Buddy Pough was thrilled last season when his S.C. State football team got the opportunity to travel to Boone, N.C., to play three-time national champion Appalachian State in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
After receiving the same draw Sunday, Pough was less than thrilled.
“I am a little surprised,” Pough said.
His Bulldogs, who finished the regular season 10-1 and won another MEAC title with a perfect 8-0 conference record, were hoping for a home playoff game after earning a No. 7 national ranking in the final FCS poll and averaging 17,000 fans per game over five home dates.
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S.C. State was the only team ranked in the top eight of the poll that did not receive a home game in the 16-team field, which features eight conference champions and eight at-large teams. The eighth home game went to No. 12 Stephen F. Austin. The Bulldogs, whose only loss came to FBS foe South Carolina, ended the season with seven consecutive wins, but it wasn’t enough to avoid a matchup with perennial national power ASU, which won consecutive national titles from 2005-07.
Saturday’s meeting will be played at noon at Kidd Brewer Stadium before a nationally-televised audience on ESPNU, just as it was a year ago, when the Bulldogs dropped a 37-21 decision to the Mountaineers.
Pough acknowledged the tough draw is more of a slap at the MEAC, which hasn’t had a victorious playoff team since Florida A&M and North Carolina A&T both won first-round games in 1999. Ten MEAC teams have lost first-round games in the past nine seasons. The last MEAC team to get a host game was Hampton in 2006.
“It’s a situation we’ve got to go up and do something about,” Pough said. “Until we win a (playoff) game, we’re not going to get any respect.”
It’s not going to be easy against No. 5 Appalachian State, which has won nine consecutive games on the way to claiming the Southern Conference title. The Mountaineers are 9-2 — 8-0 in the SoCon — with their only losses coming to FBS foe East Carolina and McNeese State to start the season.
In last season’s playoff win, ASU was led by quarterback Armanti Edwards, a Greenwood native who passed for a school-record 433 yards. The Mountaineers pulled away by scoring 13 unanswered points in the final 7:21.
Pough believes his players may be motivated by having to return to Boone.
“Let’s hope so,” he said. “I don’t know if you need extra motivation continuing on into the playoffs. It’s the most exciting thing we do at our level. At the same time, if it does (motivate us), so be it.”
The winner between the Bulldogs and Mountaineers will play the winner of Saturday’s game between No. 4 Richmond (10-1) and No. 9 Elon (9-2) on Dec. 5.
The Bulldogs should be better prepared. Last season was their first trip to the playoffs since 1982.
A more savvy squad will head to Boone this season, one that played Grambling in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl on national television to open the season and also faced a hostile crowd at USC’s Williams-Brice Stadium. They are not likely to be unnerved by playing again at Kidd Brewer, where the Mountaineers average 26,000 fans per game.
“We’ve got more confidence about ourselves,” Pough said. “We’ve had some experiences this season that will give us a chance to go into a place like that and survive.”
A shootout again could be in order. Edwards’ 3,079 totals yards have helped ASU average 36 points per game, while the Bulldogs average 32 points. With that, Pough gives the FCS selection committee a little credit.
“They’ve got a feel for the fact that we’re a pretty good matchup,” he said.