The South Carolina State football team has clinched its second consecutive MEAC championship and automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
All that's left for the Bulldogs to do in the regular season is defeat North Carolina A&T on Saturday at Dawson Stadium, and then they will wait to see if they receive a home game for the first round of the playoffs when the pairings for the 16-team field are announced Sunday.
"We're playing pretty good," S.C. State coach Buddy Pough said. "We're at a spot where we can build momentum and see it continue to carry over in a positive way."
The Bulldogs are playing better than pretty good. They're 9-1 overall, with the loss coming to South Carolina, and 7-0 in the MEAC, having won a school-record 18 consecutive conference games dating to 2007. And they're No. 7 nationally in both the coaches and media polls.
With an average attendance of 18,050 for their four home games, including a crowd of 24,496 for the Florida A&M game, the Bulldogs have burnished their credentials for the FCS selection committee, which unveils the bracket at 3 p.m. on ESPNews.
"We've got a little bit more of a pedigree," Pough said. "They've got a sense that we know what we're doing a little bit, and we've got weapons. We've made ourselves attractive enough."
Last season the Bulldogs, who were making their first appearance in 26 years in the playoffs, were shipped to Boone, N.C., to play three-time defending champion Appalachian State, which won 37-21.
S.C. State put in a bid to host a first-round game this year, but Pough said there is no sure way to know how it stacks up.
"You don't know who you're bidding against or what they're bidding," he said.
He added that the school, which has been hit by the economy, was cautious about overbidding. Because the first round takes place on Thanksgiving weekend - when students are gone and when many FBS schools are playing rivalry games, like USC-Clemson - attendance can suffer. Pough said his eyes were opened last season when Appalachian State, which averaged more than 20,000 fans per game, drew 13,712 for its first-round playoff game.
"You don't want to obligate yourself to a big number (for a bid) in these times," Pough said. "We were as aggressive as I could see us being under the circumstances."
S.C. State's players know they must take care of North Carolina A&T (5-5, 3-4) before they can start crossing their fingers for a home playoff game.
"We want to end the year with a bang. We need to go into this game with the same intensity and get some momentum going into the playoffs," said senior cornerback Phillip Adams, who has three interceptions, two for touchdowns..
The team knows what's at stake if it can win its seventh consecutive game. The opportunity to stay at home the first weekend would serve as another sign of respect for the program.
"We think about it. We talk about it 24-7. It's something that would be excellent. To bring a playoff game would be big for Orangeburg, big for South Carolina State," Adams said. "I feel like we're further along than we were last year. This team is very special. We're so cohesive. We can play a lot better than last year and achieve our maximum goal."
Pough notes the Bulldogs bring a lot of star power to the table as well. Quarterback Malcolm Long, who has thrown for 2,091 yards and 18 touchdowns, is the first player in school history to pass for more than 2,000 yards in a season. Running back Will Ford, who has 4,494 career rushing yards, broke the school rushing record and needs 165 yards to become the MEAC's all-time leader. And receiver Tre Young set school career records for catches and reception yardage this season.
"We had expectations, and guys have fought their butts off. Right now we've got a lot of guys who are doing things that are making the year more special," Pough said.
Long would love to stay at home and show off Dawson Stadium in the first round.
"It would be a great atmosphere here," Long said. "We want to keep this thing going. But wherever they send us, we'll try to do our best and bring home a victory."