With their only wins coming at home this season, the Bulldogs of South Carolina State are glad to be back on the home football turf of Willie E. Jeffries Field this Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. homecoming match-up against Howard University.
But, S.C. State (2-5 overall record, 1-4 in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) will not be facing an easy task against the Bison (4-3 overall, 3-1 in MEAC) and their dangerously talented freshman quarterback Caylin Newton.
Yes, the Newton name might sound familiar because his brother (Cam) won a national title as quarterback at Auburn and currently leads the Carolina Panthers on Sundays.
"Coach Mike London (former Virginia head coach) and his staff have gotten things going at Howard in their first year, getting some real players, especially the Newton kid," Bulldogs head coach Buddy Pough said this week. "Looks like he is going to be a real good one, the way he is playing fresh out of high school.
"He is just 5-foot-11, but he plays like he is 6-foot-5, and he throws it around, he can run, and he has a great presence about him. He may throw the ball better, at this stage in his career, than Cam did."
This week it was announced that Newton is among the 17 freshmen to be nominated for the 2017 STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award Watch List.
The Rice Award, named for the legendary Hall of Fame wide receiver, has been presented to the Football Championship Subdivision freshman player of the year since 2011.
"You can see every week him getting better," Pough said. "Where Cam might run over you, Caylin has the shake-and-bake moves to make you fall on the ground and miss him.
"Howard just seems to be feeding off the excitement of it all — new coach, new quarterback, new everything."
In seven games, Newton has thrown for 1,549 yards and nine touchdowns, along with 8 interceptions. On the ground, Newton has rushed for 542 yards on 103 carries and seven touchdowns.
Howard leads the nation in passing yards per completion, led by Newton.
S.C. State is a frustrated and determined team, coming off back-to-back road losses at Bethune-Cookman and Delaware State by three points each game.
The Bulldogs have now lost to three teams ranked in the current SBN Sports Network Black College Football Poll. The Bison come to town ranked No. 6 in the poll.
"Howard is coming in here and they are a hot ball club, they are playing really well," Pough said. "They are playing great on defense, so that's a bad match-up for us that way. They're coming in here scoring a lot of points, with bells a ringing, looking to walk the dog on us.
"We've got to really figure our offense out. I'm going to help a little bit more, do a bit more, maybe call a snap or two more than I normally do. I don't own up to the ones that don't go good. The ones that do, I want to claim those. But, we will see what we can do and what happens."
Pough recognizes that the winning tradition at S.C. State doesn't line up with the losses that have piled up through midseason this year.
"It's sometimes hard, when you get to this point in the year, and you aren't used to being in this position," Pough said. "It's sickness, not death.
"These guys play for developmental purposes, wanting to be better tomorrow than they are today. We have to be better as a team. Guys who come here with plans to play football beyond South Carolina State have to keep that focus and not put something on film that they don't want to be out there for scouts to see. You need to do your very best every snap, or that will come to light later."
The Bulldogs have averaged just 14 points in road games this season, but in three home games they have averaged 26 points per contest.
"If there's ever been a Bulldogs team that needs a big crowd out there supporting them on Saturday, it's this one," Pough said. "I beg of our fans to come out and be in the stands and root this team on for homecoming.
"We're young and we're struggling and we need your help."
FloSports will be broadcasting Saturday's game live, on a pay-per-view online stream, with Dave Friedman on play-by-play duties and former S.C. State men's basketball coach Cy Alexander as color analyst.