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After heading up to Atlanta to battle a revamped Georgia Tech, USF will return home to Raymond James Stadium to host an FCS foe looking to break back into the upper echelon of the MEAC.
South Carolina State Bulldogs
- Travels to USF on Saturday, Sep. 14 at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN3
- Head Coach: Oliver “Buddy” Pough (18th season)
- 2018 record: 5-6 (4th in MEAC)
For the past three seasons, the likes of North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central and Bethune-Cookman have entrenched themselves as the top dogs of the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference, or the MEAC.
Veteran South Carolina State head coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough and his Bulldogs are gunning to rejoin that group at the top.
Spending six seasons as a South Carolina assistant under Brad Scott and Lou Holtz, Pough returned to SCSU, his alma mater, in 2002 and returned the the Dogs to a level of success not seen in Orangeburg since the early 80s. He’d lead them to at least a share of six MEAC championships over the next 14 seasons, only finishing below second in the conference three times.
However, the Garnet and Blue have slid down the standings as of late, going 5-6 in 2016, 3-7 in 2017 and 5-6 again in and up-and-down 2018 season where they started 1-5, rattled off four straight wins mid-season before dropping the season finale to NC Central.
SCSU will open the 2019 season with SoCon co-champion Wofford and Division II Lane before heading down to Tampa for the mid-September showdown. Starting the season off 2-0 could prove to be enough of a momentum boost to carry them into conference play, regardless of what happens in Tampa.
After throwing several young players in the fire last fall, the two-deep for South Carolina State should be more seasoned this year with 16 starters returning to the lineup.
One of those key returnees is dual-threat redshirt quarterback Tyrece Nick, who threw for over 1,000 yards and finished second in the MEAC in rushing with 903 on the ground and 12 touchdowns. Even though SCSU primarily moves the ball with the run, redshirt freshman receiver Shaquille Davis appears to be making waves in fall camp.
Up front, the team has to replace second-team all-conference lineman Robbie Stephenson, but they return two more All-MEAC players in seniors Alex Taylor and Mike Terry.
Despite losing a force like 2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard to the Indianapolis Colts, the Bulldogs’ defense still had a lot of bark down the stretch last season, only allowing 20.7 points per game in their final seven contests. Through 39 red-zone opportunities throughout the season, they only yielded 20 touchdowns.
Second-team All-MEAC defensive back Alex Brown and his team-leading four interceptions are gone but a handful of playmakers who earned preseason all-conference honors have returned, a list that includes defensive linemen Tyrell Goodwin and Paul McKeiver, defensive end Bruce Johnson and defensive back Decobie Durant.
Barring any McNeese State-esque shenanigans from happening, this Week 3 matchup for the Bulls should go the way FCS games typically go, with the coaching staff getting a chance to evaluate and experiment with different personnel heading into their first open date of the season.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see South Carolina State take that approach as well. Taking back-to-back weeks off afterwards before starting conference play at Delaware State on Oct. 5, this will serve as a good, last opportunity for Pough and staff to see what they have before vying for a MEAC championship.