ORONO, Maine — The first 10-1 record in program history, the first outright league championship since 1965 and an automatic berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs have already been secured by the University of Maine football team.
Maine, which was picked eighth in the Colonial Athletic Association coaches’ preseason poll and is 7-0 in conference play, concludes its regular season against arch-rival New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., on Saturday at noon.
The Black Bears, who have moved up to fourth nationally in the Sports Network and FCS Coaches polls, have a legitimate shot at earning a top eight national seed and that would mean a first-round bye for the 24-team FCS playoffs and a first-ever home playoff game in the second round on Dec. 7 as long as it submits a bid to host a game.
Interim athletic director Seth Woodcock and Mike Hodgson, assistant AD for development, said the institution submitted a bid on Monday to host all four rounds of playoff games leading up to the FCS championship game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 4.
There are 11 automatic berths awarded to conference champs and 13 at-large berths and they will be announced along with the pairings and sites during the ESPNU selection show on Sunday starting at 11:30 a.m.
“The minimum bid for each of the first two rounds is $30,000 and it goes up from there. It is based on receipts minus expenses but it’s not just that. The NCAA computer has a formula that configures your bid,” explained Hodgson.
Hodgson would not reveal Maine’s bid.
He pointed out that Maine doesn’t have the financial resources of some of the other schools that will make the postseason.
“It’s always a struggle (financially) but we’ll find a way to make it work,” said Hodgson.
After the second round, a lower-seeded team could host a higher-seeded team if it makes a superior bid.
“It’s a fluid process. It’s very competitive,” said Woodcock referring to the fact the landscape changes as institutions that submit bids get eliminated during the playoffs.
Hodgson pointed out that you could have a situation where two teams that haven’t submitted bids wind up playing each other. In that case, the NCAA would give those schools another opportunity to submit a bid and if neither one does, the higher seeded team would host the game.
In addition to Maine, the other teams that have already qualified by winning their conference regular season championships are Sacred Heart (Conn.), the Northeast Conference champ; Eastern Illinois (Ohio Valley Conference), Southeastern Louisiana (Southland Conference) and defending two-time FCS champion North Dakota State (Missouri Valley Football Conference).
“Hosting a playoff football game in December in Maine … talk about a unique opportunity,” said Woodcock. “This would be unprecedented for us. We need our fans to support us if we get a home playoff game or games. It is critical. These players deserve it.”
Woodcock, who was on his first day on the job on Monday after replacing Steve Abbott, said the football team’s success and potential to host a playoff game has given the athletic department a “bounce in its step.
“The energy is palpable,” said Woodcock. “It has been unbelievable. We have been getting statewide attention. This has helped us with all facets of our program moving forward.”
Woodcook heaped high praise on head coach Jack Cosgrove, who is in his 21st season as the Black Bears’ head coach.
“Jack has always done more with less,” said Woodcock.
Cosgrove is taking things in stride.
He is proud of his team but isn’t looking past Saturday’s game at UNH against a Wildcat team that is 6-4 overall, 5-2 in the CAA, and is facing a must-win situation to make the FCS playoffs for the 10th straight year.
“We want to stay in the moment and continue to operate the way we have been on a week-to-week basis,” said Cosgrove. “It’s nice to hear those comments and statements about our success and it’s nice to see the team and the program recognized.
“But we still have a game to play and it happens to be the most important game on our schedule because it’s our rival and a team we have tremendous respect for. They have tremendous history and tradition, especially of late with nine straight playoff appearances. They have been the most consistent program in the best FCS conference in the country.
“They have won five of their last six conference games and that’s the best record over those six games with the exception of ours,” said Cosgrove. “They’re always a very, very good football team.”
He said there have been three ingredients that have fueled his team’s success.
“We have talent. There are a lot of good football players on this team,” said the 58-year-old Cosgrove. “And they have improved, not only during their time here but during the season, too. Second, they play together. They play very well as a team and support each other. You see that over the course of a game. When we need a score or need to make a stop or we need to make a play on the special teams, we find a way to do it. That’s the sign of a good team.
“Third, our players are tough, mentally and physically. You have to be physically tough and they have a coolness under fire which is a sign of their mental toughness,” said Cosgrove. “This is as good a team as I’ve ever been around in all aspects of the game.”