South Carolina State heads into the Celebration Bowl predominantly overlooked and decided underdogs versus a Jackson State team almost predestined to complete its HBCU championship coronation.
There is an air that the Bulldogs are almost an afterthought, that the Deion Sanders-led Tigers — with its 11-1 record and fresh off pulling off the biggest heist in modern football recruiting history — will win inside the Mercedes Benz Stadium with relative ease.
But these Bulldogs, which started the regular season 1-4 before winning six of its last seven en route to the program’s eighth MEAC championship under head coach Buddy Pough, are unfazed and will play with something to prove.
“We were down a long time — trying to fight our way back to .500,” said Pough Friday, in his 20th season as SCSU coach. “The conference schedule being the way it was we were underdogs in probably most of the games that we played in our conference, which is unusual in the fact that we went undefeated in our league.”
The Bulldogs (6-5), just like Jackson State, went unbeaten in conference play. They won’t be lacking confidence in a matchup that casts them as a 10.5-point underdog. The game is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. CST/noon EST.
“It took us a little while to really come to the realization that we were at least as good as everybody else in our league,” said Pough. “It says they are a tough, hard-nosed resilient bunch. I’m as proud of this group as I’ve been.”
As for a specially prepared fire and brimstone message to rile up the team before games, that won’t be happening, said Pough. Instead, the outing will be treated as any other this season despite the environment and stakes on the line.
“I can tell you that I believe in keeping things as normal as possible,” he said. We like to try and make this week almost exactly like a regular week as far as how we do things.
“They want us here (at the stadium) three hours ahead of time. I said listen,’ the longer we’re there before, the longer we have to mess up before it’s time to play.’ Let’s see if we can get there as late as we can, get in, get dressed and play a little bit.”