COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Despite starting out 2-4, The Citadel still has a shot to salvage its league championship hopes against Chattanooga on Saturday.
The Mocs (3-3, 2-0 Southern Conference) were the preseason favorites to win the league and have looked the part. But with only two teams undefeated in the Southern Conference, a win by the Bulldogs (2-4, 0-1) would get them right back in the league race.
"Their backs are against the wall. With one conference loss, they know this is a huge game," Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman said.
In other games Saturday involving South Carolina's Football Championship Subdivision teams, Wofford travels to Samford; Presbyterian hosts Charleston Southern; and Furman is at South Carolina.
In Charleston, The Citadel will have its hands full with Chattanooga.
The Mocs are just 3-3, but Bulldogs coach Mike Houston said they have played some really good teams, including a four-point loss to Football Bowl Subdivision Central Michigan and an overtime loss to a Jacksonville State team in the top 10 in FCS. Chattanooga lost by 35 to Tennessee last weekend.
"Their three losses came to three very good teams," Houston said.
The Mocs tough schedule also shows in their statistics. They are last in offense in the Southern Conference at 303 yards a game. But they are again first in defense at 300 yards allowed, and tops in rushing defense, allowing an average of 131 yards.
"You see the explosiveness offensively in addition to the best defense in our league," Houston said.
But Huesman said The Citadel's record is also deceiving. He points out the Bulldogs have had tough losses too against Florida State, Coastal Carolina, Charleston Southern and Wofford.
"You can't gauge Citadel on their record. They've played well. They've just played some really good football teams," Huesman said.
In Birmingham, Alabama, Wofford (3-3, 1-1 SoCon) hopes its team grows up a little more against Samford (3-2, 2-1).
The Terriers only turned the ball over once in a 26-14 loss to Western Carolina last weekend, but it was a costly fumble inside the 5-yard line. They recovered a second fumble in their own end zone for a safety.
But just as one problem is solved, others emerge. The Catamounts returned a kickoff for a touchdown, which was a huge lift in a game where Western Carolina was held to 246 yards.
"We're a football team that will take one step forward and two steps back," Wofford coach Mike Ayers said.
A loss likely knocks Wofford out of the SoCon title hunt, especially with favorite Chattanooga still to play.
"There's a myriad of things going on with this team. We're just about learning the A-B-C's of playing good football," Ayers said.
In North Charleston, Charleston Southern (5-1, 0-0) opens Big South Conference play with Presbyterian (3-3, 0-1).
The Buccaneers nearly pulled off the biggest win in program history last week, losing to Vanderbilt 21-20 in a game where Charleston Southern gained 94 more yards than its Southeastern Conference opponent.
Charleston Southern coach Jamey Chadwell said that would have been a nice win, but his team needs to refocus quickly on its chief goal of winning the Big South.
"We've got all these people congratulating us on a one-point loss. Imagine that? That's crazy," Chadwell said. "We've got to get over that and everybody patting us on the back and doing what we need to do to win games."
The Blue Hose also played a good game last week, but couldn't snag the biggest win in program history, losing 40-28 to Coastal Carolina. Coach Harold Nichols said a win over Charleston Southern would be a big deal, too. Presbyterian has only beaten the Buccaneers once in seven tries since joining the Big South.
Nichols watched that Vanderbilt tape and noticed something important about Charleston Southern that doesn't show up on the stat sheet.
"They're playing with a lot of confidence right now," Nichols said. "It looks like they are having fun playing football and it shows up on the scoreboard on Saturdays."
In Columbia, Furman (2-4) meets a Southern Conference rival from way back in South Carolina (3-3).
The Gamecocks and Paladins were both SoCon teams from 1936 to 1952. Back then, the teams were evenly matched. But South Carolina went its own way, rising into football's higher levels. The Gamecocks have won 12 out of the last 13 over the Paladins, with Furman's lone win coming in 1982.
The Paladins have lost four in a row this season and face a South Carolina team on a two-game losing streak. Not only has Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier never lost to a FCS school, he is 50-0 all-time against teams from outside the Power 5 conferences in Division I.
"It's tremendous to be able to play one of the FBS schools in our state," Fowler said. "We have some young guys playing with confidence. Hopefully that will help us get better."