Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
For the first time since a 38-29 loss to Bryant on Nov. 18, the Duquesne University football team will take to the field on Aug. 25, when it will face the Massachusetts Minutemen in Amherst, Mass.
What’s certain is that UMass, a Division I Football Bowl Subdivision member, represents only the second FBS opponent that Duquesne has faced in its program’s history. The first came on Aug. 30, 2014, when the Dukes fell to MAC member Buffalo, 38-28. UMass is currently an Independent in the FBS ranks.
What’s much less clear at this junction, however, is which quarterback Duquesne Head Coach Jerry Schmitt will select to take the field this Saturday evening.
Junior Brett Brumbaugh and redshirt junior Daniel Parr remain hedged in a quarterback battle with only days left before the season’s official commencement, but Schmitt is just fine with that.
“There is that possibility moving forward,” Schmitt said Wednesday, referencing the chance that both Parr and Brumbaugh see action versus the Minutemen. “They’re both competing hard. We’ll make a decision here and then go with one to start. They could both see time.”
Whichever signal-caller Schmitt calls upon will be joined on the field by some familiar faces in playmakers A.J. Hines and Nehari Crawford and linemen Alex Conley and Matt Fitzpatrick, among others. All in all, the Dukes return six offensive starters from last season’s 7-4 (4-2 NEC) team, with five starters returning on the defensive side of the ball.
“Those guys make up for a lot of mistakes or a lot of the learning curve that a new guy would have,” Schmitt told reporters earlier this week, in reference to Hines and Crawford. Hines, a junior, returns to the Dukes this season as the eighth-leading rusher in Duquesne program history with 2,329 yards amassed. Crawford, a senior wide receiver, led the FCS in 2017 with 15 receiving touchdowns.
Preseason All-NEC linemen Conley and Fitzpatrick return, too, giving whoever it is under center for the Dukes on Saturday a substantial amount of experienced players to play with.
Schmitt said that he knows what he’s got in his veteran players at this point, however, and stands to learn a lot about the team’s newcomers in “Week 0.”
“We learn a lot in the first week because we’ve practiced, we’ve gone all offseason, through camp, and now we see how that plays out and when the lights come on, how the players perform,” Schmitt said. “We have a number of veterans back, so we have a pretty good idea on those guys, but there’s some new players that we’re going to like to see in a game situation.”
Beginning one’s season against an FBS opponent can be an overwhelming task for newcoming players, but Schmitt insisted that the opportunity to begin the year against a bigger school is one that his program cherishes.
“We are going to gauge it on how we play. That’s any time we start the season,” Schmitt said, speaking on what he’s looking to see in his team’s first game action of the season. “The fact that it’s an FBS opponent is great, for our guys to play in that environment against a bigger school. We know it’s a tough challenge for us, but we’re looking forward to it. The guys have worked hard, but like I said, we’re going to gauge how we play to progress through the season.”
The allure usually generated for FCS schools playing a FBS opponent may be augmented for Duquesne in this particular instance, as the 5:30 p.m. kickoff time will mark the official beginning of the 2018 college football season in the United States. Three other games occur on August 25 — Prairie View versus Rice (7 p.m.), Hawai’i versus Colorado State (7:30 p.m.) and Wyoming against New Mexico State (10 p.m.) — making Duquesne one of eight teams to participate in college football’s “Week 0.” As a result, the Dukes will have two bye weeks: Sept. 29 and Oct. 27.
The Sept. 29 bye week will follow Duquesne’s Sept. 22 road game at Hawai’i — the Dukes’ second game versus an FBS opponent this season. The game also signifies Duquesne’s first trip west of the Rocky Mountains since 1947, when it faced San Francisco.
Last week, The Dominion (W.Va.) Post reported that West Virginia University athletics director Shane Lyons confirmed that Duquesne will visit the Mountaineers for a Week 2 non-conference matchup on Sept. 9, 2023, and will receive a $425,000 payout as a result.
So, while Duquesne has much to look forward to, Schmitt is just excited to be able to get back on the field with his team.
“They put it behind them and went to work,” Schmitt said in reference to last season’s disappointing ending. “I think they’re using it as a motivating factor, to be better. I think they’re just excited to play some football now — it’s been a long time.”
It remains to be seen which quarterback will trot out onto the field for the Dukes on Saturday evening, but what’s certain is that it’s going to be one of the two. And while UMass may be a bigger opponent, Schmitt & Co. are excited for the opportunity to perform.
A nation full of college football-hungry fans will be watching.