sept9.pic10The South Carolina State Bulldogs face off against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats this weekend.

It’s Week Two of the 2011 football season, and most coaches are still trying to sort out what type of squad they have.

However, Bethune-Cookman coach Brian Jenkins and Buddy Pough of South Carolina State, two of the three teams that shared the 2010 MEAC championship, don’t have that luxury. Their teams face each other Saturday in Daytona Beach, Florida in this season’s first “game of the season.”

The MEAC arguably had the tightest race in all of college football last season, as Bethune-Cookman, South Carolina State and Florida A&M finished as tri-champions. It’s far too early to declare the winner of the South Carolina State-Bethune-Cookman contest the prohibitive favorite to win the title. But it is safe to say the loser will have very little wiggle room the remainder of the season.

“We could be done in Week Two of the season,” Pough says. “We have to take it as just another regular season conference game and let things play out. There are enough good teams (in the MEAC) that nether one of us will come out unscathed the rest of the season, even if we win this game.”

It is the first conference game of the season for both teams. Bethune-Cookman opened the season with an impressive nationally televised 63-14 victory against Prairie View A&M in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge; South Carolina State, the preseason pick to win the MEAC crown, played up a level in its opener and suffered a 21-6 loss to Central Michigan of the FBS.

Bethune-Cookman defeated South Carolina State 14-0 last year in Orangeburg, S.C. It was the first the time in 38 years that the Bulldogs have been shutout at home. Pough watched the first-half of the Wildcats’ demolition of Prairie View, and it left him in awe of their aggressiveness.

“They played about as good as I’ve seen a team play in this league in a long time,” Pough says. “Both sides of ball played in a way that lets you know they understand exactly what they want to do.”

The Wildcats forced six turnovers, including two fumble recoveries that they returned for touchdowns, and they rang up 500 total yards on offense. Senior quarterback Jamarr Robinson, a transfer from the University of Maryland, passed for 250 yards and a touchdown in a little more than a half of action.

Pough is concerned that the Wildcats could have another effort like that in store for his team.

Jenkins, on the other hand, is trying his best to downplay the lopsided nature of their victory, and he says he doesn’t expect a similar margin of victory against South Carolina State.

“We went out and played Wildcat football,” Jenkins says of Bethune-Cookman’s performance against Prairie View. “If we play Wildcat football, victory is obtainable. The score doesn’t matter as long as we come out on the winning end. The only thing I want to repeat is a victory. We’ll continue to do things the Wildcat way, stay in the moment, prepare for the moment and work for the moment.”

Despite his team’s dominant performance, Jenkins says the Wildcats’ play wasn’t as crisp as he would have liked. Among other things, he was not pleased that his team was penalized 12 times for 132 yards.

“In a game that’s a lot closer, penalties could hurt you,” Jenkins says. “We’ve definitely got to get that corrected. We made a lot of mistakes. I’m pleased to have the victory, but I’m not satisfied. Like I said before, we’re a work in progress. We got to get these things worked out if we want to continue to win. If we perform the way we performed in certain areas, we’ll have sad faces Saturday. I don’t want to have a sad face.”

Jenkins expects a tough, tight game with South Carolina State. He says the Bulldogs were only a few plays away from upsetting Central Michigan. The Chippeawas capitalized on a pair of big plays – touchdown passes of 45 and 67 yards – to subdue the Bulldogs, who only trailed 14-6 going into the third quarter.

“It’s going to be another heavyweight fight, Ali-Frazier,” Jenkins says. “You have two prideful programs that try to do things the right way. South Carolina State is at top of the conference. Their program is where we’re trying to get to. They’re not going to bow out; they’re going to stand and fight.”

South Carolina State played five of the 13 true freshmen who made the trip to Mount Pleasant, Michigan last week. Pough says he was pleased with the way they handled themselves in their first college game, but he acknowledges the youngsters must grow up in a hurry against Bethune-Cookman in order for the Bulldogs to have a chance to win.

“I’m excited about the youth infused in team overall,” Pough says. “It will be interesting to see how far we can get them to come along before we get too far into the season. I don’t know if we can match up with (Bethune-Cookman’s) kind of intensity right off the bat. We’re need some help. We’re going to need a break or two. They need to help you a little bit. It’s kind of like playing a Division I team.”

The Bulldogs didn’t get the breaks they needed against the Wildcats a year ago. They had four turnovers, and Bethune-Cookman dominated time of possession.

