College Sports

Wofford, Furman hit road in hopes of making history

The Wofford and Furman football teams will make history when they hit the road this week.

The Terriers will play a Big 10 team for the first time with a trip to Wisconsin, while the Paladins will do the same against a Big 12 school when they head to Missouri. Both coaches of the strong Southern Conference programs say their teams are pumped up about their opportunities.

"Our kids are excited about the trip," Furman coach Bobby Lamb said. "It's different than playing an ACC or SEC school."

Ayers shares those feelings.

"The newness of playing a team from the Big 10 and heading up to a different part of the country, it gets me excited," he said. "It's a program that has a great tradition."

The Terriers (1-1), who are ranked No. 14 in the FCS poll, play the Badgers (2-0) at 80,000-seat Camp Randall Stadium at noon Saturday, and the Paladins (2-0) play the Tigers (2-0), who are ranked No. 25 in the FBS, at 71,000-seat Memorial Stadium at 2 p.m.

Not that the SoCon brothers are strangers to playing the big boys.

Wofford opened its season against South Florida and has played games against programs such as USC, Clemson, N.C. State, Maryland, West Virginia and Air Force during the past decade - none of them wins.

Furman has a longer history not only of moving up to play but of being a giant killer. The Paladins are 5-18-1 since 1982 against FBS teams, with the last win coming in 1999 against North Carolina.

Both teams are playing a pair of FBS foes this season, with Wofford having lost to South Florida 40-7 and Furman going to Auburn in the ninth game of the season. The last time Furman played two FBS schools in one season was 1982, when the Paladins split a pair of games, losing to N.C. State and beating USC.

Even though Furman's primary goals are winning the Southern Conference and making the FCS playoffs, Lamb acknowledges how much matchups against FBS teams can mean to his players.

"This is their time to shine on the big stage and show they can play at that level," he said.

Playing bigger, better teams helps the coaches evaluate their rosters.

"You get to see what your kids have really got," Lamb said. "They'll certainly amp it up for a game like this. It's a great test. It shows what kind of team you've got and what kind of ability you've got."

A year ago, Lamb found his team was tough while playing ACC champion Virginia Tech, but it didn't have the size and depth to finish The Hokies pulled away from a 3-0 halftime lead to a 24-7 victory.

Ayers believes playing two FBS teams in the first three weeks can help his team's learning process, although he concedes the margin for error is small when it comes to pulling off an upset.

"For us, it's been a big plus," he said. "When you play teams that are bigger and faster than you, it makes you up your game. The kids understand what it means to play fast."

He is certain the Terriers learned something at South Florida that they can apply at Wisconsin.

"The big crowd, the noise," he said. "Your kids are more aware of what it's like in a venue like that."

Ayers could get some advice from The Citadel coach Kevin Higgins, whose Bulldogs traveled to Wisconsin in 2007 and battled the No. 7 Badgers to a 21-21 halftime tie before losing 45-31. This year, his Bulldogs opened at North Carolina in a game the Tar Heels won 40-6. He also likes the idea of testing his team .

"There's a sense of urgency in preparing. It's good to play against a real good opponent early because it reveals your deficiencies," Higgins said, adding that feasting on weaker programs can provide a false sense of security. "We felt like we represented (the conference) well in the past, but we didn't play quite as well as we could have against North Carolina."

The Southern Conference, arguably the best FCS league in the nation with eight national championships since 1988, makes it a habit of bedeviling FBS teams, with Appalachian State's 2007 victory against No. 5 Michigan as Exhibit A. In addition to the games being played by Wofford and Furman, Elon will travel to play Wake Forest of the ACC.

"All three will play as hard as they can and represent the conference in a positive way," Ayers said.

Lamb hopes for something bigger.

"We've got three shots at this," he said. "Maybe one of us can come up with a win."

A history-making win.