Monmouth at KSU 24.jpg

Kennesaw State running back Adeolu Adeleke runs the ball against Monmouth in 2019.

KENNESAW — When Kennesaw State hosts Monmouth on Saturday at Fifth Third Bank Stadium, the teams will play for the Big South Conference championship and the league’s automatic bid into the Football Championship Subdivision’s 24-team playoff bracket.

It will mark the fifth straight season the Owls and Hawks have played for the conference title, but other than the game pitting two good teams in a high-stakes matchup, Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon said the series has not reached his definition of a rivalry.

“I don’t know if I’d necessarily call it a rivalry,” Bohannon said. “It’s just worked out where the two schools met toward the end of the year, except for one. But the last few meetings have determined who the conference champion was. I say that because it’s hard to have a rivalry when there is that much distance between you.”

The two campuses are separated by 906 miles between Kennesaw and West Long Branch, New Jersey — blocks from the Atlantic Ocean.

Kennesaw State and Monmouth have played six times, with the Big South title decided each of the last four seasons. The Owls won the first matchups, including a 52-21 victory in 2017 and a 51-14 win the following year. Monmouth has won the last two — 45-21 in 2019 and 42-17 earlier this year in the shortened spring season.

While it has become a game that consistently has had implications on the FCS landscape, Bohannon said it has been hard for the fan bases to be very active when their team is on the road. It is what has helped other matchups — like Jacksonville State, Samford or Wofford — become truer rivalries.

“I’m not knocking it as a rivalry,” Bohannon said. “I just think we can talk about a team from New Jersey and a team from Georgia. It’s hard to qualify it as a rivalry.

“You are always looking for as much regional for your fan base. I think that’s what creates rivalries. It’s when your fan base can really engage in what goes on.”

Next year, Kennesaw State will join the ASUN’s Conference’s fledgling football lineup, leaving the Big South behind. Bohannon said it is possible the Owls could still face Monmouth in the future, but it seems unlikely.

“It could be possible,” Bohannon said, “but I just think, from a location and logistical standpoint would be in the model of what you would look for.”

The teams could also have the matchup made for them in the FCS playoffs, if they both continue to win conference championships.

Byrd’s-eye view

Former McEachern High School standout Erwin Byrd was named the Big South Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Week.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound sophomore defensive back made five tackles, including a sack for a loss of 7 yards, and had the game-sealing interception in Kennesaw State’s 28-24 win last week at North Alabama.

For the season, Byrd has 25 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and two passes broken up.

Continuing the rise

KSU moved to No. 9 in the STATS Perform FCS Top 25 poll this week and remained No. 5 in the American Football Coaches Association poll.

Sam Houston State, James Madison, Montana State, North Dakota State and Eastern Washington had the top five spots in the STATS Poll, followed by Villanova, Montana and East Tennessee State. UC Davis was No. 10.

Sam Houston State, James Madison, Montana State and North Dakota State topped the coaches’ poll.

Monmouth received votes for the STATS poll and were ranked 24th by the coaches.

On the air

Saturday’s game is scheduled for 1 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN+ and heard on the KSU Owls app. The matchup is also the Big South Game of the week and will be available on four stations in the Southeast: WYCW (Greenville, South Carolina) CW, WMYT (Charlotte, North Carolina), WHDF (Huntsville, Alabama) and WCBD (Charleston, South Carolina).

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