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Title target is prime story line as S.C. State players report
After a one-week break following the completion of summer workouts, the South Carolina State football team is headed back to campus today.
The Bulldogs, ranked 24th in the preseason by the College Sportings News Preseason Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 rankings, head into the Aug. 30 season-opener in Atlanta against Georgia State with a myriad of story lines.
Just over 90 returning and new players are expected to report to the team before the start of preseason practice at 7 p.m. Friday at the Oliver C. Dawson Stadium practice field. It will be the first of 20 practices planned by head coach Buddy Pough, entering his 11th seasons at the helm of his alma mater.
‘Bulldog’ empire strikes back
To a man, the players want nothing more than to add a 15th Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship year to the “Wall of Champions” outside Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.
The frustration of having S.C. State’s three-year reign atop the conference end last season as a result of two, 3-point losses to eventual champion Norfolk State and a Florida A&M team it had previously defeated eight consecutive times carried over into the summer workouts and served as motivational fuel for the upcoming season.
“We’ve been on top of the MEAC for like 3-4 years,” S.C. State defensive lineman J.D. Fulwood said. “For us to get knocked off, it’s a challenge for us to get back on top. To get back where we used to be.”
What could potentially stand in the way of those championship goals is arguably the most formidable September schedule in school history. Sandwiched between two “make or break” home games against Bethune-Cookman (Sept. 8) and Norfolk State (Sept. 29) are back-to-back Division I “money games” at Arizona (Sept. 15) and Southeastern Conference newcomer Texas A&M.
While the Bulldogs have enjoyed a perfect home history against the Spartans (7-0 all-time in Orangeburg), the road team has won eight of 12 meetings since 1997 in the series with the Wildcats.
The two Division I games pit Pough against two teams with new head coaches in the Wildcats’ Rich Rodriguez and the Aggies’ Kevin Sumlin and, while both programs are coming off disappointing seasons, their depth is the one hurdle the Bulldogs have not overcome in the six previous matchups against similar teams.
A 2-3 record with both wins in the conference would be considered a success heading into the second half of the season.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us and the very last thing we can afford to do is come out the month of September with a real bad state of mind,” Pough said.
Battle at QB
It was a tale of two seasons’ from a quarterback standpoint at S.C. State. Derrick Wiley started the year and led the Bulldogs to an early big win over Bethune-Cookman and a record-setting performance against Delaware State before injuring his meniscus against Norfolk State. Stepping up to finish the season was Richard Cue, who went 5-1 to enable S.C. State to finish tied for second place with Bethune-Cookman.
Cue remained the starting quarterback through the spring and is still listed ahead of Wiley on the most recent depth chart. However, Cue’s absence from summer workouts to attend to family matters gave Wiley an opportunity to reassert his leadership of the team. Given the full bill of health from strength and conditioning coach Trumain Carroll, a strong, more focused Wiley appears ready to make a senior year push for the starting nod.
TeDarius Wiley is still listed at third string with incoming freshman Adrian Kollack lurking in the wings. Fellow prized quarterback signee Joey Copeland of Gaffney will sit out this season.
Return of ‘Superman’
S.C. State’s passing game and special teams were missing a duel threat last season with the absence of Lennel Elmore. The Allendale native caught 48 passes for 595 yards and two touchdowns and returned 12 kicks for 248 yards and a score in earning first-team All-MEAC honors in 2010. With Elmore back, the Bulldogs have flankers and split ends with Tyler McDonald and Caleb Davis with speed which could revive a struggling vertical passing game.
???? and short
Pough does not need any reminders about the exercise in futility that was the Bulldogs’ short yardage game. The inability to either have the quarterback take the snap from center or the lack of a blocking fullback after Devin Wherry (who’s academically ineligible this season) proved costly in losses to Norfolk State and FAMU. S.C. State was actually ranked second in the MEAC in fourth-down conversions but was ninth out of 11 teams in red zone offense.
Both Wiley and Cue worked under center during the spring and Pough plans to utilize tight ends like Trent Barnes and redshirt freshman halfback Temmarick Hemingway (6-5, 230) on short-yardage scenarios.
Much like quarterback Malcolm Long, Blake Erickson rewrote his position’s record book during his four seasons at S.C. State. The single-season and career leader in field goals spent the final two seasons performing double duty at punter. This season, Nick Belcher or Arizona State transfer Will Roper will compete in training camp for either the dual role or handling at least one of the kicking duties for the Bulldogs.
By THOMAS GRANT JR., The Times and Democrat