Four still hoping to make FCS playoffs
COLUMBIA — It’s the final day of the Football Championship Subdivision season, and more than half of South Carolina’s teams have a realistic shot at the playoffs.
The biggest surprise might be Furman. The Paladins started the season 2-4, but a win over Wofford would give them a share of the Southern Conference title and a Samford victory over Elon would give Furman the league’s automatic playoff bid.
Charleston Southern can win a share of the Big South Conference title and the automatic playoff bid by beating Liberty. If the Buccaneers lose, Coastal Carolina will get the guaranteed postseason trip, although at 10-1, the Chanticleers are likely in the playoffs anyway.
South Carolina State is still in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference race. If the Bulldogs beat Norfolk State, they get a share of the MEAC title. If Bethune-Cookman loses to Florida A&M, then South Carolina State is the league’s outright champion and in the playoffs. If they win and don’t get the automatic bid, the 9-3 Bulldogs will be lobbying for an at-large playoff bid.
In other games involving South Carolina’s FCS teams this weekend, Presbyterian ends the season hosting Gardner-Webb; The Citadel travels to Clemson; and Coastal Carolina is at South Carolina.
In Greenville, Furman (6-5, 5-2 SoCon) will try to finish a remarkable season by beating Wofford (5-5, 4-3).
The Paladins have overcome injuries – five different players took snaps at quarterback in their first six games – and paperwork mistakes – two seniors who were supposed to start on the defensive line were declared ineligible because the previous coach’s staff didn’t properly file their papers asking for a redshirt season.
“We’ve taken those things as they come along very well and learned from them,” Furman coach Bruce Fowler said.
If the Paladins beat the Terriers, their playoff chances look good. Samford needs to beat Elon, but Elon is 1-6 in the league and on a five-game losing streak, while Samford is 7-4 and has a shot at the automatic SoCon bid if Furman loses.
In North Charleston, Charleston Southern (10-2, 3-1 Big South) needs to beat Liberty (7-4, 3-1) to assure the Buccaneers feel-good season has a happy ending. Charleston Southern gets the league’s automatic playoff bid with a win, but the Buccaneers schedule probably isn’t strong enough to get an at-large bid.
Coach Jamey Chadwell is glad his team has the chance after going 0-11 just two seasons ago.
“A lot of people wouldn’t think we would have been in this position. Thank the good Lord above we put ourselves here. We’ve earned the opportunity,” Chadwell said.
Today’s game is also a chance for Charleston Southern to overcome its poor history against Liberty. The Flames have won 10 of 11 against the Buccaneers since joining the Big South in 2002. Liberty can also share the Big South title with a win.
In Norfolk, Va., South Carolina State (8-3, 6-1 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) will finish a nice bounce back season at Norfolk State (3-8, 3-4).
A year after coach Buddy Pough’s only losing season in his 12 years on Orangeburg, the Bulldogs can share another MEAC title with a win today
“We’ve got the ultimate prize, the conference championship, still available to us. So, it makes practicing for us pretty easy,” Pough said.
The outright MEAC title and an automatic playoff bid also are available if Bethune-Cookman loses to Florida A&M. But the Wildcats have won 19 of their last 20 conference games and the Rattlers are just 2-5 in the league.
Pough said he thinks his team deserves an at-large playoff bid regardless of what happens Saturday. The Bulldogs only losses this year are to Bethune-Cookman, Coastal Carolina and Clemson, but they also lack any real signature win.
“I think South Carolina State’s good enough to be in the playoffs and that’s what we’re going to go on as opposed to somebody else losing a game that would give us an opportunity to get in the automatic way,” Pough said.
In Clinton, Presbyterian (3-7, 1-3 Big South) ends its season against Gardner-Webb (6-5, 1-3).
With both teams out of the playoff hunt, the Blue Hose and Bulldogs are trying to end the season on a good note. It will also be senior day at Presbyterian, where coach Harold Nichols will see off his second senior class. He knows the rest of his players want to send them off with a win.
“I’ve got a special place in my heart for all of them,” Nichols said.
Gardner-Webb and Presbyterian were rivals long before they both entered the Big South. The series between the teams is tied at 17-17.