Sitting in his office inside the South Carolina State football facility, Buddy Pough is afraid to look at the 2022 schedule affixed to a nearby wall.
Pough is often brutally, and humorously, honest about the Bulldogs’ prospects heading into each season.
But even in the afterglow of a MEAC title and HBCU national championship, the veteran head coach sees potential pitfalls littered all over the 11-game slate.
“We’re proud of what we’ve done, but that’s over,” Pough said Monday about whether South Carolina State has continued to bask in last season’s accomplishments. “I got a chance to look at the schedule we’ve got in front of us now and that’s a sobering kind of experience just watching who we play in the coming month. I guarantee that championship is out of our system.”
The Bulldogs must find a way to survive a brutal early season schedule that starts Thursday at Central Florida (at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN+) before a stretch of road games at Bethune-Cookman, North Carolina A&T and then South Carolina to start October.
“People want us to be sitting around talking about what we used to be,” said Pough. “We’re right now in the process of trying to get ready for one of the toughest seasons we’ve ever had here.”
Pough, in his 21st season at SCSU, expressed trepidation because of a Week 1 lead-up where four unnamed players underwent offseason surgery, a few others were hit by COVID and the team is trying to replace the loss of several key players from the 2021 championship roster, including NFL Draft pick Decobie Durant.
The bright side, however, is that South Carolina State returns nine starters on offense led by quarterback Corey Fields and wide receiver Shaq Davis. On defense, the Bulldogs get back five starters from a year ago, including All-MEAC performer Jeblonski Green.
“We need (Patrick) Godbolt and Jeblonski to play really well,” Pough said. “We have a transfer (Jamal McKinley) who is starting to show he can help us to create some pressure. (Naejuan) Barber, (Jared) Kirksey and (Brandon) Tucker) have a chance to create some mismatches along the defensive line. If these guys can develop, they should become a force that can get pressure with just four guys, freeing up the rest of our defense.”
‘Figure out how to win a few’
The first five games of the regular season, which include two games versus FBS opponents, will reveal what the season outlook for SCSU could look like, though the Bulldogs were able to overcome a slow start in 2021 and run the table.
This year, however, the road back to the apex is tougher, Pough admitted.
“I think we’ve got a natural kind of sensation in place is our schedule,” he said. “It is what makes us just totally come back down … for the fact that we play the people that we play. Let me tell you, those first five games, we could easily be 0 and 5 coming out of those five ball games.
“So, we need to figure out how to win a few. We need to beat somebody in these early games. And let me tell you, at Bethune, at A&T, at South Carolina is not a formula for trying to figure out how to go somewhere and beat somebody.”