ORONO — The University of Massachusetts football team is heading to Alfond Stadium for the last time.

Today’s 12:30 p.m. game is important for the University of Maine. A win would keep the Black Bears (7-2, 5-1) tied for first in the Colonial Athletic Association while likely nailing down an NCAA playoff berth.

But behind the importance of the game is the nostalgia.

UMass is moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision next year and will play in the Mid-American Conference.

Maine usually plays one FBS team per year, but never in Orono. So today marks the end of a rivalry after 58 games.

“It’s always been our biggest-challenge game,” said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove of UMass, which has dominated the series, 41-15-1. “Wins over them became special.”

The defection of UMass from the CAA continues the dwindling number of New England opponents for Maine.

By 2013, when Rhode Island leaves the CAA, New Hampshire and Maine will be the only New England teams remaining in the conference.

Through the years, Maine competed against seven other New England schools in its football conference (see the accompanying list).

The Minutemen’s exodus means the loss of another rivalry, and more expensive trips out of the region.

“It’s kind of scary, that stat (about New England football),” Cosgrove said. “It’s a challenge. But that’s a conversation for another day.”

For now, Cosgrove has to be concerned with UMass, which appears better than its 5-4 record (3-3 in league play).

“A very talented football team,” Cosgrove said, referring to running back Jonathan Hernandez (99 yards rushing last week) and receiver Julian Talley (11 catches last week for 155 yards).

But UMass lost to struggling Villanova 35-17, mainly because of six turnovers, including three interceptions and a fumble by quarterback Brandon Hill.

Cosgrove suspects that UMass may try to keep the ball on the ground after Towson was so successful against the Black Bears last week — compiling 334 rushing yards in a 40-30 victory.

That Towson game had another negative result — top receiver Maurice McDonald broke his foot in the second half and is out for the season.

Leading running back Pushaun Brown, who missed last week’s game because of a thigh injury, is doubtful for today.

Maine still has quarterback Warren Smith, who is second in the league with 256 passing yards per game, and freshman tailback David Hood, who filled in for Brown with 89 rushing yards.

NOTES: Maine is in a three-way first-place tie with New Hampshire and Towson. New Hampshire will play at Towson at 3:30 p.m. today. … Athletic Director Steve Abbott announced that Maine has put in an application to host an NCAA playoff game if the Black Bears make it to the postseason.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: [email protected]

Twitter: KevinThomasPPH