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MEAC showdown is offense versus defense

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - We usually have to decifer coach speak - that magical language of the game's mentors.

Like when a coach tries to tell us that every game is as big as any other. You know, that this week's potential blowout of the last-place team is as big as last week's game against the first-place club.

Buddy Pough is a little more direct. South Carolina State's veteran coach, who has built the Bulldogs into the pre-eminent power in the MEAC, knows there is a new threat to the throne, and he hopes his players view Saturday's home game in Orangeburg against upstart Bethune-Cookman with more luster than other games.

"You look at these guys on film and you see you better get yourself ready to go," Pough said, "or, if not, they're going to beat the starch out of you. I think you do have a little different sense of preparation for a week like this. But, at the same time, you have to be relaxed enough and confident enough in your ability that you just don't, quote, go totally off the deep end."

South Carolina State not winning the MEAC title would be just that. The Bulldogs entered the season as big a favorite to repeat as conference champs as any FCS program in its conference. They had perfect MEAC records in both 2008 and '09 and have pushed their conference winning streak to 21 this season. In fact, no conference team has come with single digits of the Bulldogs in the last 13 games.

But South Carolina State's 10th-ranked squad isn't in first place in the MEAC. In fact, the Bulldogs (4-1, 2-0) don't even sit in second place. That Hampton is 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the MEAC isn't surprising. That Bethune- Cookman is 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the MEAC, however, has been one of the surprising stories in all of the FCS.

Bethune-Cookman is 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the MEAC.
Bethune-Cookman was 1-4 at this point last season, including a three-touchdown loss to South Carolina State. But under first-year coach Brian Jenkins, they are one of only four unbeaten teams in the FCS, and this week they cracked The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 at No. 23 - their first ranking since finishing 15th at the end of a memorable 2003 season.

"I do believe that some things that they experienced last year - highs and lows - have carried over to help us this year," said the 39-year-old Jenkins. "I think they experienced the bitter taste of defeat early (an 0-4 start) ... and the way they finished (5-2 for a 5-6 record), my hat's off to Coach (Alvin) Wyatt for the way he was able to corral his ballclub to finish. It carried over and kind of helped us because once you get that feeling, you want to keep it."

Saturday's game will answer two particularly interesting questions. One is, just how for real is Bethune-Cookman?

An upset of South Carolina State would answer any doubt. Until that happens, however, Bethune-Cookman can't escape that it has played a soft early schedule.

Norfolk State was a quality opponent, but all five of the Wildcats' opponents have losing records and are a combined 5-22. The Wildcats have played all but one game at home in Daytona Beach, Fla. (where there must be distractions, eh?).

The other big question is, what unit is more prepared for this showdown, Bethune-Cookman's offense or South Carolina State's defense?

Unbeaten ... or winless
Remaining unbeaten teams in the FCS:
Delaware (CAA), 6-0
Jacksonville State (OVC), 6-0
Appalachian State (SoCon), 5-0
Bethune-Cookman (MEAC), 5-0

Remaining winless teams in the FCS:
Bucknell (Patriot), 0-5
Delaware State (MEAC), 0-5
Lafayette (Patriot), 0-5
Presbyterian (Big South), 0-5
Eastern Illinois (OVC), 0-6
Mississippi Valley State (SWAC), 0-6
North Carolina AT&T (MEAC), 0-6
Savannah State (Independent), 0-6
Valparaiso (PFL), 0-6
The Wildcats averaged only 15.8 points per game last season, when Wyatt used a run-oriented offense. This season, they have switched to the spread under Jenkins and have rung up a 49.8-point average to lead the FCS. Matthew Johnson, who's been outstanding as a runner and passer, might be the nation's most improved quarterback, and the Wildcats have a nation's best plus-12 turnover margin.

South Carolina State, however, leads the FCS in total defense (156.2 yards per game) as well as the MEAC in scoring defense (14.8 ppg). The Bulldogs feature one of the nation's top linebacking corps with David Erby, Julius Wilkerson, Marshall McFadden and Donovan Richard.

"Not only are they fast about what they're doing and the way they do it, but they're also fast in their process," Pough said of Bethune-Cookman.

"The key there is not to panic, it's to kind of understand that the game is a four-quarter game. You just hope that you can eventually figure how to get them stopped."

