SEC-FCS week: seven such matchups

SEC-FCS week: seven such matchups

November 14th, 2012 by David Paschall in Sports - College

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier talks to quarterback Connor Shaw asD. L. Moore looks on during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

In the immediate aftermath of Alabama's 29-24 loss to Texas A&M last Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, defensive end Damion Square was among the several Crimson Tide players discussing where the team goes from here.

"We can only worry about us," Square said. "We can't worry about another team losing. We've got Western Carolina, and we've got to go play those guys."

Wait. Who?

The adage that "every week gets bigger" in college football might be challenged this Saturday as seven Southeastern Conference teams host programs from the Football Championship Subdivision. So before those Thanksgiving week rivalries such as Alabama-Auburn, LSU-Arkansas and Florida-Florida State can kick off, league fans must endure less inspiring pairings such as Sam Houston State at Texas A&M, Jacksonville State at Florida and Alabama A&M at Auburn.

This week's plethora of SEC-FCS matchups is largely due to the league mandating five years ago that every member had to play Thanksgiving week. Alabama and Auburn had moved their rivalry to the Saturday before Thanksgiving, which had the potential of giving the winner two weeks to prepare for the SEC title game.

"I think this week became the byproduct of that," SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom said. "Most of the games on the last weekend are traditional rivalries, and they are traditionally very competitive games."

There are only three head-to-head SEC matchups this week: Arkansas-Mississippi State, LSU-Ole Miss and Tennessee-Vanderbilt. The LSU-Ole Miss game has been televised by CBS in most recent years and will be again Saturday, but next year's schedule has five head-to-head league matchups in the weekend corresponding to this one.

Topping the schedule for this week next season will be Texas A&M at LSU.

"I wouldn't read too much into these bridge schedules," Bloom said, "but that certainly should be a big game."

Western Carolina defeated Mars Hill, a Division II school, in the opener and has since lost nine straight games, including eight by double digits. Yet some of the FCS teams visiting SEC venues Saturday could provide at least some intrigue.

Georgia Southern, which is continuing its cycle of playing at Georgia every four seasons, has won six FCS national titles, racked up 302 rushing yards at Alabama last season and is ranked No. 6 this year.

"I look at Georgia Southern as a winning program, and I really don't look at what league they're in," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "I know that a team that's used to winning is much more difficult to beat than a team that's not used to winning, so I don't know if whatever division of ball that they're in really matters that much sometimes.

"Appalachian State goes to Michigan [in 2007] and beats them, and Michigan might have been better off playing an FBS team that wasn't as used to winning."

Western Carolina, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are in the Southern Conference, as is Wofford. Wofford's Terriers can't match the national titles amassed by GSU and ASU, but they have become an FCS playoff regular and have no history of being shy against South Carolina, where they visit this weekend.

The Gamecocks have played the Terriers twice under coach Steve Spurrier, winning 27-20 in 2006 and 23-13 in '08.

"They've won their league with two other teams, but 10 years from now nobody will say they're the co-champs," Spurrier said. "The one we won at Duke was a co-championship, but I've never heard Virginia say they were co-champs, and you'll never hear us Dookies say we were co-champs. Wofford is a very good team, and we've got to play well if we expect to beat these guys.

"We're trying to win seven home games for the first time in school history, so it's a huge game for us."

Jacksonville State has former Georgia tailback Washaun Ealey, who has 718 yards this season, on its roster and recent history on its side. JSU was the last FCS team to knock off an SEC program, outlasting Ole Miss 49-48 in two overtimes in 2010.

Maine won 9-7 at Mississippi State in 2004, and The Citadel has defeated two SEC teams since the NCAA split into the FBS and FCS (then I-AA) in 1978. The Bulldogs won 27-14 at Vanderbilt in 1979 and stunned Arkansas 10-3 in 1992, which was the first game for the Razorbacks as an SEC member.

Arkansas coach Jack Crowe resigned the next day and now is at Jacksonville State.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.