Small Schools Get Ready For Crushing
Aug. 27, 1996
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ The Citadel vs. Miami? Georgia Southern vs. Florida? Clemson vs. Furman? Who comes up with these games?
They usually draw no point spreads, little attention and a few chuckles from fans. But these David-and-Goliath contests are as much part of college football as cardigan sweaters, flasks of brandy and yells of ``Roll Tide.''
``Nobody thinks we can beat them,'' Citadel linebacker Scott Belcher said. ``But with the way we're working, by September 7th, we could be stronger than them.''
Probably not. The Hurricanes have won their previous four games with I-AA opponents _ all in the Orange Bowl _ by an average score of 44-2.
The reasons for these games are clear. The big boys are looking for a fan-cheering crusher of a win, while the smaller boys are after the guarantees of $100,000 to $300,000 that come with such mismatches.
So the task of the small school's coach becomes how to balance the importance of a good showing with the reality of keeping a poor game from ruining the rest of the season.
``With this game coming so early, we've got to pay attention to what we have to do the rest of the year,'' said Citadel coach Don Powers, who took over for a suspended Charlie Taaffe this season. ``From an emotional point of view, you have to guard against throwing it all into one game.''
However, that's extremely difficult, especially when David has Goliath by the throat in the fourth quarter.
Furman coach Bobby Johnson remembers in 1991 when the Paladins were leading defending national champion Georgia Tech 17-16 with a couple of minutes to go.
The little guys fumbled and the Yellow Jackets got out with a 19-17 win.
``But we felt good about playing them close and down that we lost, so we were very flat the next week,'' said Johnson, who then was the team's defensive coordinator.
In the mid-1980s, Furman twice beat North Carolina State, beat South Carolina and tied and beat Georgia Tech. But in the past few years, things have soured for the Paladins, who have been outscored in their past four games with major college opponents 143-16.
They open the season at Clemson on Sept. 7.
``We're not intimidated at all. We've got a lot more depth this year,'' Furman linebacker Jay Thier said. ``No one on this team is scared of them.''
Not scared, perhaps, but wary. Johnson says people think just because Furman and Clemson are close geographically, they are close on the football field.
``I haven't seen any evidence that Furman has a better chance against Clemson than The Citadel has going to Miami,'' he said.
South Carolina State coach Willie Jeffries said he's never had to pump up his players before challenging higher-rated opponents. The games are instant motivators, despite the chance of getting rolled.
``The guys are going to play harder because they don't ever want to throw in the towel against them,'' he said.
Jeffries had his own ``almost'' story in 1982 when his Wichita State team was tied with Tennessee 21-21 with three minutes left. But the orange-clad Rocky Toppers left happy after an interception and a field goal in the closing seconds ended Jeffries' upset hopes.
The Citadel is the recent example of a small-school playing above its head. The Bulldogs won four of five games against I-A teams from 1990-92. Such losses can energize the smaller school and demoralize the team cut down to size.
After The Citadel's 10-3 win at Arkansas in 1992, Razorbacks coach Jack Crowe was fired before the next game.
``Charlie (Taaffe) had asked me about playing The Citadel,'' South Carolina coach Brad Scott said. ``I told him I wanted no part of that game. I heard about the last time they were here.''
The Citadel won that time in 1990, 38-35.