The Colonels spent most of the past two months preparing for a season they knew might not even happen.
The uncertainty was certainly the most frustrating part.
“It was stressful,” EKU junior offensive line Tucker Schroeder said. “We trusted the process, though.”
That trust paid off.
On Aug. 21, EKU announced they would opt out of a potential spring Ohio Valley Conference schedule and play an eight-game non-league schedule this fall.
The Colonels will play three games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams, including a match-up with Marshall today in the season opener.
Game time is set for 1 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington, W.Va.
“We ended up getting a great schedule and we couldn’t be more excited,” Schroeder said.
EKU is one of just 15 Football Bowl Subdivision programs that choose to play a fall schedule, despite concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
That has created unique opportunities for the Colonels.
The season opener will air live on ESPN.
Next week’s game at West Virginia is set to broadcast live on FoxSports 1.
“That’s not going to happen in a normal year for Eastern Kentucky University,” first-year EKU coach Walt Wells said of playing on national television.
An old rivalry is set to be renewed when the 2020 season belatedly gets underway.
The Thundering Herd and Colonels were both perennial Football Championship Subdivision powers in the 1980s and 1990s. The teams met each season from 1985 to 1992, including twice in the playoffs.
“There was a great rivalry between the programs back in the 1980s and 1990s. We are very excited.”
Marshall leads the all-time series, 11-8-1. The last meeting was two years in Huntington, where the Thundering Herd picked up a 32-16 win.
“There’s a familiarity there,” said Schroeder, who played in 2018 against Marshall. “They are a great team. They are well-coached. They are fast and physical.”
A match-up against the Thundering Herd will be a big test for a team with a new coaching staff and only 11 seniors on the roster.
The Colonels lost 16 starters from a team that went 7-5 last season.
Marshall had an 8-5 record in 2019 and lost to Central Florida, 48-25.
“They are a good football team. They’ve got great depth and great players,” Wells said. “They are hungry. They are ready to get back at it.”
Redshirt junior Brenden Knox was one of five Marshall players named to the preseason All-Conference USA team.
The running back rushed for 1,387 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. He averaged 5.1 yards a carry.
Redshirt freshman Grant Wells will be under center for the Thundering Herd in the season opener. The Marshall roster features five quarterbacks (two freshmen, two redshirt freshmen and one redshirt sophomore) none of which have thrown a pass in a college game.
The Colonels have not yet announced a starting quarterback.
Redshirt sophomore Parker McKinney started seven games last season, completing 116-of-221 pass attempts for 1,371 yards and seven touchdowns.
Dakota Allen, a redshirt junior, played in nine games with one touchdown pass.
Newcomer Kaymen Cureton has jumped right into the quarterback competition. The redshirt junior transfer from the University of Nevada started off last season as a safety before switching back under center.
Wells said two weeks ago the team would not announce a starter before the opener.
“We will let Marshall find out when we walk out on the field,” Wells said.
Whoever is under center will likely be handing off quite a bit to Alonzo Booth. The 6-foot-1, 250-pound redshirt junior had 14 touchdowns last season, which was 16th in the FCS.
The Colonels led the OVC in rushing in 2019, averaging 205.5 yards a game.
EKU’s new coaching staff obviously won’t abandon the ground attack, but Wells says the team will line-up quite a bit in the shotgun and use a spread offensive that features talented, experienced receivers.
“Everyone just assumes we are going to hand the ball off on every play. That’s just not the case,” Wells said.
It’s been 287 days since the Colonels last played a game (Nov. 23, 2019).
On Saturday, the wait will finally be over.
“We are ready to roll,” Schroeder said.