COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Presbyterian coach Harold Nichols said the good thing about winning is it makes the next game even more important. His Blue Hose might be playing the most important game of the season against Liberty on Saturday.
After struggling for years to adjust to the move to the Football Championship Subdivision, Presbyterian could take a big step toward a playoff berth win a win over the Flames.
"If you win, you raise the stakes of the next game," Nichols said.
In other games Saturday involving South Carolina's FCS teams South Carolina State hosts Savannah State; Coastal Carolina is at Gardner-Webb; Charleston Southern travels to Monmouth; Furman is at VMI; and The Citadel travels to Mercer.
In Clinton, Presbyterian (5-3, 2-1 Big South) has a big game coincide with senior day as the Blue Hose take on Liberty (5-3, 1-0).
Presbyterian has lost to just one FCS team this year. But the defeat against Coastal Carolina likely will keep the Blue Hose from winning the Big South's automatic playoff bid. Still, a victory over Liberty, widely considered the second-best team in the league, would keep the Blue Hose in line for a 4-1 conference record in one of the toughest FCS conferences.
"We've had some pretty good wins this year. Each time you win the next game comes with highest stakes," Nichols said.
The Blue Hose have struggled since joining the Big South in 2009. Their best record in the league was 3-3 in 2011. That was the only season other than this year they won more than one Big South game.
"They are faster and stronger and quicker than they have been in the three years I've been in this league," Liberty coach Turner Gill said of Presbyterian. "I see them playing with confidence — the facts are the facts — they've beaten two top 25 teams."
In Orangeburg, South Carolina State (5-3, 3-1 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) is back in the league race and will have to beat Savannah State (0-8, 0-5) to stay there.
Bulldogs coach Buddy Pough doesn't sound like a league-leading coach.
"It's pretty obvious that we've got to play better offensively. I don't know where to start there. There are so many areas we need to improve on," Pough said. "We can't throw it. We can't run it. We don't block good enough. We don't catch good enough. We don't run good enough routes."
Defense is pulling South Carolina State through, anchored by tackle Javon Hargrave. The 6-foot-2, 295-pound lineman had 11 tackles, six sacks and forced two fumbles in last week's 20-14 win over Bethune-Cookman.
"It's awfully, awfully enjoyable to watch him do those things to people," Pough said. "You see a look of disbelief on their faces in some cases because he's done something they think a guy that size can't do."
The MEAC is a mess with six teams tied at the top with one loss. Pough said his team must win out to have a chance to share a title.
"It's win or go home for all of us. It's just fun having five other cats in there suffering or being happy," Pough said.
In Boiling Springs, North Carolina, Coastal Carolina (8-0, 2-0 Big South) won't be focused on anything but the game at Gardner-Webb (4-4, 0-1).
The Chanticleers are ranked No. 2 in The Sports Network media poll and No. 3 in the FCS coaches poll, but coach Joe Moglia said not one of his players or coaches are talking FCS playoffs, byes or seedings.
"You spend any time thinking about anything else that you don't have any control over, you take away time and energy from what you can impact right now," Moglia said.
A streak is going to end Saturday. Gardner-Webb has won all four of its home games this season, while Coastal Carolina is 5-0 on the road against the Runnin' Bulldogs.
Coastal Carolina under Moglia is on an impressive run. The Chanticleers have won 26 of their last 29 games against FCS teams.
In West Long Branch, New Jersey, Charleston Southern (5-3, 0-2 Big South) hopes to not be a part of history heading to Monmouth (5-2, 0-1).
The Haws are playing their first home Big South game, and Buccaneers coach Jamey Chadwell would like to leave without being a part of their first league win.
"We definitely don't want to be in the record books," Chadwell said.
It will be a whole new experience for Charleston Southern. The Buccaneers have never been to Monmouth and are depending on help to figure out where to stay and where to eat. Temperatures at kickoff Saturday are expected to be in the un-Lowcountry like low 50s with rain.
"We've not played in anything like that for a while," Chadwell said.
In Macon, Georgia, The Citadel (2-6, 0-3 Southern Conference) is still looking for its first league win at Mercer (5-4, 1-4).
The Bulldogs are trying to fight a sudden spate of turnovers. They lost three fumbles, including one where it looked like fullback Isiaha Smith was on his way to a long touchdown run when a Western Carolina defender caught him and poked the ball out.
"A frustrating thing for a freshman. He's got to learn to carry that ball high and tight," Citadel coach Mike Houston said.
The Bulldogs have been in each of their SoCon games except one this season, but have made a critical mistake at a bad time. "It's frustrating because we are so close," Houston said,
In Lexington, Virginia, Furman (2-6, 1-2 SoCon) will renew a long rivalry with VMI (1-8, 0-4).
The Paladins and the Keydets played every year as SoCon rivals from 1970 to 2002 before VMI left the league. They are back to playing each other now that the Keydets have returned.
Furman has lost six games in a row, the longest losing streak since 1972.
"We're in some situations right now where we're really having to work hard to improve in some areas," Furman coach Bruce Fowler said. "We've just have been not real consistent in our execution and that's the thing it comes down to in most games."
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