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Football Media Day Credit: Ilana Wurman , Ilana Wurman, Ilana Wurman

Buckle your seatbelts, ladies and gents, the fall sports season is upon us. Although the do-or-die Ivy League matchups are still weeks away, in the meantime Penn’s eight fall teams are readying for their slate of nonconference foes. Our sports editors discuss what games outside of Ancient Eight play are must-see, must-win affairs for the Quakers.

Sports Editor Colin Henderson: To me, there’s no doubt about it — it’s gotta be Penn football’s season opener on the road against Lehigh. I know, I know, I admit that I’m kind of picking the low-hanging fruit here. After all, this is one of Penn’s two marquee sports programs (and the clear fall season headliner). And this is the debut for longtime assistant-turned-head coach Ray Priore.

Plus, as a native of the Lehigh Valley, I’m just excited that some Penn athletes and fans are going to experience what my old stomping grounds have to offer.

But my excitement for this upcoming matchup goes beyond this surface-level hype. This year, wins might be tough to come by for the Quakers, and with a brand new coaching staff and team philosophy, every win should be cherished.

This matchup against the Mountain Hawks, who went a paltry (poultry?) 3-8 last season, is a winnable one for the Red and Blue. But in the three weeks that follow the Lehigh jaunt, Penn is set to face three very tough opponents in Villanova, Fordham and Dartmouth. Quite simply, if Penn loses its opening matchup, the team could very easily find itself sitting on a winless record through four games, giving its opener extra importance.

Sports Editor Holden McGinnis: Personally, I’m looking forward to men’s soccer’s early season games against Washington and American. Coach Rudy Fuller always schedules a tough nonconference set for the team and this year is no exception. The Quakers took on both of these teams last season and came away winless, but they were just a few late goals away from tallying better results in both games.

This season, the early nonconference opponents will serve as a test for a team that graduated a stellar senior class in 2015. Penn’s roster is looking relatively young overall, and while its new recruiting class garnered national attention, it’s never safe to bet on freshmen immediately boosting a collegiate squad.

Best of all, it’s a great chance for Penn soccer fans to see some excellent play at Rhodes Field in the home opener. Washington is ranked No. 10 in the NSCAA preseason poll and will be looking to improve on its short NCAA tournament run last season. Penn may not have the talent to keep up with the Huskies, but if last season is any indication, the Quakers will at least make it an interesting game.

Associate Sports Editor Tom Nowlan: I’m gonna have to go with field hockey’s earliest-possible early-season matchup: its Sept. 4 season opener versus Liberty. Last year, the Quakers’ matchup with the Flames was in many ways a microcosm of Penn’s season as a whole: The Red and Blue blew a 2-1 halftime lead en route to a disappointing 3-2 home loss.

That game was one of the Quakers’ five one-goal defeats in 2014. Seemingly every week, Penn seemed to be right on the cusp of victory, only to walk away instead with a souring loss. Though Coach Fink’s team ended with an unimpressive 8-9 overall record, anyone who watched the squad play knew that the numbers didn’t accurately represent the team’s talent.

So, in this season’s first game, the Red and Blue, powered by the returning offensive stars Alexa Hoover and Elizabeth Hitti, will look to start their season off on the right note. This year’s game will feature an added challenge, as the Red and Blue must make the trek to Lynchburg, Va., to face Liberty in unfamiliar territory.

And hopefully for the Quakers, 2015 will be a year of pleasant surprises rather than constant frustrations.

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