"All I can say is wow! Wow!" Jenkins remarked about the SCS defense. "I look at them on film and I can't tell if it's South Carolina State or the South Carolina Gamecocks. Because they're that good."

OK, there's some coach speak after all.

PLAYOFF BID FOR THE PFL?

The non-scholarship Pioneer Football League desperately wanted one of the two automatic bids to the FCS playoffs that went to the Big South and Northeast conferences this year.

Ironically, the PFL might have a playoff qualifier for the first time.

Dayton and Jacksonville are both 5-1 overall and 3-0 in league play, with five remaining games. The schedules suggest each may run the table to reach 10-1. They don't play each other either because teams in the 10-team PFL face only eight of nine possible opponents, and Dayton and Jacksonville aren't matched together this season.

To get into the 20-team playoffs, a PFL team would have to gain one of the 10 at-large bids. It would seem the NCAA might take either Dayton or Jacksonville if each is 10-1, but not both considering their strength of schedules.

Dayton features quarterback Steve Valentino, a candidate for the Walter Payton Award, and safety James Vercammen, who's up for the Buck Buchanan Award. Both awards are sponsored by Fathead.com.

The Flyers own a win over Robert Morris, which beat Liberty, but they have a messy loss to Duquesne.

Jacksonville would seem to be a slightly stronger candidate at this point, with a win at Old Dominion and a loss only to No. 1 Appalachian State (by a 45-14 score, however). The Dolphins feature quarterback Josh McGregor, whose 18 touchdown passes lead the FCS, running back Rudell Small and wide receiver Josh Philpart.

Neither team has to face an opponent whose record is better than 3-3. Dayton must go to disappointing Butler, which shared the PFL title with Dayton last season, and hosts Drake. Jacksonville, which beat Drake last Saturday, has a visit to Butler that looms as its toughest remaining game.

MIDSEASON AWARDS

A lot can change in the second half of the season, but I was asked on air this week about some front-runners for the Walter Payton (FCS outstanding player) and Buck Buchanan (FCS outstanding defensive player) awards.

Without trying to influence our many voters, my midseason top three for each award:

Payton Award- 1. Appalachian State junior quarterback DeAndre Presley, 2. Elon senior quarterback Scott Riddle, 3. Eastern Washington tailback Taiwan Jones

Buchanan Award- 1. Massachusetts junior linebacker Tyler Holmes, 2. Eastern Washington senior linebacker J.C. Sherritt, 3. Hampton senior defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis

The Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year) doesn't have a Watch List like the Payton and Buchanan awards. Still, I'll chime in with my midseason top three:

Robinson Award- 1. Tony Samuel, Southeast Missouri State, 2. K.C. Keeler, Delaware, 3. Mark Hendrickson, Western Illinois (with additional acknowledgement to Bethune-Cookman's Brian Jenkins and to Grambling State's Rod Broadway)

All three awards are presented by The Sports Network and sponsored by Fathead.com.

FCS PLAYOFF PROJECTION ...

In the FCS Huddle has been projecting the potential FCS playoff field since the preseason. The projections are a long-range look at the season - not based off current records or rankings - and can be found here.

