While people around and outside the South Carolina State football program talk about the all-time wins list record and other topics, Bulldogs head coach Oliver "Buddy" Pough only wants to talk about No. 1, that is game No. 1 this Saturday at home against Wofford.
Entering his 18th season at the helm of the program he once played for, Pough is glad to have two games at home to start the schedule. But he is quite glad to let the wins and losses take care of themselves, as he and his coaching staff prepare the Bulldogs for the next challenge up.
The 2019 schedule is unique, in that it can be broken down into three parts: the non-conference "preseason" part, as Pough calls it (Wofford, Lane and South Florida), the open season part (back-to-back open weeks for September 21 and September 28 after having hurricanes take away a scheduled September game each of the last three Septembers), and the conference season part (against fellow Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference teams Delaware State, Florida A&M, Morgan State, Bethune-Cookman, N.C. A&T State, Howard, NC Central and Norfolk State).
On Monday, at Pough's opening media press conference of the season, he wasn't talking about how the 2019 team can get him 4 wins to surpass SC State coach emeritus Willie Jeffries in the program's all-time wins category.
Finishing Week One playing the defending Southern Conference champion, along with focusing on ways to improve how the Bulldogs perform, were more of the focus.
"It gets your attention for sure, to be playing a team from a program like Wofford in the opening game," Pough said. "You better know that these guys will come in here and embarrass you, if you don't play really well.
"I think, toward the end of last year, we developed enough key personnel, enough depth, that we'll be able to get in there and slug it out with these guys. But, you don't know if you can play with a team such as this, until you are able to measure yourself against a team other than yourself. That's the exciting part about college football, going out and figuring it out."
Wofford enters the season ranked No. 8 in the STATS FCS I-AA Preseason poll, after going 9-4 overall and 6-2 to win the SOCON. The Bulldogs had a great turnaround, winning four of the last five contests in 2018, to finish 5-6 overall and tied for 4th in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
"We are deeper at positions than we've been in some time; we've got bodies everywhere," Pough said. "I think the level of talent, when we get into our second unit and get to some of the guys that might be replacing some of our top guys (from last year), shouldn't drop off much.
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"The fact that we've got more people to do more things might be the most important factor for this football team. I think the camraderie and cohesiveness are both great right now. We really feel good about the number of guys we have involved in our scheme, hoping we can continue to develop them over time, both as a team physically and mentally."
A theme throughout the preseason has been the opportunity to have more defensive players active on the depth chart, along with more playmakers on offense.
The defense should get significant help from the experienced play of graduate transfers Deondre' Daniels (LB, Miami, Ohio), Terrence McCray (DB, Savannah State), Vernon Grier (DB, NC State) and Jalen Barr (DB, The Citadel).
"You like to think that it will help to have those older guys in the mix that way," Pough said.
With a strong challenge by redshirt freshman Corey Fields (Baptist Hill) in preseason camp, redshirt junior quarterback Tyrece Nick (second-leading rusher in the MEAC in 2018, with an 82.1 yards-per-game average, 903 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns) kept a strong grip on the starting quarterback job.
"Tyrece has come along pretty nicely during camp, having maybe established himself last year as more of a runner than a passer," Pough said. "He had his moments in the throw game, but I think he has come along there nicely.
"I don't know if, by the end of the year, we might be trying to figure out things to do with Corey. But, Tyrece is definitely our guy, the entire offense is built around that skill set. We've got to figure how to make him go for us to be successful."
With most key special teams players in place a year ago, the Bulldogs should be prepared to face challenges coming their way this season.
Sophomore Josh Pringle (Scott's Branch) and redshirt freshman Caleb Brown (Wilson) are set to handle the long snapper duties, while sophomore Dillon Bredesen (West Florida HS) is back to handle the kicking duties and redshirt freshman Austin Kemp (Liberty) is Bredesen's holder, the backup kicker and backup punter. Redshirt junior Cliff Benjamin (Lake Marion) will handle the punting duties.
If the Bulldogs need any extra motivation this season, there's the fact that the 2018 team finished fourth in the MEAC, however in the preseason poll MEAC head football coaches and sports information directors picked SC State to finish sixth in 2019, only above Norfolk State, Morgan State and Delaware State.