Gardner-Webb will be the Owls’ first conference opponent when the Runnin’ Bulldogs visit Fifth-Third Bank Stadium on Oct. 17. It will be one of three Big South home games for Kennesaw State, along with Monmouth on Oct. 31 and Charleston Southern on Nov. 7.
The first conference road game will be Oct. 24, when Kennesaw State travels to Lynchburg, Va., to face Liberty. The Owls will close the conference schedule with two road games in South Carolina — Nov. 14 at Coastal Carolina and Nov. 21 at Presbyterian.
“Each piece of the puzzle is getting put together,” Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon said. “It is a reality that football is right around the corner. Now we have a conference schedule. It’s the next piece.”
The Big South, of which Kennesaw State will be an associate member for football only, has only been playing the sport for 10 years, but the recently completed 2013 season may have been its best. The five current conference teams Kennesaw State will face in 2015 went a combined 40-20 this past season.
Coastal Carolina (12-3) claimed a share of the conference championship and advanced to the third round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs before falling to eventual national champion North Dakota State. Charleston Southern (10-2) was ranked the final eight weeks of the regular season.
Liberty (8-4) earned a share of the conference title, and Gardner-Webb (8-4) knocked off three ranked opponents. Only Presbyterian (3-8) had a losing record.
Monmouth (6-6), like Kennesaw State, will join the Big South as an associate member, entering for the 2014 season. The Hawks spent the ’13 season as an independent, after previously playing in the Northeast Conference.
With the announcement of the Big South schedule, that brings Kennesaw State to seven confirmed games for 2015.
The Owls announced in November that they would play their first game on Sept. 3, 2015 — a Thursday — at East Tennessee State. Kennesaw State athletic director Vaughn Williams said he hopes to have the remainder of the schedule — either a 10- or 11-game slate — completed in the next few weeks.
“It’s been a process,” he said. “We’re working on it. We’re just waiting for contracts to be signed.”
It appears as if the Owls will have to play good football from the start if they want to be competitive.
“No doubt,” Williams said. “In the big picture, the Big South is still (a very young football conference), but they play really good football.”
Bohannon said the success the Big South had last season has been a selling point to potential recruits.
“We’ve been selling that, no doubt,” Bohannon said. “The success they had against the Southern Conference this year, and the success Coastal Carolina had in the playoffs, have been great selling points when we’ve been on the road.”
Bohannon hopes those selling points are working. The Owls are believed to have 18 commitments, but he said the program is expecting to sign between 25 and 30 players for next month’s National Signing Day.
Kennesaw State will supplement the first recruiting class with walk-ons, transfers and an eventual second signing class in February 2015.
Bohannon has also set a March 22 tryout date at the KSU Sports and Recreation Park for players interested in walking on to the program.