A nonconference schedule is supposed to help teams prepare for league play.
In some years, that might mean a team getting its starters a few possessions and then working through the entire roster during lopsided victories.
This was not one of those years for UW-Whitewater.
Perennially an NCAA Division III national championship contender, the Warhawks are off to a 1-2 start. They hope, however, that playing in close games and learning a few early lessons will pay off in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
And the schedule certainly isn’t getting any easier.
UW-W opens WIAC play Saturday at 2 p.m. at UW-Oshkosh, ranked No. 3 in the D3football.com national poll this week.
“What are we doing well? Let’s continue to build on that. What do we need to correct? Let’s get that corrected,” Bullis said. “That’s the most important piece of the nonconference ... time of year.”
Both the Warhawks and Titans are coming off bye weeks. Oshkosh hasn’t played since a 74-7 victory over Virginia Lynchburg on Sept. 9. UW-W had last weekend off after notching its first victory of the season one week earlier at Washington-St. Louis.
Bullis said his team used the extra time to make corrections and to get healthy. It helped that the Warhawks came off a victory in which they played well in the second half.
“If you go back and look at the history of Warhawk football, our games, at halftime, are close,” Bullis said. “I said, ‘Fellas, the second half, that’s when the Warhawks have rolled in the past.’ ... It was really neat for our guys to really see that.”
If recent history is any indication, expect Saturday’s game to come down to the wire, as well. Five of the last seven meetings between the Titans and Warhawks have been decided by three points or fewer, including each of the last three.
UW-W won 17-14 at home last season when running back Drew Patterson ran in a touchdown in the final minute.
Patterson didn’t play in the Warhawks’ victory at Washington-St. Louis, opening the door for sophomore Ronny Ponick, who rushed for 190 yards and a touchdown.
Asked where the running back situation is heading into the league season, Bullis said Patterson, Ponick and Josh Ringelberg will all have roles in the running game.
“We feel extremely good about our running back situation right now,” Bullis said. “Ronny brings that physicality; he was a great wrestler in high school.
“Drew, he can make people miss but yet lower his shoulder and get the extra yard and a half. And Josh Ringelberg is a guy who can wiggle you and make people miss.”
Oshkosh has rushed for 575 total yards in its two games. It is led by senior running back Dylan Hecker and senior quarterback Brett Kasper.
“They want to establish the run game. What you’ve seen of them in the past (is what they look like this year),” Bullis said. “Defensively, (they do) a great job of mixing up the looks.”
No more dress rehearsals. And the Warhawks’ two losses to open the season just may be forgotten with another successful WIAC run.