COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Presbyterian coach Harold Nichols knew the Blue Hose transition from Division II to the Football Championship Subdivision was going to be hard. But his team could get a big payoff Saturday as it hosts South Carolina's current FCS powerhouse Coastal Carolina in a chance to show that Presbyterian also belongs with the elite small-college programs in the state.
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Presbyterian coach Harold Nichols knew the Blue Hose transition from Division II to the Football Championship Subdivision was going to be hard.
But his team could get a big payoff Saturday as it hosts South Carolina's current FCS powerhouse Coastal Carolina in a chance to show that Presbyterian also belongs with the elite small-college programs in the state.
"We're looking forward to the opportunity, but we know it will be a big challenge for our team and our program," Nichols said.
In other games Saturday involving South Carolina's FCS schools, Wofford travels to Western Carolina; North Carolina Central is at South Carolina State; The Citadel hosts Charlotte; and Charleston Southern is at Vanderbilt.
In Clinton, Presbyterian (3-2) plays what may be its biggest game since joining Division I seven years ago in the Big South Conference opener against Coastal Carolina (6-0).
The No. 3 Chanticleers are the highest ranked team to ever play at Clinton and have beaten Presbyterian six games in a row. They also are the favorites to win the conference, so if the Blue Hose want to make noise in the Big South, there is no better way than to knock them off.
"It's the best Presbyterian team we've seen since I've been here," said Chanticleers coach Joe Moglia, in his third season.
Presbyterian was a solid Division II team, but has struggled in the transition to a higher classification. The Blue Hose are 23-66 since joining Division I in 2007 and have won just five of their 32 Big South games. But they have opened this season with three home wins over Furman, Western Carolina and Bluefield. The only losses have been to Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
"It's been validation for our players for all the hard work they've put into this," Nichols said of the season so far.
If there is a glimmer of hope for the Blue Hose, it is they are good at some of the things the Chanticleers struggle with. Presbyterian is averaging 183 yards a game on the ground and Coastal Carolina is allowing 212 yards rushing a game. Presbyterian has forced one more turnover than its opponents, while Coastal Carolina has two more turnovers than the teams it has played.
"There's a reason they are undefeated at home," Moglia said.
In Orangeburg, South Carolina State (4-2, 2-0 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) will try to head into its bye week on a high note with a win over North Carolina Central (2-3, 1-0).
Bulldogs coach Buddy Pough is happy his team has won their first two MEAC games. Just don't ask him how they pulled it off.
"I look back at these games and can't figure just how we did it because it looks like we didn't play very well," Pough said. "But at the same time, our team fights until the end."
One problem Pough is trying to fix is South Carolina State's struggles close to the goal line. The Bulldogs scored just twice in four trips inside the red zone in last week's 13-0 win over North Carolina A&T and have scored touchdowns in just 11 of their 22 red zone trips this season.
"We kind of keep shooting ourselves in the foot down there," Pough said.
After taking on the Eagles, the Bulldogs get a bye week before a showdown with Bethune-Cookman in a game that will likely go a long way to deciding who wins the MEAC.
"We haven't beaten Bethune anywhere in a long time. We don't need to be worrying about them right now," Pough said.
In Cullowhee, North Carolina, Wofford (3-2, 1-0 Southern Conference) hopes to put its game with Western Carolina (3-2, 1-0) away early.
Last week, the Terriers won their third game in the past 11 contests with a last-second defensive stand, stopping The Citadel just inches from the goal line in a 17-13 win.
"We're going to have to take control on offense and play keep-away," Wofford coach Mike Ayers said.
The Terriers have won eight in a row over the Catamounts, but this year's Western Carolina team has already won more games than any team in a whole season since 2008. A win Saturday would guarantee the Catamounts their best season since 2005.
"It's a different mindset," Ayers said of the Catamounts. "Those guys believe when they come out on the field that they can win."
The teams played at Western Carolina last season. The Terriers have to return to Cullowhee in 2014 because the Southern Conference juggled schedules as Appalachian State and Georgia Southern left and Mercer and VMI joined the league.
In Charleston, The Citadel (1-4) has one final non-conference game against Charlotte (3-3).
It's the first meeting between the teams. The 49ers are transitioning to FBS and will join Conference USA next season.
The Bulldogs lost a heartbreaker last week as they were stopped just inches short of a game-winning touchdown as time expired in a 17-13 loss to Wofford. But coach Mike Houston said through the sting of the defeat, he could see a lot of positive trends.
"I'm proud of the progress we are continuing to make," Houston said.
Houston is especially proud of his defense, which is allowing less than 324 yards a game against FCS teams. He installed new defensive ideas when he started as head coach this season and worried it would take a lot of time for his players to adjust.
"It really takes getting to actually play to understand the intricacies of the scheme," Houston said.
The Citadel's triple-option attack is ranked fifth in FCS at 280 yards a game, but Charlotte is allowing just 122 yards on the ground a game, which is the toughest FCS rushing defense the Bulldogs have faced all year.
In Nashville, Tennessee, Charleston Southern (5-0) has a surprising amount of confidence as it heads to play FBS Vanderbilt (1-5).
Buccaneers coach Jamey Chadwell said he thinks his more experienced players can take advantage of Vanderbilt's young team in a way that would take away the Commodores superiority in speed.
"We're going in there with house money — obviously they need to win the game," Chadwell said. "Hopefully we can keep it close and those young guys won't know how to handle the pressure."
It would be a historic win for Charleston Southern. The Buccaneers are 0-13 all-time against FBS schools, losing by an average of 47 points a game.