It's no secret that South Carolina State has been the best team in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference the past two years. The Bulldogs have won back-to-back MEAC championships, and they won a national black college championship last season.
South Carolina State is now riding an impressive 20-game winning streak. The Bulldogs (3-1 overall, 1-0 MEAC) will be going for 21 straight when they host Norfolk State (2-2 overall, 1-1 MEAC) on Saturday at Oliver Dawson Stadium in Orangeburg, S.C.
Head coach Buddy Pough has built quite a program. In 2002, he was hired as the head coach and gradually started putting together a string of winning teams. Now the Bulldogs -- who are ranked No. 1 in every black college football poll and No. 9 in The Sports Network FCS poll -- have one of the best HBCU teams and one of the top teams in the nation.
Pough has compiled a 70-27 record overall, including 52-12 in conference. However, he doesn't want to take credit for all the success.
"We have a good coaching staff," Pough said. "These guys have been with me for a long time. We've had some good players come through this program. We've been able to keep a lot of them in state. We have a good reputation. We bring them in. We feed them. We treat them well and educate them, too."
There's no question about that. The Bulldogs have produced some great players over the past three years, including James Lee, Will Ford, Phillip Adams, Rafael Bush and Oliver "Tre" Young. Lee is an offensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ford is the MEAC's all-time leading rusher with 4,650 yards. Adams and Bush are cornerbacks for the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons, respectively. Young was a terrific wide receiver for the program. He set Bulldogs career records in receiving yards (2,064) and catches (128).
With talent like that, you can see why Pough has this program at a very high level. He certainly made a huge impact for HBCU football last year. After winning the MEAC, South Carolina State earned an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs but lost to powerhouse Appalachian State, 20-13 on the road.
If South Carolina State can secure its third MEAC crown, it could be ready to take that next step and win a game in the postseason. Offensively, it has an experienced quarterback in Malcolm Long, who is averaging 123.3 yards a game and completing 60 percent of his passes. His main target has been wide receiver Lennel Elmore (29 catches for 338 yards and one TD).
Long has a solid running game to lean on with senior Chris Massey and sophomore Asheton Jordan. Massey has done a great job picking up where Ford left off last season. He's rushed for 260 yards on 43 carries while scoring four touchdowns. Jordan has gained 332 yards on 44 attempts and is averaging an impressive 7.5 yards a carry. He has also scored four TDs.
On defense, linebackers Donovan Richard and Marshall McFadden have been making plays all over the field. Richard and McFadden are two all-around defenders who can tackle in the open field, rush the passer in crucial third-down situations and have plenty of athletic ability to play the pass. Richard has 28 total tackles and 13 solos, while McFadden has 20 total tackles and 11 unassisted.
"We're getting contributions from everybody," Pough said. "Malcolm is starting to break out now. Massey and Jordan have given us a good running game. That means a lot, to have a nice ground game.
"Defensively, we've been playing well. I really like the way [cornerback] Dominique Ellis [10 total tackles, seven solo] is playing in the secondary. We just beat Florida A&M, and a few weeks ago we beat Mississippi Valley State. In both of those games, we didn't give up any points. Actually, our special teams have been doing really well. [Place-kicker] Blake Erickson had a tremendous game [he set a school record with four field goals] against Florida A&M kicking the football. We've been sound in all three phases of the game."
Pough learned a lot about all three phases of the game during his playing days at South Carolina State. He was an offensive lineman for the Bulldogs and helped the team post a 16-1 record during the 1974 and 1975 seasons.
He played for Hall of Fame coach Willie Jeffries who coached South Carolina State for 19 years and compiled a 128-77-4 record. Jeffries was also the first African-American to become a head coach at a Division I-A school. In 1979, he was hired by Wichita State. Last spring, South Carolina State named Jeffries head coach emeritus; he works with the school and alumni.
"It was great playing for him," Pough said. "He's done a lot for the game. I'm glad he's still around."
With a mentor like Jeffries, you can see why Pough has been so successful at South Carolina State.
" Howard running back Charles Brice was selected as the MEAC offensive player of the week. Brice rushed for 161 yards on 31 carries with three touchdowns to lead Howard to its first win of the season, a 28-14 victory over Lincoln University.
" Howard defeated Lincoln, a Division II school from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. This was the 56th meeting between the two schools. Howard evened the all-time series at 24-24-8 in the first game between the two colleges since 1960.
" Mike Williams was chosen as the MEAC defensive player of the week. Williams, a safety, helped Bethune-Cookman to its fourth straight win. He had three interceptions with 44 return yards, a recovered fumble and one pass breakup. He also had four tackles (three solo) in a 69-32 win over Morgan State.
" Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback Joshua Boudreaux was named the SWAC offensive player of the week. Boudreaux set two UAPB school records with 368 yards passing on 24 completions in the Golden Lions' 41-23 conference road victory over Southern. He also threw four touchdown passes in the win.
" Texas Southern defensive back Curtis Thomas was selected as the SWAC defensive player of the week. Thomas had two interceptions and a pass breakup in the Tigers' 21-7 victory over Alabama State. He returned the second interception 59 yards for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to seal the win for Texas Southern.
" Grambling State linebacker Cliff Exama is proving to be one of the best playmaking defenders in the SWAC. Exama had a big game in the Tigers' 25-22 win over Alabama A&M. He had 10 total tackles (seven solo), 2.0 tackles for loss and one sack.
" South Carolina State offensive tackle Johnny Culbreath recorded the highest assignment grade of his career with 98 percent in the Bulldogs' 19-0 win over Florida A&M. He recorded a career-high seven pancake blocks, which helped South Carolina State produce 409 yards of total offense.
" Mississippi Valley State linebacker Terrell Johnson was named the SWAC newcomer of the week. Johnson finished with eight total tackles (three solo) along with one tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry in the Delta Devils' 34-13 loss to Prairie View A&M.
Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. His HBCU Notebook on ESPN.com can be found here. Got a story idea for Hunt? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.