Sometimes, the stars align for a classic matchup.
This isn't Samford talking, this is the media talking–but one has to look at this weekend's Samford (6-1) at Mississippi State (2-5) game and wonder if conditions are ripe for the FCS' 11th win over an FBS opponent this year, as well as the sixth win over a Power Five conference opponent.
This year, Power Five conference teams Virginia, Iowa State, Washington State, Northwestern and Iowa have all fallen to good FCS opponents. And let's face it, there's been a trend lately with these late-season Southern Conference vs. SEC games. Last year, it was The Citadel knocking off a Spurrier-less South Carolina team, and in 2013 it was former SoCon member Georgia Southern knocking off Florida with three players topping 100 yards rushing.
So could this weekend make it No. 11 for the FCS? Well, consider this year's facts: Mississippi State already lost to South Alabama, a program that was in the FCS as recently as 2011. The SEC's West Division version of the Bulldogs have also lost to BYU and Kentucky and were hammered by Auburn in their last home game. They haven't won in a month and are 84th in the FBS in passing efficiency on defense. Those weaknesses could play right into Samford's hands, as it is No. 3 overall in the FCS in passing yardage per game. Could quarterback Devlin Hodges (2,445 yards, 24 TDs, only 5 INTs–all in 6 games) explode this weekend the same way he has against FCS competition? Don't rule it out.
Also, don't think for a second any of these guys will get ahead of themselves and talk about what an upset win over Mississippi State would mean. Trust us, we tried.
"Now the problem with when you play an SEC team is their lines are so deep and they're so big," Samford head coach Chris Hatcher told HERO Sports. "That's usually where the mismatches occur the most. We've got to find a way this week to even that up, if we want to be successful … I think our players are excited about the game, and we're excited that we've been playing well … But we approach it as playing another faceless opponent. And that's the same way we approached it with Mars Hill in the first week (a 77-7 win over a Division II school)."
There's no way Hatcher would say he's expecting a win over an SEC opponent, but no coaching staff meets behind closed doors and plans for a loss. You know they're looking at this game and thinking, 'hmmmmm…'
You won't get any predictions from the players either. But you can almost hear them growling because the SEC blew them off when they were seniors in high school. Most of Samford's roster grew up in SEC country. They watched Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida–you name it. They would have loved a scholarship offer from those schools, but the phone never rang.
So yes, they'd like payback. You know they do.
"Growing up (in Alabama), I always wanted to play in the SEC," Hodges told HERO Sports. "In an SEC stadium they have the best fans and a great atmosphere. Those are the two biggest things about the game. They're big guys and that's one thing that coach is waiting us to do a good job of is matching up evenly up front. We'll just try not to make mistakes and execute our game plan."
Prolific wide receiver Karel Hamilton acknowledged that when a FCS team beats a FBS, he does celebrate it–whether it's a SoCon win like The Citadel's last year, or even this season's Eastern Washington win over Wazzu more than 2,000 miles away. He admits it would be nice to add a Samford notch to that FCS-over-FBS 'stick'.
"(Those FCS wins) are definitely a conversation," Hamilton told HERO Sports. "We keep an eye on it. We check the scores and it's great, it is something we really have a passion for, to see the FCS do well. There are a lot of great players at this level. They probably didn't get the notice coming out of high school, and now they're able to get that national notice. I feel like the FCS is right up there with the FBS and I'm definitely rooting for those other FCS schools to win those games when we aren't playing them ourselves."
They won't say it, but we'll repeat it … keep an eye on this weekend's Samford-Mississippi State game.