South Carolina State has been the model of consistency under head coach Buddy Pough's guidance.
Pough has led his alma mater to finishes above .500 in each of his 10 seasons there, and claimed at least a share of four Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles. Last season's absence snapped a three-season run of appearances in the NCAA Playoffs. His 2009 team went 10-1 in the regular season, and was bestowed the honor of the Black College Football National Championship, a mythical title spanning all divisions for Historical Black Colleges and Universities.
Indeed, Pough has an impressive track record at SCSU. One feat he has not accomplished is an upset of a Bowl Subdivision opponent.The Bulldogs' cross-country trip marks the first visit an HBCU has ever paid Arizona Stadium. A SCSU win would mark another first.
No MEAC program has ever beaten a BCS conference opponent, though the conference only began emphasizing such match-ups in recent seasons. MEAC members are scheduling non-conference dates with BCS conference programs both for the sizable paychecks, and for exposure to top tier football.
This philosophy has generated scrutiny this season, the result of Savannah State's 84-0 and 55-0 losses at Oklahoma State and Florida State.SSU is not indicative of the MEAC as a whole, though; the Tigers are perennial conference cellar dwellers, hoping to buoy the athletic department's finances with these trips.
Though winless in FBS games, conference members have built from them in the past. Norfolk State gave West Virginia a handful in the first half of their meeting last season, actually leading the Mountaineers at halftime. NSU used the loss as a springboard to the MEAC title and a bid in the FCS Playoffs.
Other MEAC pairings against BCS universities this season include Howard vs. Rutgers (RU won 29-0); Florida A&M vs. Oklahoma (OU won 69-13); Bethune-Cookman vs. Miami, North Carolina Central vs. Duke and Delaware State vs. Cincinnati (all are on Saturday); and SCSU's Week 4 trip to Texas A&M.
None want to be the conference's first BCS trophy. For UA to avoid the pitfall, the Wildcats simply must take the field without complacency from reaching the Top 25 and handling the Bulldog defense early.
SCSU fell in Week 2 to MEAC rival BCU because of a 17-0 deluge over 11 minutes of a rainy second quarter. The Bulldogs could not withstand such a barrage from Rich Rodriguez's quick attack offense, so expect a no-nonsense push down the field early to establish tempo.
"They are about as fast paced and exciting as any team you'll ever see," Pough said in his weekly teleconference. "Coach Rodriguez has done a nice job adapting his style to that program in a hurry.
"They do a nice job of keeping the pace up at a very high rate," he added. "They've got people everywhere. Their offensive front is extremely athletic. Their running backs is fast as the dickens, and their quarterback can throw it and run it."
FCS schools pull off upsets when their FBS counterpart allows them to hang in -- confidence goes a long way, and the longer a team believes it can win, the more effectively it executes. Now, that's analysis likely to cause numerical metric junkies to spit out their micro-brews, but from FCS defeats of the FBS to NCAA tournament upsets it's undeniable truth.
UA must shut down any offensive rhythm SCSU hopes to establish, which means forcing dual threat quarterback Richard Cue into passing situations early. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is likely to play blitz packages close to the chest with the Oregon trip looming, but early containment of Cue and running back Jalen "Scoot" Simmons' rushing windows will set the tone.