Alfond Stadium in Orono is the home of University of Maine football team. Credit: Peter Buehner / UMaine Athletics

The University of Maine football program will continue its trend of playing two higher-level Football Bowl Subdivision opponents next fall.

The Black Bears will take on Northern Illinois University and the University of Massachusetts as part of a tentative 11-game schedule released on Wednesday.

According to UMaine senior associate athletic director for external operations and communications Tyson McHatten, UMaine will receive a $350,000 guarantee from Northern Illinois and $300,000 from UMass.

UMaine is one of few FCS teams that regularly play two FBS teams. Most face only one.

“We go into those games looking to win,” UMaine head coach Nick Charlton said. “We won a game a few years ago and have been competitive in others.”

UMaine is slated to play eight Colonial Athletic Association contests with five total home games during the 2021 fall campaign. The conference schedule features four home games and four road contests, but the matchups have been made to reduce travel, especially in regard to trips involving airplane flights.

“This is one of the strongest schedules we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Charlton said. “It’s exciting. It’s definitely going to be challenging.”

UMaine will travel to Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference on Sept. 25 in DeKalb and later visits former Yankee Conference rival UMass, an FBS independent, on Nov. 13 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst, Massachusetts.

UMaine and Northern Illinois will play for the first time. UMaine and UMass were traditional rivals until the Minutemen made the jump from the Football Championship Subdivision to the FBS ranks in 2012.

The two teams have met twice since, UMaine posting a 24-14 victory in 2013 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, home of the New England Patriots, and UMass outlasting the Black Bears 44-31 in 2017 at Fenway Park in Boston, where the Red Sox play.

UMaine’s home games include CAA matchups against Delaware (Sept. 4), Elon (Oct. 9), William & Mary (Oct. 16) and Stony Brook (Nov. 6) and a Sept. 18 nonconference clash against Merrimack College of the Football Championship Subdivision Northeast Conference.

Merrimack is in the midst of its four-year reclassifying period after making the jump from NCAA Division II to Division I.

“I have a lot of respect for Coach [Dan] Curran and his program,” Charlton said.

The Black Bears’ CAA road games include visits to James Madison (Sept. 11), Albany (Oct. 23), Rhode Island (Oct. 30) and archrival New Hampshire (Nov. 20).

James Madison has played in three of the last four FCS national championship games, losing to North Dakota State in 2019 and 2017 after beating the Bison in the 2016 title game.

UMaine has an open date on Oct. 2.

Against FBS opponents, UMaine in 2018 beat Western Kentucky 31-28 and lost to Central Michigan 17-5. In 2019, Liberty (59-44) and Georgia Southern (26-18) beat the Black Bears.

Liberty and Georgia Southern each won FBS bowl games last season.

Charlton said his players enjoy the challenge of playing FBS teams and it also helps UMaine’s recruiting. He noted the monetary component benefits his program and the university, which is an important factor in the decision to play two FBS games.

The Black Bears are scheduled to play four of their first six games at home before finishing with four of their last five on the road.

“We are going to have to play real well down the stretch on the road,” Charlton said.