Football Bowl Subdivision

In the FCS Huddle: Presbyterian laying groundwork for future

By Sean Shapiro, FCS Assistant

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - No matter how you look at it, Presbyterian College is a small school.

How small is it?

Division II national champion University of Minnesota-Duluth and Division III national champion University of Wisconsin-Whitewtaer both dwarf the student population at Presbyterian.

And when the Blue Hose travel to Cal to take on the Pac-12 school, it would take more than four times the student population to just fill the Golden Bears' student section.

If you want to put a number on it, Presbyterian is home to roughly 1,200 students - the smallest enrollment with a Division I program - but that's never stopped the Blue Hose from playing one of the tougher schedules in the FCS.

Last season, the Blue Hose's out-of-conference schedule included whippings by Wake Forest and Clemson, before a more tame loss to The Citadel.

"You've got to look at it as opportunities. We played Wake Forest last year for the fist time since 1947, we had the trick play that got on national television," coach Harold Nichols said. "We were the No. 1 play of the day on ESPN, so what a tremendous opportunity it was for our team to play in the venue."

The trick play Nichols is talking about involved a "bounce pass" or backwards lateral to wide receiver Derick Overholt. While the Wake Forest defense thought the play was over, Overholt hit Michael Ruff with a perfect pass for a touchdown.

That was all before a Big South schedule that saw the Blue Hose stumble to a 2-9 finish. This year, the schedule isn't any friendlier, heading to Cal the third week of the season and playing a trio of Southern Conference teams in Wofford (No. 6 last season), Furman and Georgia Southern (No. 5 last season).

"FCS teams always get criticized for playing the bigger schools, as if it's a waste of time or something. I think it's just part of the landscape for FCS football to get that kind of exposure, like we will when we head to California and play in AT&T Park (in San Francisco)," Nichols said.

The schedule has yet to pay off for the Blue Hose. Since making the jump from Division II in 2008, they've posted a 6-28 record and have won only one conference game - a 26-24 victory against Gardner-Webb last season.

In his third season, Nichols, a former Presbyterian quarterback, is looking for the compass to navigate the difficult schedule. Luckily he's getting a nice guide in the Blue Hose's first opponent, as Wofford only has 1,525 students, but is a perennial playoff participant.

"Wofford and coach (Mike) Ayers, they've done a great job. They chose to go Division I back in the early '90s. It's taken them a period for time to get to the level they're at," Nichols said. "I think they've done a great job of making the transition, the main part of it is the groundwork they've laid 10- to-15 years ago, that's a pretty good template to follow."

Nichols believes a tough schedule is an integral part of the groundwork, as games against Wake Forest not only help increase the Presbyterian budget - which it has used to improve facilities - but also help a young team get ready for the future.

Of the 63 players who traveled last season, 43 were either sophomores or freshmen - a group that is hoping to improve upon winning the first Big South game in program history last season.

Like most teams, the offense starts with the quarterback. For the Blue Hose, the signal calling will likely fall into the hands of sophomore Ryan Singer, who had playing time as a true freshman last season.

"Ryan Singer has made a lot of strides not only as a quarterback, but also as a leader and football player on our team," Nichols said.

On the defensive side of the ball, there is some senior leadership with defensive lineman Brian Davis and cornerback Justin Bethel, who both had strong games when the Blue Hose defeated Gardner-Webb last season.

Nichols admitted his team is still "10-to-15 years" behind a team like Wofford, but an upset against the Terriers to open the season couldn't hurt the Blue Hose's road ahead.

"I'm not going to set a win goal, I look at things one day, one game at a time and that's the only way I know how," Nichols said. "So right now our goal is to beat Wofford on September the 3rd."

07/15 09:32:20 ET