Last month’s release of the CAA schedule came with a few surprises including Hampton's game against Grambling to kick off the year (which you can read more about here) and other unannounced non-conference games. Arguably the most shocking of all was not an unrevealed neutral site game, but New Hampshire's visit to Stonehill to open the season.
Stonehill will enter its second year as an FCS program and only started football in 1988 as a Division III program. On the other hand, New Hampshire could not be more different, just look at the comparison below:
Hosting New Hampshire is even bigger considering the caliber of non-conference opponents that Stonehill has played. Aside from their Northeast Conference counterparts, the only schools that were Division I at the time Stonehill played them were Iona and Northeastern. Iona long was an afterthought in the MAAC's ill-fated rendezvous with football and the Northeastern game did not go well.
In Stonehill's only game against an Atlantic 10/Colonial Athletic Association member, Northeastern racked up 745 total yards, including 593 yards rushing, and beat the Skyhawks 78-6. The Huskies led 49-6 at halftime. The Skyhawks also have a limited postseason history with their only postseason appearance coming in the 1995 ECAC Division II IFC Bowl which they lost 46-3 to Bentley.
Things are a lot different now as Stonehill is entering its second year of FCS play. While it may be a surprise that they are hosting a CAA school, it is even more surprising that the CAA school coming to W.B. Mason Stadium is New Hampshire. The Cougars have arguably the richest tradition of any school in the CAA, making the playoffs 14 straight times from 2004-2017. On top of this, they are coming off a playoff appearance that included a win over Fordham last season.
If Stonehill wants to prove they are a force to be reckoned with in the NEC and the FCS, it must be competitive with New Hampshire. Last season, LIU, fresh off a 2-8 season and only in its 4th year of FCS play, hosted the then-#5 Villanova Wildcats and played respectably, trailing only 17-7 at halftime before losing 38-21. A similar performance against New Hampshire can put the Skyhawks' NEC rivals on notice.
Schools like St. Thomas have proved that schools moving up to FCS do not have to take long to be competitive. Stonehill can prove the same with a solid showing against a power rich with tradition like New Hampshire. This game is a significant stepping stone for not only the Skyhawks but the NEC as a whole.