(STATS) - The theme of the week among Charleston Southern players is "adaptability."
While the Big South champion Buccaneers get ready for an FCS playoff quarterfinal at top-seeded Jacksonville State, they're facing different variables.
They have been taking semester finals this week while they also focus on football. Their preparation and travel are restructured from the usual Saturday game day because their playoff matchup is being played Friday night. And, oh yes, their Bucs program has never played Jacksonville State.
The latter typifies the playoff games this week. After last weekend's second round had a familiar ring with six of the eight games being rematches from earlier this season, the quarterfinals are the reverse: three of the four games are first-time matchups.
In addition to CSU-Jax State, Richmond and Illinois State and Colgate and Sam Houston State have never met before. The one familiar quarterfinal is between Missouri Valley Football Conference rivals Northern Iowa and North Dakota State.
Coaches have worked the phones this week to talk to colleagues who can provide insight into new opponents. Many coaches find that one of the keys to preparing for a first-time opponent, especially one week after being in the opposite scenario - Richmond and William & Mary met for the 126th time last Saturday - is breaking down the other team into familiar terms.
"I think what you try to do as a staff," Charleston Southern coach Jamey Chadwell said, "is you try to find as much continuity of who you've played that you can compare to so your team feels familiar with it. So we can say, 'Hey, you remember how Coastal (Carolina) or Liberty played our formations like this? Well, this is what they're going to do when we're on defense or special teams' and try to give as much continuity to our guys and confidence because we've had success versus those teams and compare it and try to put it in that picture. So, 'Hey, they do it like this, so, remember, we'll try to do these things' to trigger something in their mind that they've had success."
Richmond is just like Charleston Southern - its players have taken final exams and met as a group at different times this week. The Spiders even left campus Wednesday night to get to Normal, Illinois, to be rested and ready for a Friday night playoff game in a week that's anything but normal.
Considering Illinois State has relied on a knockout punch of quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Marshaun Coprich for two straight seasons, Richmond coach Danny Rocco can put the Redbirds into familiar perspective - CAA Football players.
"This year, (James Madison quarterback) Vad Lee I thought was extraordinary," Rocco said. "We played him when he was healthy and them when they were healthy. I don't think Tre is Vad Lee when it comes down to that. And there's certainly some really good backs in our league here."
As for Colgate-Sam Houston, Colgate is celebrating its 125th season of football and Sam Houston is in its 100th season. The difference of 25 also is the travel distance between campuses because it takes about 25 straight hours of driving to go from one to the other. Fortunately for the Raiders, they flew from Upstate New York to the Houston area.
It wasn't surprising that many Sam Houston players didn't know Colgate's location, so Bearkats coach K.C. Keeler and his staff have brought the red-hot Patriot League champion Raiders into familiar terms for the Bearkats. They can relate the visitors' run-based read offense to the one they just faced in fellow Southland Conference member McNeese State. Ironically, McNeese ran the ball 64 percent of the time this season; Colgate runs the ball 64 percent of the time.
"You've got to remind them (Sam Houston players) how (Colgate) got here," said Keeler, who led Delaware past Colgate in the 2003 FCS national championship game. "I mean, Colgate got here by going and winning CAA games - and I was in that league, so I know how good the league is - on the road.
"Then when you look at the tape, you just see how methodical they are, how disciplined they are, how they don't make mistakes. This is going to be a unique challenge. They will not be as athletic as we are, they're not going to be as big or as fast as we are, but they're equally as talented as we are because what they do fits in to the people they have."
LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 5-4 (.556) - OK, BOO!
OVERALL RECORD: 568-150 (.791)
FCS PLAYOFF QUARTERFINALS
ALL TIMES ET
FRIDAY, DEC. 11
No. 7 seed Richmond (9-3) at No. 2 seed Illinois State (10-2)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Quick Slants: Richmond coach Danny Rocco feels the design of his defense fits well with facing Illinois State's offensive scheme, but the Spiders still have to slow down running back Marshaun Coprich, who has gone over 200 rushing yards in three straight games, and the near-perfect quarterback draws of Tre Roberson. The Spiders have to counter the Redbirds' physical style with quarterback Kyle Lauletta, who is coming off a subpar outing, leading a ball control attack and silencing the Hancock Stadium crowd which has watched the Redbirds win 19 straight home games. Neither team has been dynamic on special teams, so an exceptional play could make a difference.
Prediction: What this game comes down to is rushing production between Coprich (1,937 yards) and an equally hot Jacobi Green (1,426). Illinois State, 31-21.
No. 8 seed Charleston Southern (10-2) at No. 1 seed Jacksonville State (11-1)
Kickoff: 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
Quick Slants: These two teams have only lost to FBS opponents. Injuries to QBs Austin Brown and Kyle Copeland could mean the visiting Buccaneers go with Charleston product Danny Croghan III, who went 5-1 as a starter in 2013 but has to shake rust from his game. Jacksonville State will play man-to-man on the perimeter and attack with its big defensive linemen. But the Bucs' game plan is to play it safe with RBs Darius Hammond and Mike Holloway and put the outcome in the hands of their defense, which is No. 2 nationally in yards allowed per game (266.6). The Bucs have allowed only 13.3 points per game to FCS opponents and want to contain JSU QB Eli Jenkins to the pocket after the Gamecocks put up 640 yards on Chattanooga last week.
Prediction: Jacksonville State is attempting to become the first Ohio Valley Conference team to advance to the semifinals since 1991. With the offense hurting, Charleston Southern needs an incredible defensive effort. Jacksonville State, 28-21.
SATURDAY, DEC. 12
Northern Iowa (9-4) at No. 3 seed North Dakota State (10-2)
Kickoff: Noon (ESPN)
Quick Slants: North Dakota State won the regular season meeting 31-28 on a last-minute touchdown. While Bison redshirt freshman Carson Stick is 6-0 as a starter, he hasn't faced a defense as exceptional as UNI's, so fifth-year senior Carson Wentz is readying himself for a possible return from a wrist injury. The Panthers have gained 30 turnovers and will be looking to force mistakes. NDSU's run defense (just 105.2 ypg) has to slow down UNI's two 1,000-yards rushers, QB Aaron Bailey (1,301) and RB Tyvis Smith (1,201), who carved up Portland State with over 200 yards each. Both teams feature a stud junior linebacker wearing No. 49, UNI's Brett McMakin and NDSU's Nick DeLuca.
Prediction: The raucous crowd at the Fargodome was a difference maker in NDSU's rout of Montana last week, which pushed the Bison to 14-0 all-time at home in the FCS playoffs. UNI has the veterans to handle the crowd noise, but North Dakota State, 27-24.
Colgate (9-4) at Sam Houston State (10-3)
Kickoff: Noon (ESPN3)
Quick Slants: Colgate, the surprise team of the playoffs, is on a seven-game winning streak, peaking at the right time. The Raiders have demonstrated a terrific ability to adjust to different opponents and the surge of RB James Holland is what they needed to support clutch QB Jake Melville. It can't be overlooked that Sam Houston has reached a higher gear as its level of competition has raised recently. The Bearkats rank No. 1 in the FCS in total offense (543.3 ypg) and will again use two quarterbacks, dual-threat Jared Johnson and passer Jeremiah Briscoe, and they've had a running back go over 100 yards in seven straight games. Raiders tackle leader Kyle Diener (121) and six others on his defense have more tackles than Sam Houston's leader, defensive end P.J. Hall (58).
Prediction: If we keep picking Colgate to lose, we will eventually get it right - at least we think so. Sam Houston reaches the semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons. Sam Houston, 35-23.