There isn’t much in football that South Carolina State coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough has not seen or experienced.
Entering his 21st season leading the Bulldogs, he is the winningest coach in school history with 143 victories and holds an impressive 109-38 mark in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference competition.
But the State alumnus admits something changed following the Bulldogs’ 31-10 win last season over Jackson State, coached by Deion Sanders, in front of 48,653 fans in the Celebration Bowl held in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium to claim the HBCU national championship.
“I’ve become known in ways I never have before,” Pough smiled. “People who’ve got no interest in South Carolina State or football in general have had the notion to figure out who we are and who I am.
“I see people who I’ve got no clue who they are. They saw the game and talk about it. They (tell me they) watched the whole game and how much they enjoyed it, that kind of stuff. That’s an unusual sensation for us because, even though we have been decent from time to time for years and years and years, this one game was the shot that was heard around the state for sure.”
The Bulldogs enter the 2022 season with what could be one of Pough’s better squads. The overwhelming preseason selection to claim the MEAC title, the Bulldogs had a league-high 16 players named to one of the three early All-Conference teams. It returns 18 starters, nine of each side of the football.
While State won all its conference games last season, most were closely contested. Making matters more difficult, the Bulldogs open the season with a road game against Power 5-member Central Florida and faces South Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium one month later.
Quarterback Corey Fields. who passed for 2,310 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, believes the Bulldogs are prepared for whatever challenges they face.
He admits the victory over Jackson State was big, but doesn’t believe it has changed the way the Bulldogs prepared during the spring and has continued in the fall.
The victory in Atlanta, however, was satisfying.
“Going into that game we took it as a slap in our face,” Fields said. “Everywhere we went into Atlanta, everyone was saying, ‘Oh, you’re the team that’s playing Jackson State.’ No one knew who we were. We just wanted to go out there and show what we can do.”
Now it’s back to playing opponents who know the Bulldogs well.
“Being here we have a target on our back,” Fields said. “It doesn’t matter who we play. We’re still the underdogs, no matter what people say. We go into each game feeling that way.”
Pough believes the confidence of his team entering the season is high.
“We have a confidence we haven’t had before,” he said. “I think we are as far along as we have been in a while. I think our guys understand what they need to do and how to do it. That can be a bit of a problem because sometimes we’re a bit overconfident. That worries me.
“We’ve got such a tough schedule that I wonder how we’ll deal with some of the adversity we’ve dealt with in the past. Central Florida is extremely good. (Bethune-Cookman) down there in the heat (the following week), we’ve always had a problem. “We go back to (North Carolina) A&T after that and then Carolina.
“Let’s face it, we’ve got a chance to not be in such great shape after four games. ... It’s a shot in the dark as to whether we can win early. I worry about expectations and how our guys handle the fact that they think they’re going to be pretty good and our record may not reflect such.”
The offseason has brought good news for Pough, however, as he was recently signed to a new two-year contract.
“I’ve been here for a long time, I’ll tell you,” he said, “I’ve had a wonderful run. It’s been really special. It’s good I’m coming back because I don’t know if I could feel comfortable leaving at this point. I’m hoping I can keep a steadying influence (in the athletic department) with football.”
SC State 2022 football schedule
Sept. 1: at UCF, 7 p.m. (Thursday)
Sept. 10: at Bethune-Cookman, 4 p.m.
Sept. 24: at N.C. A&T, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1: at South Carolina, TBD
Oct. 8: vs. Florida A&M, 2 p.m.
Oct. 15: vs. Virginia-Lynchburg, 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 22: vs. N.C. Central, 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 29: at Morgan State, noon
Nov. 5: vs. Delaware State, 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 12: at Howard, 1 p.m.
Nov. 19: vs. Norfolk State, 1:30 p.m.