When Coastal Carolina lost its first two Sun Belt Conference games to Georgia State and Georgia Southern by a combined 23 points, it didn’t look great for the Chanticleers to return to the conference championship game.
Last year, Coastal Carolina lost to Troy 45-26 in the Sun Belt championship.
After those first two conference losses, Coastal Carolina has won four consecutive Sun Belt games against Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Marshall, and Old Dominion, and now the Chanticleers are very much back in an East Division race that remains up for grabs, although it shouldn’t.
This is the part where we have to pause to mention that James Madison (9-0, 6-0) should be the East representative in the Sun Belt title game, but the Dukes are ineligible for postseason play. For the 100th time, we will mention that the NCAA has an ill-advised rule that prohibits a team from moving up from FCS to FBS to compete in the postseason during a two-year transition period.
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This is James Madison’s second year as an FBS school. Even though last year the Dukes tied Coastal Carolina with a 6-2 record and earned a 47-7 win over the Chanticleers, Coastal Carolina was the East representative in the Sun Belt title game. JMU will again have to sit at home, despite being the best team in the league and would be a viable contender for the G5 New Year’s Six bowl bid.
James Madison appealed the NCAA for full bowl eligibility on Monday. If the Dukes are successful, then the entire picture changes.
For now, let’s assume nothing changes.
None of this is Coastal Carolina’s fault, so the Chanticleers are fighting for a very competitive spot.
Behind James Madison, Coastal Carolina is 4-2, while Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are 3-2.
Coastal Carolina has two difficult remaining Sun Belt home games, Saturday against Texas State and Nov. 25 against James Madison. Still, the Chanticleers have dug themselves out of an early hole and now are playing meaningful November games.
For one, Coastal Carolina has rallied around its backup quarterback(s).
Starter Grayson McCall, the three-time Sun Belt Player of the Year, hasn’t played since he suffered a concussion late in the game during the Chanticleers 27-17 win at Arkansas State on Oct. 21.
Redshirt senior Jarrett Guest then led Coastal Carolina to a convincing 34-6 home win over Marshall the next week. Guest was 14-of-20 passing for 289 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception.
Last week, Coastal Carolina earned a comeback 28-24 win at Old Dominion in redshirt freshman QB Ethan Vasko’s first career start. Guest was held out for all but one play in the game due to an undisclosed injury.
Vasko helped Coastal Carolina overcome a 15-point deficit. He was 17-of-31 passing for 189 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Vasko also rushed for 171 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.
A Kansas transfer, Vasko hit record-setting receiver Sam Pinckney on a 14-yard scoring pass with 23 seconds left for the game-winner.
Pickney, who had seven receptions for 69 yards and the score, tied the FBS record of 54 consecutive games with a reception set by Central Michigan’s Bryan Anderson from 2006-2009.
Pinckney has caught a pass in 34 consecutive games for Coastal Carolina after catching a pass in his last 20 at Georgia State. For the season, he has 48 receptions for 682 yards and five touchdowns.
Another reason Coastal Carolina has rebounded has been the play of its defense. After allowing an average of 34 points in the losses to Georgia State and Georgia Southern, Coastal Carolina has allowed an average of 17.5 points in the four consecutive wins.
One of the leaders has been defensive lineman Micheal Mason, who had 12 tackles including 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack against Old Dominion.
First-year coach Tim Beck has held this team together and put Coastal Carolina in a position to contend, despite facing more than its share of adversity.