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Wofford learned the hard way about the Big South's resurgence
Big South Conference football forever and as recently as last season was thought of as the Southern Conference’s little brother.
Often pesky and annoying. Always beatable.
Well, little brother has grown up quickly. This year, the Big South has the Southern in a headlock and is giving it a noogie.
Wofford took a knuckle-rub to the head two weeks ago in a loss to Gardner-Webb. After an open date, the Terriers get another Big South test with a 1:30 p.m. Saturday game at Gibbs Stadium against Presbyterian.
“All it takes is time and players and good coaching,” Wofford head coach Mike Ayers said. “That’s what you’ve got in the Big South. It’s a tough league. It’s grown and gotten better. Any given Saturday, you’d better play your best game because those guys are good.”
The Big South is 6-1 this season against the SoCon. Only a blocked 23-yard field goal by Furman in the closing seconds against Presbyterian kept the SoCon from being winless.
“You can’t say that they’re not on our level anymore,” Ayers said. “Believe me. They are on the money.”
Charleston Southern, for example, beat crosstown rival The Citadel earlier this season and last week the Buccaneers (5-0) went up to Boone, N.C., and beat traditional Southern Conference power Appalachian State in front of a shocked and saddened crowd at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
“I’m excited,” Charleston Southern head coach Jamey Chadwell said. “Recognition for our conference is long overdue. I think you’re going to continue to see the rise of this conference.”
Chadwell, a former CSU assistant, returned to the school this season after coachingat Division II Delta State last season and North Greenville University for three years.
“I’m impressed,” he said. “I know what kind of coaches we have in the league and how our league has been developing in the past few years. I’ve been keeping in touch with it from afar. And I’m not surprised by it, to be honest with you. I know the commitments of the universities and what we’ve been trying to do.”
At the end of 2012, according to the Ratings Percentage Index, used by the NCAA to determine at-large bids in the postseason national tournament, the Southern Conference was the second-best FCS league in the country, behind only the Colonial Athletic Association. The Big South was No. 10 of 13.
This year, the Big South is up to third, behind only the Colonial and the Missouri Valley Conference. The Southern Conference, meanwhile, is down to ninth.
And it seems that will only get worse next season, when Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, also Elon, leave the Southern to be replaced by start-up programs Mercer and East Tennessee State, and Big South cellar-dweller VMI, a former SoCon school that lost this season to Division II North Greenville. The Keydets haven’t had a winning season since 1981.
The previous high for victories in a season by Big South teams against the FCS was 13 in 2006. They are 14-5 now. Gardner-Webb, in the Top 25 for the first time in more than a decade, had back-to-back wins against ranked teams Richmond and Wofford.
Eight of the wins against FCS opponents this season have come on the road. That is also a league record. Charleston Southern has won four straight, tied for the second-longest in conference history.
Coastal Carolina, which started a football team only 10 years ago, leads the way for the Big South. The Chanticleers are ranked No. 6 by the FCS coaches and No. 9 in The Sports Network poll. That is the highest for any team in league history at this point of the season.
“The FCS looks really, really good this year and the Big South looks really, really good this year,” said Coastal Carolina head coach Joe Moglia, a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award for national coach of year in 2012. “I’m just pleased to be one component of that.”