Brent Thompson doesn't want to make a big thing of it.
In fact, he'd probably rather not talk about it at all.
But The Citadel's football coach felt compelled to bring it up with his players on Sunday, one day after the Bulldogs played their best game of the season in a 27-10 beatdown of (formerly) No. 8 Furman.
"Last night, we talked about it," Thompson said at his Monday news conference. "I told them, this thing is wide open and we've still got a chance. But that's the last time we're going to talk about it because from here on out it's got to be 1-0 each and every week."
As hard as it is to believe, a Citadel team that began the season by losing its first two games — and also began its Southern Conference slate with two losses — still has a path to a SoCon championship.
The Bulldogs' victory at Furman leaves only one SoCon team with an unblemished league record, and 3-0 Chattanooga must play at surging Wofford (4-2, 3-1 with four straight wins) this week.
Here's how The Citadel could secure at least a share of its fifth SoCon title, third in five years and second under Thompson:
- The Citadel must win the rest of its games, starting Saturday against Mercer (3-4, 2-2) in the Bulldogs' homecoming game. That's followed by games at ETSU (2-5, 0-4) and Chattanooga (4-3, 3-0) before the regular-season finale against Wofford on Nov. 23. A three-game win streak to set up a showdown with Wofford doesn't seem impossible, given how the Bulldogs played against Furman.
- If The Citadel wins out, it needs Chattanooga to lose at least one more SoCon game. Chattanooga's 3-0 start in the SoCon has been built against teams (Western Carolina, Mercer and ETSU) that are 2-10 in league play. The Mocs still have to play Wofford, Furman, Samford and VMI (a combined 11-6 in league play) in addition to The Citadel.
- The Furman vs. Wofford throwdown is set for Nov. 16 in Spartanburg. One team or the other will be handed at least its second SoCon loss.
The idea of still having a SoCon shot plays well with the Bulldogs, who seemed at a low ebb just two weeks ago after losing the Silver Shako to military school rival VMI. The Citadel has never won the SoCon title in the same year it lost the coveted Shako.
"It gives us a a little extra edge," said senior linebacker Phil Davis. "It adds more fuel for us, knowing that we played a very solid game against the No. 8 team in the nation. And when we go back and look at the film, we still left a lot of plays out there. We can still do a lot of things better."
Of course, seven of the nine teams in the SoCon can claim to still be in the hunt. Only ETSU and Western Carolina (0-4) are out of it.
"It's very similar to our 2015 run," Thompson said, recalling the Bulldogs' SoCon title when he was offensive coordinator under Mike Houston. "We started off the year 2-2, but we kept getting better and at the end of the year we were in that mix.
"It's important for our guys. We want to be able to continue to play for something, and really at this point, just about everybody is in the mix."
Two Citadel players earned SoCon player of the week honors after the Furman game.
Linebacker Marquise Blount won the defensive award for the second week in a row. The 6-3, 223-pound sophomore had six tackles, 1½ tackles for loss and a crucial strip-sack that set up the Bulldogs' third TD for a 21-3 lead.
Kicker Jacob Godek won the special teams honor, making field goals of 30 and 46 yards into a driving rain in the final five minutes of the game. He also made all three extra points and had four touchbacks in six kickoffs.
Mercer quarterback Robert Riddle suffered a serious leg injury in the Bears' 34-27 win over VMI last week and won't play against The Citadel. Both teams gathered around Riddle in an emotional scene before he was carried off the field.
“I have been coaching a long time. That might be the toughest injury I have seen,” Mercer coach Bobby Lamb said afterwards. “Both teams getting around him was really special. Because it’s really what the game is all about. It is a team game.”
Backup QB Kaelan Riley, a former SoCon freshman of the year, finished out the VMI game and is likely to start against The Citadel. He was Mercer's QB when the Bears took a 24-14 victory over The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2017, going 12 of 23 for 111 yards and no TDs or interceptions.