CHARLESTON — There wasn't much uncertainty about the Eastern Illinois football team's 2018 schedule.
It was already announced the Panthers would face Arkansas to open the season, and EIU worked out a four-year agreement with Indiana State a while back. The Panthers played the first game against the Sycamores this past fall in that four-year agreement. The longest running rivalry game between EIU and Illinois State is a guarantee every season, so the Panthers' three non-conference opponents were already determined.
It was just a matter of how the Ohio Valley Conference schedule played out. The OVC opponents were moved up a week compared to last season with Southeast Missouri State becoming the season-finale instead of the conference opener, like this past season.
EIU coach Kim Dameron was happy with how the schedule played out, especially since he gets to return to the program he played for, Arkansas. It's the first time EIU will play the Razorbacks.
"We are excited about getting an SEC team on the schedule. We had to move some things around, but basically, it's the same schedule we normally play," Dameron said. "I am excited to go back to Fayetteville. It will be a great atmosphere."
EIU opens the season at Arkansas on Sept. 1 and then travels to Illinois State on Sept. 8. The Panthers' home opener is against Indiana State on Sept. 15.
The Panthers' OVC opener is Sept. 22 at home against Tennessee State for Family Weekend, and then EIU is on the road against Tennessee Tech on Sept. 29. Mattoon hosts Murray State on Oct. 6 for the Hall of Fame game and then travels to Jacksonville State on Oct. 13. EIU's homecoming game is against UT Martin on Oct. 20 and then the Panthers travel to Eastern Kentucky on Oct. 27.
EIU has an open week on Nov. 3 and then hosts Austin Peay on Nov. 10. The Panthers close the regular season at Southeast Missouri State on Nov. 17.
Dameron said he doesn't really worry about how the OVC schedule is laid out.
"It's always tough, so it doesn't really matter. We have to play everybody. Whether it's a week earlier or a week later, everything is moved up a week and once we get to conference, it's one at a time and it doesn't matter who is the next one," Dameron said. "It's will be a conference opponent and we will be ready to go every week like any league. We will try and see who can knock off Jacksonville State this year."
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EIU is coming off a 6-5 record, the program's third straight season with a winning record.
It will be Dameron's fifth season as EIU's head coach, and he will be working in an entirely different offense. Scott Parr was hired to bring in the Air Raid offense. The Panthers get to work out for the first time as a team in the offense when spring practice begins on Tuesday, March 20. The annual Blue-White Spring Game is set for Saturday, April 21 at O'Brien Field with the start time to be announced.
"We are excited about a lot of things with us changing, especially offensively," Dameron said. "It will be interesting to see how it stacks up and see how it is executed against some really good opponents. There's not a game on our schedule that we can't win, and there's not a game where we can't get beat. It's something we look forward to."