Fans of UNC Charlotte athletics, rejoice. The football team is coming soon after a 60-plus year wait, and, better yet, the non-conference schedule has finally been released on Charlotte49ers.com after months of anticipation.
Taking a look at the schedule, I think the time is right for the 49ers to make some noise for the first time since leaving Conference USA.
For the first time in years, the 49ers won’t begin the season by making a mockery of coach Bobby Lutz’s former team, Pfeiffer. Instead, Johnson C. Smith makes the exhaustively long trip down North Tryon St. and on to University City Boulevard for a grand total of about a 20- or 30-minute ride.
Considering the state of the economy, they could cut costs by paying $1.50 and riding the No. 11 bus to UNCC and back.
The following week, UNC Asheville returns to Halton Arena as they’ve done the past few years. A few days later, the Green and Gold will participate in the Preseason NIT, taking on Elon in the first round. Provided the 49ers defeat one opponent from the Tar Heel State, they'll face another in Duke the next day.
Charlotte has lacked national media coverage lately, so the game against Elon on Nov. 16 is a must-win. Even playing against Duke will bring in some much-needed revenue to compensate for budget cuts.
December provides more opportunities to defeat regional opponents, such as East Carolina (in Charlotte), former conference rival Louisville on the road, Gardner-Webb, Winthrop, and Old Dominion.
Before conference play begins, the 49ers look to upset two major conference opponents: Georgia Tech comes to Halton Arena on Jan. 2, and Charlotte travels to Knoxville, Tenn. to play the Volunteers on Jan. 6.
These two games are the most crucial of the schedule. Wins against either team could spark the momentum needed to tear through an always difficult Atlantic-10 conference.
Overall, I think this Charlotte team can surprise the critics. Three starters from last season return, including senior Ian Anderson (fifth last year in three-pointers made in the A-10) and junior An’Juan Wilderness, the fan-favorite starting point guard.
Also, after transferring from Boston College and becoming eligible, junior Shamari Spears will be a great addition at the forward position.
After having the worst year of the Lutz era last season, the 49ers have a large chip on their shoulder and, no doubt, an intense desire to win. I expect to see this team play as hard as they did in 2004, the year of Brendan Plavich’s miraculous game-winner at the buzzer against Indiana and the last occurrence of a conference championship.
While the 49ers are not expected to make their first Final Four since 1977, it should be another exciting year for Charlotte basketball.