The South Carolina State football team has been going through a transition period, of sorts.
The Bulldogs have had to adjust to changing offensive and defensive coordinators each of the past two seasons and, due to budget restraints, saw the 2017 recruiting class come entirely from the Palmetto State.
Coincidentally, the Bulldogs' most recent opponent and their next opponent are each facing major transition periods too.
Hampton University, which S.C. State (3-6 record, 2-5 in MEAC play) took a 33-15 home win against last Saturday, announced on Thursday that the entire Pirates athletic program will be leaving the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference to join the Big South Conference in 2018.
Savannah State University, the final opponent for the Bulldogs this season, will play host to S.C. State this Saturday at 1 p.m. in Ted Wright Stadium. But the Tigers, who carry a 2-8 overall record and 2-5 MEAC record, will be dropping back to the NCAA Division II ranks in all sports as soon as the NCAA approves a request placed by SSU this past spring.
"Savannah State has a bit of a strange deal, talking about moving down a level," S.C. State head football coach Buddy Pough said this week. "So, this will be their last game (currently scheduled on the Division I level) that way.
"So Hampton is leaving our conference to join the Big South, along with USC Upstate, and Savannah State is leaving too. So our league's dynamics are changing a little bit. But, at the same time, we know Savannah will try everything they can to get after us."
Pough said the Tigers have a good football team under second-year head coach Erik Raeburn, but have shown in some games this season that they just don't have the number of players to keep high-quality, fresh talent on the field for an entire game.
By comparison, the Bulldogs are better in all the major categories this season, except for three key numbers -- total first downs, average possession time per game and total penalties. After back-to-back wins against Norfolk State and Delaware State, the Tigers are coming off a 36-17 loss to North Carolina A&T this past Saturday.
"They do everything really well, and they have a freshman quarterback who can do a lot of things," Pough said. "I guess it will be a little anticlimactic, not knowing really what we have to play for.
"But our team does play hard all the time. We don't have the big skill guys to go and do things that make teams miserable. But it's not from a lack of effort. I don't know if getting two wins in a row could be called a streak. You've got to put together more than that, in my book, to have a streak. But, anything at this point we will take it."
Against Hampton, a Bulldogs' sideline that hadn't had much to celebrate this season showed signs of life and excitement. At one point, as The Marching 101 played music from the stands, a few members of the S.C. State football team began dancing and stepping in unison with fraternity brothers who were located in the stands.
Within seconds, Pough was aware of the non-football fun on the sideline and, although glad to see his players enjoying themselves, he walked over and told them to save the dancing for after the final whistle.
"I see these guys dancing and, first of all I'm mad because they've got the nerves to dance during the game on my sideline," Pough said. "But add to the fact that we are winning the football game. So I'm beating them down (verbally) for doing it, but I'm kind of happy inside too, because we did have something to dance about."
With a losing record assured for this season weeks ago, the month of November has offered a lot of time for the Bulldogs and their coaches to consider everything impacting their program.
"Anytime you've been around as long as I have, you tend to reflect a little bit, even during the season; it's hard not to," Pough said. "You start thinking about whether you are still doing things the right way or whether what you say is just white noise to your team.
"Everything about our program is being evaluated, by me probably more than anybody. To thy own self be true. We've got to figure out how to get this thing back on track again."
Dewann and D'Vonn
The starting quarterbacks in this game have more in common than just first names that sound similar. Bulldogs redshirt sophomore signal caller Dewann Ford and Tigers freshman quarterback D'Vonn Gibbons were both standout quarterbacks at Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga.