Playing "meaningful games in November" was one of the goals Mike Houston and Brent Thompson set when they arrived at The Citadel in 2014.
For the seventh-ranked Bulldogs, games don't come with much more meaning than Saturday's 2 p.m. homecoming contest with Samford, ranked No. 18 in FCS.
A win for The Citadel clinches a second straight Southern Conference championship and the league's automatic bid to the 24-team FCS playoffs.
For perspective, the Bulldogs won exactly two SoCon titles (1962, 1992) in their first 75 years in the league before sharing last year's championship with Chattanooga.
"That's one thing we talked about, meaningful games in November," said Thompson, 8-0 as the Bulldogs coach since taking over for Houston, who left after two seasons for James Madison. "It's great for our alums, great for our players because they've worked so hard for it.
"To have meaningful games in November means a lot. But we can't treat is as any different from the rest. We have to prepare as we do and take it as the next difficult opponent on our schedule."
Samford (6-2, 4-1) will pose a threat unlike any The Citadel has faced this season. Coach Chris Hatcher's team throws the ball almost 50 times a game, with redshirt sophomore quarterback Devlin Hodges hitting 68.2 percent of his passes for 2,913 yards and 28 touchdowns this year. His top target is 6-1 senior receiver Karel Hamilton, who has 67 catches for 965 yards and 11 TDs.
In a 56-41 loss at Mississippi State last week, Hodges threw for 468 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions, and Hamilton caught 14 passes for 213 yards and two TDs.
The Citadel will counter with a defense that ranks second in the SoCon in pass defense (170 yards per game), tied for second in interceptions (eight) and second in sacks (22).
"One thing that gets overlooked on their team is that their defense is lights out," Hatcher said this week. "They probably have the best defense we'll play all season. Plus, when you go on the road, that's a very difficult place to play."
Conversely, The Citadel's triple-option attack proved more than Samford could cope with last season. The Citadel ran out to a 41-14 lead before settling for a 44-25 victory. The Citadel rushed for 424 yards, with quarterback Dominique Allen piling up 166 yards and a TD on 29 carries.
"They run the wishbone about as well as it can possibly be run," Hatcher said of The Citadel. "We have to do an awesome job of putting them in long-yardage situations. In our game last season, they had no turnovers. I don't think they had any plays that went for negative yards, and they just kind of rammed it down our throats for 60 minutes."
A Samford victory Saturday would create a logjam at the top of the SoCon standings, with The Citadel and Chattanooga (off this week) at 6-1 in the league, and Samford right behind at 5-1. The Citadel finishes its SoCon slate Nov. 12 at VMI, while Chattanooga hosts Wofford and Samford finishes with Mercer and ETSU.
A three-way tie at season's end would result in all three teams sharing the conference championship. A tie-breaking procedure would determine which team receives the league's automatic bid to the playoffs.
- The Citadel will honor its first black graduate, the late Charles Foster, just before halftime. The Citadel Minority Alumni Association plans to present a check of $123,000 to The Citadel Foundation for its minority scholarships. The Citadel is celebrating diversity milestones - 50 years since Foster entered The Citadel, and 20 years since females first joined the S.C. Corps of Cadets.
- The Citadel football team has four first-team CoSIDA Academic All-District selections. Seniors Joe Crochet, Nick Jeffreys and Will Vanvick, along with junior Myles Pierce, earned the All-District accolade and now move on to the Academic All-American ballot. The Citadel’s four selections are tied with Auburn for the most in District 4 among Division I programs.