An undefeated team three victories from a national championship typically would not require motivation. But Sam Houston State is not a typical team.
The Bearkats are making their sixth consecutive Football Championship Series appearance and, after a bye last week, will take on Chattanooga (9-3) at 2 p.m. ET Saturday in Huntsville, Texas. Since the bracket was announced by the NCAA on Nov. 20, Sam Houston State has felt it has something to prove.
The Bearkats (11-0) are the only undefeated team remaining in the FCS and one of three at the Division I level but they were given a No. 5 seed. That means if they win Saturday, they’ll need an upset to avoid playing on the road in the quarterfinals. Sam Houston State would face the winner of No. 4 seed James Madison-New Hampshire.
“There’s definitely a chip on the shoulder,” said Sam Houston State coach K.C. Keeler, who won the 2003 national championship as Delaware’s coach. “We were a No. 3 seed last year, a No. 4 seed the year before and this team is better than those teams.
“I told the kids that the seeding is what it is. We’re the No. 5 seed, so be it. We have a motto of anyone, anywhere, any time.”
Sam Houston State’s schedule is ranked No. 219 by Jeff Sagarin’s ratings. The Bearkats had hoped to face FBS foe New Mexico, but the Lobos backed out of the game to play another FCS team and Sam Houston State was unable to find an FBS replacement. The Bearkats also suffered from a weak Southland Conference.
The Bearkats have won all of their games by double digits and are outscoring their 11 opponents, 54-26. The offense, which tops FCS in scoring and total offense, is controlled by junior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, who this week was named one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award that goes to the top offensive player in FCS. He leads FCS in passing touchdowns with 52, is tops in passing yardage and second in total offense.
“Our offense is dictated by what the defense gives us,” Keeler said. “We’re balanced. We can run it 50 times a game or pass it 50 times a game.”
Briscoe transferred to Sam Houston State when UAB dropped its program. He was contacted by Florida soon after arriving in Huntsville but remained loyal to the Bearkats. Jared Johnson, who played at Sam Houston State before transferring to UTSA this season, was the starter that Briscoe had to beat.
“Not many guys will transfer to a program where there’s an established starter,” Keeler said. “I told Jeremiah that I would play the best player because I like to win. He embraced that challenge and when (Johnson) left, Jeremiah took this team over. He’s talented, he’s tough, he’s a leader and he’s intelligent.”
Chattanooga is sixth in FCS in total defense and is allowing 17.8 points per game. The Bearkats, who played in the FCS title game in 2011 and 2012 and came up short both teams will have a challenging start to this season’s playoff quest.
“We basically have the same mindset, just making sure we go 1 and 0,” Sam Houston State defensive end P.J. Hall told the Huntsville Item. “We have a lot of experience on this team. Almost everybody is back from these past couple of years. We’ve been to the playoffs. We’ve been on away games. We know what to expect. This is nothing new for us. We’re just ready to go out and play.”