Sports fans in Maine are fortunate to have plenty of teams to watch in various different sports.
Statewide, there a high school and small-college teams playing — usually accessible by a short drive.
The folks in southern Maine are blessed with three professional teams. They include the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League, the Eastern League’s Portland Sea Dogs, the Class AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, and the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League.
When it comes to football, the University of Maine is the top dog.
It is among only six football programs in the state and it is the only one that plays at the Division I level.
The top Division I level is the Football Bowl Subdivision, which is composed of most of the largest schools in the nation. It includes the likes of Louisiana State, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Florida, which are playing on national TV in large stadiums, some of which hold more than 100,000 fans.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears compete in the Football Championship Subdivision, which is the second highest among the NCAA classifications. Most of the schools are smaller Division I institutions and they may award a maximum of 63 scholarship equivalencies — compared to 85 for the FBS programs.
Many Maine sports fans, even those who claim to love to watch the game, may underestimate how good the football is being played on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium in Orono.
To make a few generalizations about FCS football, the players are often a little shorter, smaller or slower than many of their FBS counterparts. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions.
Anyone not familiar with UMaine’s level of play need only look at National Football League rosters to see some former FCS stars.
This season, the Black Bears have six former players in “The League.” They include Enfield native Matt Mulligan (St. Louis Rams), Mike DeVito (New York Jets), Javon Belcher (Kansas City Chiefs), Lofa Tatupu (Atlanta Falcons, injured), Montell Owens (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Jerron McMillian (Green Bay Packers).
UMaine has achieved tremendous success in producing NFL players, but it is one of only 121 FCS programs, many of which have former players competing on Sundays. There are 29 Colonial Athletic Association products alone in the NFL.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Victor Cruz, the wide receiver who helped the New York Giants win the Super Bowl in 2012. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and Broncos safety Mike Adams played at Delaware, which competes with UMaine in the CAA.
So, too, did New Orleans receiver Marques Colston and Saints tackle Jermon Bushrod, Giants safety James Ihedigbo (Massachusetts), New Hampshire safety Corey Graham and a host of others.
Most of those guys played against UMaine, at Alfond Stadium.
The point is, the UMaine Black Bears play outstanding football at a high level. It is a program that consistently churns out players who move on to the NFL.
This week, UMaine is ranked No. 23 in both national FCS polls. Six CAA teams also are ranked.
The Black Bears play their home opener Saturday night against the University at Albany, which is scheduled to join the CAA next season. The game is one of only five this season at Alfond Stadium.
So, if you’ve never been to a UMaine football game or haven’t attended one for a few years, check it out.
Ticket prices are — presale (before 4 p.m. Friday at the ticket office, or by midnight Friday online): chairback seats $15; bench seats, adults $10, youth and seniors $8; or on game days: $20, $15 and $10, respectively.
Groups of 20 or more can get tickets for $5 each when ordered in advance through the UMaine athletic ticket office.
There is a $6 processing fee, per transaction (not per ticket) for presale tickets, but no fee is charged for tickets purchased the day of the game.
For more information, call 207-581-2327, 1-800-756-8326 or go online to GoBlackBearstickets.com(.)
Saturday’s kickoff is set for 6 p.m.