THIS, THAT AND THE OTHER

Coach Jack Crowe of No. 3 Jacksonville State has an interesting take on his squad, which is 6-0. He still thinks the Gamecocks, who have faced injury issues, have yet to establish their team identity. "It will be defined in November," he said. "I think it will be obvious what we're good at and who the players are that are going to make plays. We'll know exactly what our true character is. We know we can win in the fourth quarter, and I guess that goes a long way. But as far as running, passing, defending the run, defending the pass, I don't how you define us really." ... No. 13 Cal Poly's marathon roadswing will come to end on Saturday with a terrific Great West Conference matchup at Southern Utah. The Mustangs, 4-2 overall and 2-2 on the trip, are playing five straight road games for the first time. The trip started with Texas State, McNeese State, Fresno State and Old Dominion, and is covering 13,901 miles ... Five of the top seven scoring defenses in the FCS are from CAA Football. Delaware is No. 1 in allowing only 6.5 points per game. James Madison is second (10.4), Villanova fifth (15.8), New Hampshire sixth (15.8) and William & Mary is tied for seventh (16.0) ... Samford senior running back Chris Evans needs to average 90 rushing yards over his final five games to reach 1,000 yards for the fourth straight season. On Saturday, he faces a Furman squad that is ranked last in the Southern Conference in rushing defense ... Speaking of Furman, the Paladins have scored in all 20 of their trips to the red zone - 15 for touchdowns and five for field goals ... Tough year for top Ivy League quarterbacks. Brown's Kyle Newhall-Caballero, who was the All- Ivy first-team quarterback last year, has been lost for the remainder of the season with a broken wrist. Harvard's Collier Winters, who was the All-Ivy second-team quarterback last season, is not playing because of a torn adductor muscle and labrum suffered in the preseason ... Junior Matt Bevins needs two field goals to tie Liberty's school record of 43 ... No. 9 Montana State heads to Northern Arizona with a 5-1 record that is its best since the Bobcats opened the 1978 with seven straight wins under Sonny Lubick. Bobcats starting quarterback Denarius McGhee is hobbled by a left ankle sprain. Meanwhile, Northern Arizona quarterback Michael Herrick says he's ready to go after injuring his left non-throwing elbow against Eastern Washington last Saturday ... Arkansas-Pine Bluff redshirt freshman linebacker Jerryan Harris leads the SWAC and is in the Top 10 nationally with 11.4 tackles per game ... Joe Walton is coming off his 100th career victory as the only head coach in Robert Morris history. The Colonials (5-1, 4-0) are in first place in the Northeast Conference, a half-game ahead of defending champion Central Connecticut State (4-2, 3-0) ... Northern Iowa has a terrific running back in Carlos Anderson, but quarterback Tirrell Rennie poses big problems, too. The junior transfer from Ellsworth Community College has rushed for at least 100 yards in three of the Panthers' five games ... Lafayette is 0-5, but quarterback Ryan O'Neil is leading the Patriot League in passing yards per game (227.8) and passing efficiency (137.6) ... Central Arkansas quarterbacks coach Nathan Brown will be on the opposing sideline on Saturday when Stephen F. Austin senior quarterback Jeremy Moses tries to rack up 319 yards of total offense and surpass Brown's Southland Conference career record of 10,993 yards at Central Arkansas ... Another Southland school, McNeese State, heads to LSU for a night game Saturday. Gulp.

JUST THE PICKS

Last Week's Record: 42-15 (.737)

Season Record: 312-94 (.768)

Saturday, Oct. 16

X-projected winner

Albany (3-2, 1-1 NEC) at X-Robert Morris (5-1, 4-0), noon

Sacred Heart (1-5, 0-4 NEC) at X-Duquesne (3-3, 1-2), noon

San Diego (1-5, 1-2 PFL) at X-Marist (2-3, 1-2), noon

Fordham (2-4) at X-Yale (3-1), noon

X-No. 6 Villanova (3-2, 1-1 CAA) at Maine (2-4, 1-2), noon

Bryant (4-2, 1-2 NEC) at X-Monmouth (1-4, 1-1), noon

Columbia (3-1, 1-0 Ivy) at X-No. 25 Penn (3-1, 1-0), noon

Lehigh (3-2) at X-Harvard (3-1), noon

X-Colgate (3-2) at Cornell (1-3), 12:30 p.m.

Bucknell (0-5, 0-0 Patriot) at X-Georgetown (3-3, 2-1), 1 p.m.

North Carolina Central (2-3) at X-Georgia State (4-2), 1 p.m.

X-Brown (2-2, 1-0 Ivy) at Princeton (1-3, 0-1), 1 p.m.

X-Dayton (5-1, 3-0 PFL) at Butler (3-3, 1-2), 1 p.m.

Norfolk State (2-3, 1-2 MEAC) at X-Hampton (4-1, 3-0), 1 p.m.

X-Stony Brook (2-3) at Lafayette (0-5), 1 p.m.

Davidson (1-4, 1-2 PFL) at X-Morehead State (2-3, 1-1), 1 p.m.

X-Drake (3-3, 2-1 PFL) at Campbell (2-3, 1-1), 1 p.m.

X-North Carolina A&T (0-6, 0-3 MEAC) at Delaware State (0-5, 0-3), 1 p.m.

X-No. 19 Liberty (4-2, 1-0 Big South) at VMI (2-3, 1-1), 1:30 p.m.

No. 23 Bethune-Cookman (5-0, 3-0 MEAC) at X-No. 10 South Carolina State (4-1, 2-0), 1:30 p.m.

