COLUMBIA, South Carolina — With the center of Football Championship Subdivision power in South Carolina moving to the Big South Conference, it only makes sense the biggest small college game of the year in the state might be Saturday when Charleston Southern travels to Coastal Carolina.
The Buccaneers pulled off upset last year, putting a dent in the Chanticleers playoff seeding and leaving a lasting impression with a Coastal Carolina team trying to become a FCS power.
"I think they just came in and hit us in the mouth from play one and came after us and we didn't come out ready to fight," Chanticleers center Kevin Hart said. "I'm looking forward to playing them again and trying to get some revenge."
In other games Saturday involving South Carolina's FCS teams Presbyterian hosts Monmouth; South Carolina State hosts Bethune-Cookman; Wofford hosts VMI; Furman hosts Samford; and The Citadel travels to Western Carolina.
In Conway, Coastal Carolina (7-0, 1-0 Big South) hopes another undefeated season isn't derailed by Charleston Southern (5-2, 0-1).
Last year, the Buccaneers, who also hadn't lost to a FCS team before they played, won 31-26. Coastal Carolina coach Joe Moglia said that game has nothing to do with Saturday's matchup.
"There's nothing relevant about last year's game except we played poorly in all three phases of the game," Moglia said.
Charleston Southern suffered its own upset last week, losing to Presbyterian. The Buccaneers likely need a win to maintain hopes for a Big South title and a possible playoff bid. Their only other loss was a 21-20 loss at Vanderbilt, a Southeastern Conference member.
"They are a big football team with two very painful, critical losses," Moglia said. "In order to salvage the season, they are going to have to come up here and beat us."
Charleston Southern coach Jamey Chadwell is trying to get his team back on track after the 7-3 loss to Presbyterian. The Buccaneers only scored on one of three trips inside the Presbyterian 20, missing a 22-yard field goal and failing to convert a fourth-and-3 from the Blue Hose 12.
"We're getting down in the red zone, we're just having trouble punching it in," Chadwell said.
In Clinton, Presbyterian (4-3, 1-1 Big South gets to welcome Monmouth (5-1, 0-0) to the Big South.
The Hawks from West Long Branch, New Jersey, joined the league to replace Stony Brook. "Hopefully we'll put our best foot forward as the new kid on the block," Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan said.
While the Hawks are just starting Big South play, the Blue Hose are trying to stay in the conference race. A stunning win over Charleston Southern last week kept them in the thick of things.
Presbyterian coach Harold Nichols said Monmouth's 5-1 record is no fluke. The Hawks rank 12th in FCS scoring 39 points a game.
"We've got to find a way to stop them and put some points on the board," Nichols said.
In Orangeburg, South Carolina State (4-3, 2-1 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) still faces a lot of uncertainty even after a bye week as it takes on Bethune-Cookman (6-1, 3-0).
This was expected to be the biggest game of the year in the MEAC, and even with plenty of injuries to the Bulldogs, Wildcats coach Brian Jenkins doesn't think it has lost its luster.
"Anyone who knows me, knows I love a heavyweight fight. I love games like this," Jenkins said.
South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough isn't as excited. He may have to start walk-on freshman quarterback Calvin Giles-McClary. TeDarius Wiley is still recovering from an ankle sprain and backup Adrian Kollack's shoulder that was injured in the loss two weeks ago against North Carolina Central still isn't fully healed.
"You are back almost to a spring practice mode," Pough said. "You're trying to figure out what those guys can do and how they fit in your system."
But Pough said he is happy he only has to play Bethune-Cookman once and an upset would leave the MEAC with several one-loss teams during the last third of the season.
In Spartanburg, Wofford (4-3, 2-1 Southern Conference) gets to play an old foe for the first time in a long time as VMI (1-7, 0-3) comes to Gibbs Stadium.
The Terriers have won seven of the last eight against the Keydets, but they haven't played since 2005, just before VMI left for the Big South Conference.
Wofford coach Mike Ayers said it is nice to have the Keydets back, but he knows his team has to win to keep its hopes of a conference title alive. And to do that, the Terriers will lean on their defense.
"We've grown in the past three week a lot from the defensive standpoint," said Ayers, whose team allowed almost 438 yards a game the first three games, but is allowing just under 299 yards a game the past three contests.
In Greenville, Furman (2-5, 1-1 SoCon) hopes there is another surprising late season turnaround that can start against Samford (3-3, 2-2).
It was about this time last year that a Paladins team that looked lost suddenly found itself and won four games in a row to finish the regular season and share in the league title. It's something Furman coach Bruce Fowler hasn't forgotten.
"We're making progress," Fowler said. "I hope we hit our stride."
One thing the Paladins must improve is scoring inside the 20. Furman has not scored in eight of 20 trips inside the red zone, with five failures coming on missed field goals and two more on fumbles.
"We've been able to move the ball the last few weeks much better. We're doing thing much more efficiently," Fowler said. "We're just having trouble in the red zone. We're just having trouble getting points."
In Cullowhee, The Citadel (2-5, 0-2 SoCon) has been challenged to play better by its coach as it faces Western Carolina (5-2, 3-0).
Last week, Chattanooga scored on its first five drives against the Bulldogs on the way to a 31-0 halftime lead.
"I challenged our kids. I told them I expect a hungry, motivated ball club," Citadel coach Mike Houston said.
Houston said he hopes his team can emulate the Catamounts, who are led by his good friend coach Mark Speir. Western Carolina can match its most SoCon wins since 2005 with a win and would still be in line for its first conference title ever.
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