Citadel’s win should lock up playoff bid

The Citadel celebrates, realizing they have won the game after South Carolina failed to convert on a fourth-down play during late, fourth-quarter action in Columbia, S.C. on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. (Travis Bell/SIDELINE CAROLINA)

Any doubt about The Citadel’s chances of landing an at-large berth in the FCS playoffs were cleared up Saturday afternoon.

At least, that’s the way Bulldogs coach Mike Houston saw it in a delirious locker room after a 23-22 upset of South Carolina.

“Welcome to the 2015 national playoffs!” Houston shouted to his cheering players.

The 8-3 Bulldogs will learn their playoff fate Sunday morning, as the FCS selection committee announces the field at 11 a.m. on ESPNU. Big South Conference champion Charleston Southern already is assured of a playoff berth, but will learn if it is one of eight national seeds that will earn a first-round bye.

Before Saturday, The Citadel’s case already included a share of the Southern Conference championship, a 6-1 league record and losses only to FBS Georgia Southern, Big South champion Charleston Southern and SoCon co-champ Chattanooga.

The Bulldogs’ resume now includes a win over an SEC team, The Citadel’s first over an FCS squad since wins over Arkansas and Army in 1992. That year also is the last time the Bulldogs won a SoCon title and earned a playoff bid.

The Citadel has put in a bid to host a first-round game, bidding more than the first-round minimum of $30,000 required by the NCAA. No matter where the Bulldogs play, they’re unlikely to see an atmosphere quite like Saturday’s at USC.

“I don’t think we’ll see a more intimidating one,” Houston said. “We talked about that after our loss last week at Chattanooga. I thought we played well after we got going, but we had a little bit of trouble with the stage there early.

“I told our guys, with what we want to do with this program, we’ve got to get used to playing on the big stage. We looked at last week as great preparation for this week.”

Charleston Southern, 9-2 after Saturday’s loss at Alabama, has had its first playoff bid locked up for weeks. The Buccaneers, ranked No. 8 in the FCS coaches poll, should be in line for a top eight seed. That would give the Bucs a bye until the second round, set for Dec. 5.

Coastal Carolina, ranked No. 4 this week, likely fell out of the national seed picture with a 24-21 loss to Liberty that dropped the Chanticleers to 9-2 overall and 4-2 in the Big South. If so, Coastal Carolina and The Citadel would seem a likely first-round matchup for Nov. 28.

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