X-Gardner-Webb (2-3, 0-0 Big South) at Charleston Southern (2-3, 0-1), 1:30 p.m.

X-Holy Cross (3-3) at Dartmouth (2-2), 1:30 p.m.

Western Carolina (2-4, 1-2 SoCon) at X-No. 14 Wofford (4-1, 2-0), 1:30 p.m.

X-Wagner (3-2, 1-1 NEC) at St. Francis, Pa. (1-4, 1-2), 2 p.m.

X-Coastal Carolina (1-4, 0-0 Big South) at Presbyterian (0-5, 0-1), 2 p.m.

X-Furman (3-2, 1-1 SoCon) at Samford (3-3, 1-2), 2 p.m.

X-Jacksonville (5-1, 3-0 PFL) at Valparaiso (0-6, 0-3), 2 p.m.

X-Southeastern Louisiana (2-3, 1-0 Southland) at Sam Houston State (3-2, 1-0), 3 p.m.

South Dakota State (1-4, 1-2 MVFC) at X-No. 17 Southern Illinois (3-3, 2-1), 3 p.m.

Lincoln, Mo. (1-5), at X-Prairie View A&M (3-3), 3 p.m.

X-Eastern Kentucky (2-3, 1-0 OVC) at UT Martin (2-4, 2-2), 3 p.m.

Savannah State (0-6) at X-Florida A&M (2-3), 3 p.m.

No. 15 North Dakota State (4-2, 1-2 MVFC) at X-Illinois State (3-3, 2-2), 3 p.m.

Central Arkansas (3-2, 0-1 Southland) at X-No. 5 Stephen F. Austin (4-1, 1-0), 3 p.m.

Alcorn State (3-2, 2-1 SWAC) at X-Grambling State (4-1, 4-0), 3 p.m.

No. 16 New Hampshire (3-3, 1-2 CAA) at X-No. 7 James Madison (4-1, 1-1), 3:30 p.m.

Rhode Island (2-3, 1-1 CAA) at X-No. 2 Delaware (6-0, 3-0), 3:30 p.m.

No. 20 Richmond (2-3, 0-2 CAA) at X-No. 8 Massachusetts (4-1, 2-0), 3:30 p.m.

X-No. 12 Eastern Washington (4-2, 3-1 Big Sky) at Northern Colorado (2-4, 1-3), 3:35 p.m.

Tennessee State (3-3, 0-2 OVC) at X-No. 3 Jacksonville State (6-0, 3-0 OVC), 4 p.m.

Missouri State (2-3, 1-1 MVFC) at X-Indiana State (3-2, 1-1), 4:05 p.m.

No. 13 Cal Poly (4-2, 0-0 Big West) at X-Southern Utah (2-4, 1-0), 5 p.m.

X-No. 9 Montana State (5-1, 3-0 Big Sky) at Northern Arizona (3-2, 1-1), 5:05 p.m.

X-No. 22 Northern Iowa (2-3) at South Dakota (3-3), 5:05 p.m.

X-Weber State (2-3, 1-2 Big Sky) at Idaho State (1-5, 0-4), 5:35 p.m.

No. 21 Georgia Southern (3-2, 1-1 SoCon) at X-Chattanooga (3-2, 2-1), 6 p.m.

The Citadel (2-4, 0-3 SoCon) at X-No. 1 Appalachian State (5-0, 3-0), 6 p.m.

X-Alabama A&M (2-4, 1-3 SWAC) at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-3, 1-2), 7 p.m.

X-No. 18 Southeast Missouri State (5-1, 4-0 OVC) at Austin Peay (2-3, 1-1), 7 p.m.

Nicholls State (1-4, 0-1 Southland) at X-Texas State (3-2, 0-1), 7 p.m.

Southern (2-3, 1-2 SWAC) at X-Jackson State (4-1, 2-1), 7 p.m.

Youngstown State (3-3, 1-2 MVFC) at X-Western Illinois (4-2, 2-1), 7 p.m.

X-South Alabama (5-0) at Lamar (3-3), 7 p.m.

Eastern Illinois (0-6, 0-4 OVC) at X-Tennessee Tech (2-4, 1-2), 8 p.m.

McNeese State (2-3) at X-LSU (6-0), 8 p.m.

X-No. 11 Montana (4-2, 2-1 Big Sky) at Portland State (2-3, 1-1), 8:05 p.m.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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