league is going to be a battle, and embrace the fact you are in a tough conference. We face a challenge each and every week."
2016 Eastern Washington Football Schedule
Sept. 3, at Washington State
Sept. 10, at North Dakota State
Sept. 17, Northern Iowa
Sept. 24, at Northern Arizona*
Oct. 1, UC Davis*
Oct. 8, Northern Colorado*
Oct. 22, at Montana State*
Oct. 29, Montana*
Nov. 5, at Cal Poly*
Nov. 12, Idaho State*
Nov. 19, at Portland State*
* - Big Sky Conference game