By Furman football standards, it's been a drought of epic proportion.
The Paladins, winners of 12 Southern Conference championships and one national title (in 1988), and an FCS playoff team 15 times since 1982, haven't won a SoCon title since 2004. Furman hasn't made the playoffs since 2005, the four-year drought the Paladins' longest since 1991-95.
"What's frustrating is that the last three years, with one more win each year, I firmly believe we get into the playoffs," said ninth-year coach Bobby Lamb. "That's how fine a line it is. I think our guys are very hungry to see a championship banner on the wall. They come into my office and see the championship rings, and they want to get back to that level."
Lamb's teams have gone 6-5, 7-5 and 6-5 over the last three seasons, finishing tied for third, tied for fourth and third in SoCon standings. In two of the three seasons, upset losses to rival The Citadel likely did in the Paladins' playoff hopes.
Flanker Adam Mims is one of 10 Furman seniors eager to earn a playoff bid and/or a championship ring before they leave the Greenville campus.
"We talk about that all the time," said Mims, who caught a school-record 74 passes a year ago as Furman went 5-3 in the SoCon. "We know we have a winning tradition at Furman and we realize we have to uphold the standards around here. This year, we want to get back on track, and that means winning the SoCon title and making it to the playoffs."
Furman was ranked third in the SoCon's preseason coaches' poll, behind five-time defending champ Appalachian State and Elon, but the Paladins have more questions to answer than those two teams. Furman returns six starters on offense and six on defense, and enters a new era of sorts with the departure of starting quarterback Jordan Sorrells.
Sorrells was a dropback passer who hit 63.5 percent of his passes for 2,337 yards and 20 touchdowns a year ago, ranking third in the league in passing efficiency. With Sorrells in control, the Paladins struck a nice balance between run and pass, ranking third in the SoCon in rushing yards (142 per game), third in passing yards (230 per game) and third in total offense (372 ypg).
But that balance will tilt toward the run this year, with UCLA transfer Chris Forcier (6-3, 204) ready to take over after spending his sophomore season as Sorrells' backup. Forcier averaged 5.6 yards per carry in limited action last year, and the Paladins will run more option to take advantage of returning running backs Mike Brown, Tersoo Uhaa and Jerry Williams.
"Without Jordan, I think we have a little bit more athleticism in the backfield," Sims said. "Jordan was more of a pocket presence, but this year with Chris and Cody (Worley), we have two very athletic quarterbacks who are able to move around in the pocket and throw the ball down the field."
Furman averaged 31 passes per game last year, a number that will go down this season, according to Lamb.
"Maybe 20 to 25 times this year," Lamb. "And we can insert some option attack in the plays that are left over. We're going to go back to running a little bit more of the option and a little bit more of the playaction.
"We've got three very good runners, and we've got to find a way to balance those three guys and mix a guy like Adam Mims in there."
Lamb also has to fix a defense that surrendered 31.5 points and 431.3 yards per game last season, ranking near the bottom of the SoCon in both categories. Those numbers were somewhat skewed by losses of 52-12 at Missouri and 63-31 at Auburn.
New defensive line coach Brian Hill has no returning starters to work with -- not a good sign for a club that registered only eight sacks last year. The linebacking corps is in better shape with the return of junior Kadarron Anderson (6-1, 240) and junior Chris Wiley (5-10, 205) in Furman's 4-2-5 alignment. Anderson led the team with 123 tackles last year, while Wiley was tops with 6.5 tackles for loss. The secondary should be a strong point, with All-SoCon rover Max Lerner joined by free safety Nathan Wade and returning corners Jordan Griffin and Ryan Steed, a junior from Pinewood Prep.
"Ryan is one of our team captains as a junior, and that shows you the leadership skills he has," Lamb said. "We're looking for great year out of Ryan."
The schedule should be a bit more reasonable, with Colgate, South Carolina and Howard replacing Presbyterian, Missouri and Auburn on the non-conference slate.