COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — If South Carolina State wants to get back on top of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, coach Buddy Pough said it has no choice but to knock off Bethune-Cookman on Saturday.
The Wildcats have won 16 MEAC games in a row, including a 27-14 win over the Bulldogs last season that acted as sort of a passing of the torch from an S.C. State team that won the league title three straight years.
"Bethune is what we used to be. They got to the point where they expect to win any time they play a conference game," Pough said.
In other games Saturday involving South Carolina's Football Championship Subdivision teams Wofford hosts Samford; The Citadel travels to Chattanooga; Furman is at LSU; Coastal Carolina hosts VMI; Charleston Southern hosts Charlotte; and Presbyterian hosts Point.
S.C. State (5-2, 3-0 MEAC) is in Daytona Beach, Fla., to face the Wildcats (6-1, 3-0), the only other undefeated conference team. The records aren't a fluke. The Wildcats and Bulldogs are first and second in total offense and total defense in the MEAC.
The Bulldogs are coming off a bye week and played the Thursday before, meaning it's been 16 days between games. Pough appreciated the chance to rest, but worries his team might be rusty. He said they need their best game to win Saturday.
"You've got to knock the champion out. You can't get a split decision in a thing like this," Pough said.
Senior wide receiver Tyler McDonald should set at least one school record. He is tied with Tre' Young for the most receptions in a career at 135 catches. McDonald also needs 110 yard receiving to break Young's school record of 2,156 yards.
"He's excited to be able to make that goal happen," Pough said
Bethune-Cookman may have a 16-game MEAC winning streak, but Wildcats coach Brian Jenkins is sounding more like the underdog.
"I just hope we can match up with them and see if we belong on the field with them," Jenkins said.
The Southern Conference race should come more into focus as Wofford (5-2, 4-0 SoCon) takes on Samford (5-2, 3-0) in Spartanburg,
The Terriers and Bulldogs are the only remaining unbeaten teams in league play. Everyone else in the SoCon other than Chattanooga has more than one conference loss.
Wofford can thank last-minute goal-line stands against Elon two weeks ago and Western Carolina last week for its unblemished record. The Terriers have also fallen behind early by more than a touchdown in both games.
"We're fortunate to be where we are. The challenge is to be a lot better than we were last week and to start out hot and in a hurry," Wofford coach Mike Ayers said.
Wofford is using three quarterbacks and has changed its starter in the last two games. While the starting QB has struggled, Ayers has been able to find the right guy on the bench to lead the comebacks.
"They all have their good times and they all have situations where they struggled a little bit," Ayers said.
Samford had a week off to prepare for Wofford. The Bulldogs have won their first three SoCon games by an average of 25 points.
The Citadel (2-5, 2-3 SoCon) heads to Tennessee with designs on improving against Chattanooga (5-2, 3-1).
The Bulldogs had a week off, and coach Kevin Higgins emphasized doing the fundamental things right, like following assignments and tackling properly.
"From an offensive standpoint it is about finishing blocks and completing play-action passes," Higgins said.
The Mocs only loss in the SoCon came in the opener against Georgia Southern. They have won their last three games by an average of 18 points and are playing like the team picked to finish the highest among those eligible to win the SoCon crown this season.
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