The Samford Bulldogs are ranked in the top 25 of the Sports Network Division I FCS poll for the first time in almost 20 years. But in order to stay there, they likely will have to defeat a team that is a far more regular presence in the national rankings.
Samford (5-1, 3-1 Southern Conference) hosts 13th-ranked Appalachian State (4-2, 2-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Mountaineers won three consecutive national championships from 2005 to 2007. They have a 5-1 lead in the series with the Bulldogs, including a 3-0 record at Samford.
"Appalachian State has set the bar in this conference for a long time," Samford coach Pat Sullivan said. "Coach (Jerry) Moore and their coaching staff are outstanding. Obviously we'll have our hands full."
The Bulldogs moved into the top 25 for the first time since 1993 on the strength of last week's 38-7 victory over The Citadel — which was ranked No. 19 at the time — and improved to 5-1 for the first time since 1992.
"I thought the enthusiasm and passion that our guys played with was as good as I've seen since I've been here," Sullivan said. "They've taken a lot of pride in that."
The Mountaineers are led by quarterback Jamal Jackson, who has completed 66.7 percent of his pass attempts. Jackson is averaging 263.5 passing yards per game and has thrown for 12 touchdowns.
"Their success (over the years) starts with their quarterback," Sullivan said. "They've always had a great one, and Jamal is the same way."
This is an important game in the Southern Conference standings. Wofford leads the league with a 3-0 record, but has consecutive road games against Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. Samford hosts Wofford on Nov. 3.
Miles (5-1, 3-0 SIAC) is off to its best start in 54 years and will look to extend its current winning streak to six games against struggling Kentucky State (1-4, 0-3).
The Golden Bears' only loss this season was by one point to North Alabama in the season opener. They have won their past three games by an average margin of 33 points.
Kentucky State is coming off a 36-6 loss to Fort Valley State and is on a three-game losing streak.
Jacksonville State will attempt to separate itself from a pack of six one-loss teams in Ohio Valley Conference play when the Gamecocks (3-2, 2-1) take on Eastern Illinois (3-3, 2-1).
Eastern Illinois is the top offensive team in the OVC, averaging 45.5 points and 538.3 yards per game. In addition, the Panthers are 3-0 at home this season.
"They are a high-tempo offense that plays a lot of snaps," JSU coach Jack Crowe said of EIU, which ran 103 offensive plays and gained 616 yards against Tennessee-Martin last week. "Their (statistics) on offense are amazing."
Quarterback Deaunte Mason will look to keep Alabama A&M (6-0, 5-0 SWAC) undefeated against an Alcorn State team that is allowing an average of 35.7 points per game.
Mason, who has been named the SWAC offensive player of the week each of the past four games, threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more in last week's 35-0 victory over Mississippi Valley State. He has yet to throw an interception this season.
"He's one of the main reasons why we are 6-0," A&M coach Anthony Jones said. "When we get in a bad situation he makes it right for us,"
Alcorn State (2-4, 2-2) broke a four-game losing streak last week with a 20-17 victory over Southern.
Even though Jackson State (2-4, 2-2 SWAC) is struggling this year, the Tigers have traditionally had the better of Alabama State (4-2, 4-1). JSU leads the series 27-9-1.
"Jackson State has always been tough, played hard, and had good players," ASU coach Reggie Barlow said. "It's going to be a challenge in for us to match their intensity. They're going to play hard, play fast and be physical, so we have to be prepared to compete against them."
The Hornets have won four of their past five games and have scored a total of 99 points in their past two victories.
West Alabama (4-2) will attempt to bounce back from a 42-27 loss to Midwestern State in which the Tigers gave up 348 yards on the ground and six rushing touchdowns.
The loss dropped UWA out of the top 10 to No. 17 in the latest Division II national poll.
"We need to learn from that game put it behind us," UWA coach Will Hall said.
"We can still focus on winning the Gulf South Conference and work toward being a top-two seed in the playoffs."