By Myron Hosea
CSN So South Columnist
College Sporting News
For fans of teams in the Southern Conference and the Big South Conference, this Saturday represents one of the biggest days of football in some time.
Old Dominion (10-2) at Georgia Southern (9-2), 1 p.m.
Maine (8-3) at Appalachian State (8-3), 2 p.m.
Stony Brook (9-3) at Sam Houston State (11-0), 3 p.m.
Wofford (8-3) at Northern Iowa (9-2), 5 p.m.
Sam Houston State, Northern Iowa, and Maine also are playing their first games in the playoffs. Old Dominion defeated Norfolk State 35-18 in the opening round.
The Big South, of course, doesn’t have much playoff experience on which to draw any conclusions. Stony Brook’s win last week was the first for a Big South team in the playoffs. So let’s consider how Big South teams have done against ranked teams, especially since the Seawolves play top-ranked, #1 seed, and unbeaten Sam Houston State.
The Big South is 1-3 all-time against top-ranked teams. The league’s teams have fashioned a 2-5 record against ranked non-conference opponents. Interestingly – and I don’t know what this may mean for the Stony Brook game Saturday – the margin of defeat in those five loses averaged only 8.8 points.
The Southern Conference has a larger body of work in the playoffs. Here are some numbers:
- SoCon teams are 42-19 (.689) in the round of 16.
- Of all FCS conferences, the SoCon’s 94 playoff wins are tops as is its winning percentage of .631.
- This year’s playoff appearance is Appalachian State’s 19th. The Mountaineers have a 24-15 record with three national titles.
- Georgia Southern is in the playoffs for the 18th time. The Eagles are 41-11 and have won the championship six times.
- Wofford has reached the postseason five times, including four in the last five seasons.
These four games also feature some of the best teams in the country when it comes to offensive and defensive numbers:
- Stony Brook and Sam Houston State are two of the best rushing teams in the nation. The Seawolves are fourth nationally. The Bearkats are seventh.
- Stony Brook and Sam Houston State also are two of the best at stopping the run. The Bearkats are first in that category. The Seawolves are ninth.
- They can score, too. Sam Houston State scores 39.4 points a game, number one in the country. Stony Brook is second in scoring at 38.9. The Bearkats are first in scoring defense, surrendering 12.6 points per game.
- There could be some points in the Georgia Southern-Old Dominion game, too. These teams rank seventh and 10th respectively in scoring offense.
- While I’ve mentioned the rushing prowess of Sam Houston State and Stony Brook, don’t forget that Wofford (number one) and Georgia Southern (number two) run the ball pretty well, too.
- One more thing: what’s with these schools with multiple-word names? Eight teams, 15 words. Glad I’m not on a word count.
I’m not big on predictions, but I do have some thoughts on the games. Basically, I think the four home teams have the edge. Some of it is just plain experience. For example, Old Dominion has generated remarkable success in just a few years, but the Monarchs are going to one of the more difficult places to win a playoff game as a visiting team – Statesboro, GA. I think the Eagles win this one.
It’s a similar deal with Appalachian State and Maine. The Mountaineers aren’t as strong as they’ve been in the recent past, but playing at home gives them a big edge on the Black Bears.
It would be cool to call for Stony Brook to pull a massive upset – going all the way to Texas to knock off the top seed. Can’t find my way to do that. The road trip will be too much for the Seawolves and Sam Houston State will remain unbeaten for another week.
The Wofford game at fifth-seed Northern Iowa is the more challenging game to figure. It’s a journey for the Terriers, but they’ve been there before – the upset win at Montana a few years ago is an example. While Wofford runs the ball well, the Panthers are pretty good at stopping the run. I think the home field advantage will be too much in this one, too.