The football game Coastal Carolina is actually playing Saturday takes place in Clinton against a reeling Presbyterian team that looks to be the weakest opponent on the Chanticleers’ schedule.
But the game that carries as much – if not more – intrigue for Coastal fans is the one kicking off a couple hours later in Lynchburg, Va., where Liberty hosts Stony Brook in a clash that could either clinch the Big South Conference championship for the Seawolves or push the door wide open for the Chants.
After three straight wins – each impressive in their own way – Coastal has at least kept some hope alive for an FCS playoff berth, but for that to happen the Chants need to win their final two games and have Liberty upset No. 6-ranked Stony Brook to force a three-way tie atop the conference standings. If all three of those teams finish with one conference loss and wins over each other, Coastal would claim the tiebreaker of having the best road record in league play.
So yes, there’s some hope, but CCU coach Joe Moglia was rather frank in discussing his thoughts on that scenario this week.
“After the game, I’ll be very curious to glance,” he said. “But my expectations are not high. Am I hoping? Yeah, of course I am. I am hoping, but you can’t do anything about it. If it works, thank you God and we better take care of business that last week, and then we better be ready to go for the playoffs. … But I don’t expect that to happen. Stony Brook is too good. But anything can happen. Liberty could beat them, but if they beat them they’re upsetting them.”
So in the meantime, Coastal (5-4, 3-1 Big South) will focus on what it can control Saturday inside Bailey Memorial Stadium – and, for that matter, what it should be able to control.
Presbyterian (2-7, 0-4) has lost four straight games by double figures, including a loss to the same VMI team that Coastal beat by 27 points a few weeks ago. The Blue Hose are averaging just 16.6 points per game and giving up an average of 36.8. They are last in the Big South in total defense at 493.9 yards allowed per contest, which ranks 117th out of 121 FCS teams. And their lone wins have come against a Division II Brevard team and a Davidson squad that plays in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League.
All that said, the Coastal players are, of course, keeping their focus inward this week.
“Basically, to be real, if we don’t execute, they can beat us because over the previous years they’ve been hanging in with us,” junior cornerback LaDarius Hawthorne said. “They have struggled – we struggled [early in the season] as well – but they can turn it around against us. So we’ve got to go out there and execute and do what we’re coached to do.”
Said junior receiver Matt Hazel: “In college football, anybody can get beat.”
Since losing four straight games to ranked FCS teams and an FBS opponent in the middle of the season, the Chants have won their last three games by 22 points or more. They are averaging 36.5 points per game in conference play – second-best behind Stony Brook – and expect to have senior quarterback Aramis Hillary back in the lineup after a one-game injury absence.
If there is a concern for Coastal, it’s that the defense did regress last week in the team’s 55-33 win at Gardner-Webb as the Chants were left clinging to a 34-33 lead after three quarters before an impressive finish. Moglia touched on that this week.
“We’ve got to be able to go back to a little bit of the way we were playing against Liberty, the way we were playing against VMI,” he said. “We can’t play anybody – anybody – the way we played the first three quarters defensively against Gardner-Webb. … These guys will take advantage of that if we give them that.”
But yes, this is a game the Chants need to be able to handle comfortably if they want to think of themselves as a potential playoff team – even if the rest of that equation is out of their hands.
Moglia acknowledged this week that he thinks it’s highly unlikely Coastal would be considered for an at-large playoff berth as the best-case scenario is a 7-4 regular-season finish.
“I know the easy answer is, ‘Oh, that’s not up to us,’ ” Moglia said. “But I think what was up to us to take care of business, I think you’ve got to win eight games. You’ve got to win a minimum of eight games if you’re going to make an at-large berth, and we didn’t do that. So if we finished up strong, I think it would be fair for somebody to raise our name, but we had the opportunity to beat Stony Brook and we didn’t do it. We might have been able to beat Toledo, but we didn’t do it. If we had done that, we would have had eight or nine wins and I think we would be a very viable candidate. But I think without winning eight games, I think it’s just tough.”
So sometime late Saturday evening, assuming everything goes as expected earlier in the day, the Chants will turn their attention to the scoreboard in Lynchburg, Va., and see how much those rival Flames are able to help.
“I’m going to be very curious,” Hazel said. “I know everybody wants to make the playoffs. I’m going to be honest, I’m a Liberty fan right now.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.