August 31, 2017

(STATS) - By most logical measures, Kennesaw State's first two seasons with a football program have been a massive success: a 14-8 record, strong fan interest and the creation of a legitimate home-field advantage at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.

The Owls have won most of the games they were supposed to. Now they're after a victory few saw coming.

They'll have a golden opportunity Thursday night in Homewood, Alabama, as they visit 19th-ranked Samford looking for the program's first win over a ranked opponent.

Old Dominion is the only other Division I program since 2008 to post winning records in each of its first two seasons, so it's easy to consider Kennesaw State's foray into football a triumph thus far.

Take a little closer look at the results, though, and it's easy to find room for growth. Six of the Owls' 14 victories have come against non-Division I schools. Their three games against ranked teams? Opponents 101, Kennesaw State 34.

This year's schedule is a step up. Only one team outside of D-I is on the docket, and out-of-conference trips to Samford and Montana State add some bulk sprinkled among an ever-dwindling Big South slate.

But it's not just the fact Kennesaw State resides in the FCS' smallest conference that has it optimistic. Many think the Owls can legitimately win the league: They split the 18 first-place votes with No. 14 Charleston Southern at Big South media day.

"I think the expectations has changed from the outside, but the expectations from the inside has always been this," coach Brian Bohannon said. "From day one, we wanted to put ourselves in position of being a playoff team and (winning) championships. We have to go out and continue to make a name for ourselves, and build on what we did the year before."

Samford certainly has its foundation in place in the form of Devlin Hodges, its junior quarterback who was a third-team STATS FCS All-American last season and landed in the same spot this preseason. Hodges threw 36 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions a year ago, scoring four more with his feet.

There are only four others offensive starters returning, though, and coach Chris Hatcher sounds more worried with Hodges' unit than a defense that gave up 165 points as Samford dropped four of its final five games - including a 38-24 first-round playoff exit at Youngstown State.

"The biggest concern we have going into the season offensively isn't necessarily (Hodges), it's just the lack of experience," Hatcher said. "There will be a lot of players out there that will play for the first time in a collegiate game when it matters. ... But, on the flip side, there is a lot of excitement, because I think they're good players, I just hope they show it Thursday night."

As for the other side of the ball, prepping for Kennesaw State's triple-option brings about its own set of problems.

"We're not facing a cupcake in game one," Hatcher said of the Owls. "Preparing for a team like that the first game is difficult because you have to put in all of your other stuff defensively so you're ready for the other games, but you have to spend enough time to get ready for that option.

"So, we'll wait and see, and you guys will know when I know what type of team we've got."

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