By The Associated Press
No. 25 Samford has cracked the national rankings for the first time in 17 years. Now the Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0 Southern Conference) get to prove they belong over the next few weeks.
This stretch begins with a game at No. 9 Georgia Southern (2-1, 1-1) at 5 p.m. CDT Saturday. That will be followed by consecutive home games against 15th-ranked The Citadel and No. 16 Appalachian State. The Bulldogs also play fifth-ranked Wofford on Nov. 3, meaning four of their next five games are against teams currently ranked in the top 16 nationally.
"We're about to find out where we are as a team," Samford coach Pat Sullivan said. "I like our team. I'm really excited to see where we go with it. We'll find out a lot this week against Georgia Southern."
One thing Sullivan already knows about the Bulldogs is their ability to take control of a game in the fourth quarter. Samford came back from a 21-10 deficit against Western Carolina last Saturday by scoring 15 fourth-quarter points. Samford has outscored its opponents 27-6 in the fourth quarter.
"Even though we were down going into the fourth and things didn't look good, I had all the confidence in the world that we were going to find a way to win," Sullivan said. "It was a feeling that I haven't really had with our team since I've been here. Our kids have adopted that and believe in that."
Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken said it's difficult to prepare for the Samford offense because the Bulldogs have proven to be effective in both rushing and passing. They are averaging 171 yards rushing per game and 213 yards passing.
"We have plenty to prepare for, because they're a really good team," Monken said. "I know Pat feels this might be the best team they've had since he's been there."
Sullivan doesn't consider Samford's early success to be unexpected.
"I don't want this to sound cocky or anything, but it doesn't surprise me," he said. "Starting in the offseason, I said that I really like this team. We have some good players, and they've been on a mission. It's been a building process for us. We've gotten better every year, and this is our best team."
Alabama A&M vs. Grambling State, 6 p.m.
The two teams that met in last year's SWAC championship game are going in different directions this season.
Alabama A&M (4-0, 3-0 SWAC), currently leads the East Division, while Grambling (0-3, 0-2) is near the bottom of the West Division and is winless since defeating the Bulldogs 16-15 for last year's conference title.
"Grambling has a great program and a great team," Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones said. "They've lost two games by two points. Whatever problems they've had, I'm sure they'll be fixed when they come here."
Alabama State at Alcorn State, 2 p.m.
Alabama State will attempt to break away from a group of one-loss teams in the SWAC East Division when the Hornets (2-2, 2-1) play Alcorn State (1-1, 1-3).
Alabama A&M leads the division with a 3-0 record in conference play, while the four other teams in the division have one loss each.
"It's an important game for us and an important game for them," ASU coach Reggie Barlow said. "They run the exact same offense we run, the spread system, with a lot of zone reads with the quarterback and the running back. So it's going to be important for us to recognize how they run their system."
Jacksonville State vs. Southeast Missouri State, 3 p.m.
After watching Eastern Kentucky run the ball 52 times for 327 yards against his defense last week, Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe said he expects to see a similar approach this week from Southeast Missouri State.
"They are going to come in here and try to do the same thing that Eastern Kentucky did, except they have more of a perimeter balance," Crowe said of Southeast Missouri (2-2, 1-0 Ohio Valley). "We are going to simplify to some degree, to make sure we can contend and react properly to all their challenges."
The Gamecocks (1-2, 0-1) are looking to avoid their first 1-3 start since 2007.
Miles vs. Benedict College, 6 p.m.
Miles (3-1, 1-0 SIAC) will try to keep the momentum going against winless Benedict (0-4, 0-1). The Golden Bears have won three consecutive games and are coming off a 41-6 road victory over Albany State, which made it to the conference championship game last year.
"Anytime you can go into somebody else's territory and have a game like we did (last Saturday), it's unbelievable," Miles coach Reginald Ruffin said.
Miles running back Floyd Graves rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown in the victory, and linebacker Reginald Virges intercepted two passes.
North Alabama vs. Shorter, 6 p.m.
North Alabama will welcome a newcomer to the Gulf South Conference when the Lions (3-1, 1-0) play host to Shorter (2-2).
The Hawks joined the GSC this year though they are not eligible to compete for the conference championship. However, this game does count in the conference standings for UNA.
"Shorter is a good football team and they run the same type of option offense as Harding (which beat the Lions 31-10)," UNA coach Bobby Wallace said. "We'll have to be real disciplined against the run and at the same time not give up big plays in the passing game. It will be a big challenge for us."
Stillman at Lane, 2 p.m.
The challenge for Stillman (2-2, 1-0 SIAC ) will be to contain Lane quarterback Chris Rini, who completed 22 of 34 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown in Lane's 37-24 upset victory over Morehouse last year. It was the first victory for Lane (2-2, 1-2) against Morehouse since 2006.
Stillman will counter with defensive end Zamir Carlis, who was named the SIAC defensive player of the week after recording nine tackles (2 1/2 for a loss) and forcing a fumble in a 27-8 victory over Kentucky State.
Tuskegee vs. Fort Valley State, 1 p.m.
It will be a match-up of early division leaders when Tuskegee (2-1, 1-0 SIAC) takes on Fort Valley State (3-1, 2-0). Tuskegee is tied with Miles and Stillman for the top spot in the West Division, while Fort Valley has sole possession of the lead in the East.
Fort Valley has used a no-huddle offense the past two games. In last week's 30-10 victory over Benedict, Antonio Henton passed for 183 yards and three touchdowns -- all in the first half -- and former Auburn receiver Chris Slaughter had 100 yards receiving and scored two TDs.
West Alabama vs. West Georgia, 6 p.m.
West Alabama will put its new top-10 ranking on the line when the Lions (3-1, 1-0 Gulf South) take on West Georgia (2-1, 0-0). UWA is ranked No. 10 in the latest D2Football.com Top 25 Poll following its first road victory over Valdosta State. UWA had lost 16 consecutive games on the Blazers' home field before last Saturday's 39-28 win.
The Lions swept the GSC player of the week awards, with the league honoring running back Matt Willis, defensive back Otha Foster and placekicker Ryne Smith.