“We need to do something different from last year,” Pough says, adding that the Bulldogs’ offense has a totally different look than it did last year, with junior quarterback Derrick Wiley having taken over for four-year starter Malcolm Long, who was a drop back passer. Wiley is more athletic and is able to make plays outside the pocket.

“I don’t know how that fits with how they defend,” Pough says. “I hope it’s not as good as last year.”

KEY GAMES

Prairie View A&M (0-1, 0-0) at Texas Southern (0-0, 0-0): The past two SWAC champions renew their rivalry in the Labor Day Classic, which is being played five days after Labor Day because Prairie View opened the season against Bethune-Cookman in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge. The Panthers, the 2009 SWAC champions, must recover from a lackluster performance that saw them commit six turnovers. Texas Southern’s defense isn’t the unit that you would choose to try to regroup against. The Tigers have a new coach in Kevin Ramsey, their defensive coordinator, who replaced Johnnie Cole. Not much will change with Ramsey at the helm. Look for the defending SWAC champion Tigers to rely on the one-two running combo of Marcus Wright and Martin Gilbert and a tenacious defensive unit. The Panthers need to get more consistent play from quarterback Jonathan Troast, who only passed for 116 yards against Bethune-Cookman.

Alabama A&M (0-1, 0-0) at Southern (0-1, 0-0): Both of these SWAC teams began the season in disappointing fashion after suffering through disappointing seasons in 2010. Alabama A&M squandered a 17-0 lead against Hampton in the Chicago Football Classic and lost 21-20 when Chance Wilson’s 34-yard field goal was blocked on the last play of the game. Southern gave up 342 yards on the ground in a 33-7 loss to Tennessee State. Alabama A&M rushed for 162 of the 400 yards total offense it gained against Hampton, with running back Kaderius Lacey running for 116, The Bulldogs had four plays that gained 20 yards or more, including two that went for more than 50 yards. In addition to finding a way to stop the run, the Jaguars must run the ball more effectively against Alabama A&M to have any hope of winning. They gained just 37 yards on 23 carries against Tennessee State after learning four days before the game that their top three tight ends – a key element in the running game – were academically ineligible.

Jackson State (1-0) vs. Tenn. State (1-0): This will be the 20th time these border state rivals have played each other in the Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis, Tennessee, and once again, it should be a close game. Eleven of the previous 19 games were decided by seven points or less, including last year when Jackson State registered a controversial 33-26 victory. Tennessee State has won four of the last five games. Look for lots of scoring, with Jackson State relying on the passing of All-American quarterback Casey Therriault and Tennessee grinding it out with its running game after rushing for 342 yards against Southern last week.

OTHER GAMES

Alabama State (1-0) at Eastern Michigan (1-0)
Langston (1-0) at Tuskegee (0-0)
Benedict (0-1) at Bowie State (1-0)
Saint Augustine’s (0-1) at New Haven (1-0)
Norfolk State (1-0) at West Virginia (1-0)
Va. State (0-1) at West Virginia State (0-1)
N. C. Central (0-1) vs. Central State (0-1), Cleveland (Cleveland Classic)
Johnson C. Smith (1-0) at Brevard (0-1)
N.C. A&T (1-0) at Appalachian State (1-0)
Morehouse (1-0) vs. Howard (0-1) (Nation’s Football Classic)
Murray State (0-1) at Miss. Valley State (0-1)
Va. Univ. Lynchburg (0-1) vs. Edward Waters (0-1), Kingsland, Ga. (Ralph Bunche Classic)
Livingstone (0-1) vs. Elizabeth City State (0-2), Rocky Mount, N.C. (Viking Football Classic)
Lincoln (Pa.) (0-1) at Kentucky State (1-0)
Texas College (0-2) at Arkansas-Monticello (1-0)
Alcorn State (0-1) vs. Ark.-Pine Bluff (0-1), Little Rock, Ark.
Grambling State (1-0) at Louisiana-Monroe (0-1)
Concordia-Selma (0-1) at Miles (0-1)
Stillman (1-0) at Samford (0-1)
Savannah State (0-1) at SE Louisiana (0-1)
Lane (1-0) at Clark Atlanta (0-1)
Shaw (0-1) at Delaware State (1-0)
Delta State (1-0) at Fort Valley State (0-1)
Cheyney (1-0) at Slippery Rock (1-0)
Chowan (1-0) at North Carolina-Pembroke (1-0)
Wingate (1-0) at Albany State (1-0)
Morgan State (0-1) at Bowling Green (1-0)
Winston-Salem (1-0) at Va. Union (0-1)

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