"We're really excited to be in this position," Hope said. "But I can say that we're not surprised."
Eastern (9-2), ranked ninth in the final Sports Network FCS poll, has 21 seniors, 15 of whom are starters, and Hope, who was named the winner of the OVC's Roy Kidd Coach of the Year award Tuesday, said they have "paid one heck of a price the last few years" to get to this point.
"I think football's changed a lot in the last 20 years," he said. "I think they pay a much greater price than what we did (as players), and if you don't have fun playing the game, then why do it?"
Still, Hope said the Colonels know what they're up against in No. 6 Richmond (9-2), the Colonial Athletic Conference champion.
"We know were playing a great football team," Hope said. "It's certainly the best football team that we've played in a while."
Richmond has won six straight games with a run-based offense that averages 36.5 points and 245 rushing yards per game behind senior running back Tim Hightower, who has 1,561 yards and seven touchdowns.
Spiders 'give your defense a lot to prepare for'
But Hope said the Spiders aren't all about basic run plays.
"They give your defense a lot to prepare for, and you'd better line up and be sound," he said.
The Spiders seldom make mistakes. They have committed only 14 turnovers this season, which could cancel out one of Eastern's greatest assets: its plus-22 turnover margin.
"One of the keys to our success this year has been our turnover margin, and they do great job of securing the football," Hope said.
But he said Eastern has done an exemplary job of creating turnovers with its defense, too.
"I think we're pretty talented in the secondary ... and I think there are guys that are excited about going after the football," he said.
Hope said he would like to be playing Saturday's game in Richmond, Ky., but he said the Colonels won't spend any time fretting over the NCAA's decision to send them out of town for the holiday weekend.
"It didn't work out that way, but we're OK with that. We've played well on the road," he said, citing strong performances at Jacksonville State and Eastern Illinois. "Sometimes I think we play better on the road."
Hope was part of the first of Eastern's two national championship teams in 1979, but he said he probably won't talk about that much this week, even though this team has no postseason experience.
"Nineteen seventy-nine, in a lot of ways, doesn't really equate to 2007," he said. "What we've done a great job of in 2007 is being able to stay focused on one game at a time. We never even looked to see who was ranked ahead of us until the other day, because if we didn't beat Austin Peay or Tennessee Tech (in the last two regular-season games), it didn't matter."