CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah will have at least one more game at Eccles Coliseum this season and a first-round playoff bye to boot.
The T-Birds (9-2) earned the No. 8 overall seed in the FCS playoffs and will face the winner of fellow Big Sky Conference co-champion Weber State (9-2) and Western Illinois (8-3) in the second round, as the 24-team bracket was unveiled Sunday morning.
It’s the first time SUU will host a playoff game and the first time it has received a bye in the playoffs, as the top eight seeds have a bye in the first round.
Weber State will host Western Illinois this Saturday at 2 p.m. MST at Stewart Stadium. SUU will host the winner of that game on Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. Both games will be televised on ESPN3.
"We haven’t won a playoff game in the history of our program, so it’s a big moment for our city, our community," Southern Utah coach Demario Warren said. The T-Birds have gone 14-1 at home over the past three years, including 5-0 in Cedar City this season. "I think we’ve earned it on the field, and we get one more chance to play on this football field in front of our families, our home crowd. It’s going to be a special night on Dec. 2."
The T-Birds beat the Wildcats in Ogden 32-16 earlier this year, giving SUU the tiebreaker over Weber State in the Big Sky standings — both teams finished with 7-1 conference marks — and the league's automatic NCAA playoff bid.
Southern Utah is also familiar with Western Illinois, as the team watched tape this week on the Fighting Leathernecks, who played Big Sky foe Northern Arizona earlier this season, beating the Lumberjacks 38-20. The T-Birds beat Northern Arizona 48-20 in the regular-season finale this past week.
“I think it’s going to be a great matchup. It will be a fun game to watch and see how both those teams play," SUU tight end Logan Parker said. "I’m guessing it’s going to be a close game. We’re just grateful for the position that we landed in the tournament, and we’ll get prepared either way."
The T-Birds went 3-0 against teams that made this year's field, including the wins over Weber State and Northern Arizona, as well as Northern Iowa.
As the No. 8 seed, Southern Utah is in the same bracket as No. 1 seed James Madison (11-0), the defending FCS national champion and winner of 23 straight games. The T-Birds could meet the top-ranked team in the quarterfinals if SUU wins its first game and James Madison also advances.
Other seeded teams include No. 2 North Dakota State, No. 3 Jacksonville State, No. 4 Central Arkansas, No. 5 South Dakota State, No. 6 Sam Houston State and No. 7 Wofford.
“Winning a Big Sky championship is fantastic, but being able to consistently get to the next level, (to) the playoffs and to be able to challenge ourselves against great teams throughout the nation, I feel like we have to take it a step further in our focus, our determination,” Parker said.
Northern Arizona was the other Big Sky team to make the playoffs. The Lumberjacks will host Pioneer League champion San Diego in the first round this Saturday.
It's the third playoff appearance for Southern Utah. The T-Birds lost at Sam Houston State in both 2013 and 2015 in their only other postseason games.
“This will be a little bit different because we do have a bye, so we’re dealing with some new elements," Warren said. “We have a little more expectations this year, and we want to do the best job we can to be the last team standing. We’ve got a great opportunity to do that. We’ll find out real quick what our team’s made of, and it will be exciting to see how our guys respond."