Furman football seems set for FCS playoffs as on-the-rise rival Wofford pays a visit

When Furman’s dominant defensive effort Saturday at Mercer lifted the Paladins to a 23-13 victory, it marked the team’s fifth consecutive road win.

The last time the Paladins (8-2, 6-1 Southern Conference) won five consecutive road games was a span of four in 1989 to the first one in 1990. Furman is now on the cusp of other things that haven’t been done in a while. Namely, making the FCS playoffs for the first time in three seasons and hosting a postseason game for the first time in 17 years.

While Samford has locked up the SoCon’s automatic bid to the playoffs, the Paladins have secured at least a second-place finish. Only one league team was invited to the FCS playoffs last season, but it seems like a lock that there will be more in the 24-team field this season. In this week’s FCS Stats Perform (media) rankings, Samford is No. 9, Furman 12, Chattanooga 14 and Mercer 19.

With its second consecutive win against a ranked FCS team in as many games Saturday, Furman is confident its playoff ticket has been punched.

“One of the great things about FCS football is when you can put yourself in a position where you don’t know when your season’s going to end,” Furman coach Clay Hendrix said Monday.

PURPLE POWER:How a loss has turned into big gains for Furman running back Dominic Roberto

PALADINS CLIMB:Furman football rises in FCS Top 25 rankings

HANDLING PRESSURE:Furman men's basketball is the SoCon favorite. Here's what will make or break the Paladins

While the Paladins seem confident that they’re in, that should not be a distraction for their regular-season finale. Not with rival Wofford (3-7, 3-4), which has come to life after an 0-6 start, visiting Paladin Stadium on Saturday (12 p.m., 97.1 FM).

“I think we’ve got a mature bunch that want to go win a ninth game. It’s been a while since we’ve done that around here,” Hendrix said. “A conference championship is also still in play. I just think that’s where our focus is.”

A Furman win combined with a victory by Mercer (7-3, 5-2) at Samford (9-1, 7-0) would give the Paladins a share of the SoCon title.

After being just the second SoCon champion ever left out of the playoffs in 2018, Furman received an at-large bid in 2019. Given what’s gone on in the world since then and Furman’s performance that postseason -- a 42-6 first-round loss at Austin Peay -- it seems like an even longer postseason drought.

How Furman could land a home game in the playoffs

A win Saturday would give Furman nine wins for the first time since the 2005 squad went 11-3. That season was also the last time a playoff game was held at Paladin Stadium. While the location of first-round games are dictated by teams' financial bids rather than merit, Furman may be poised to snap its dry spell.

The playoff committee strives to make the bracket regionalized to save on travel costs. It also looks for as many bus trips (400 miles or less) as possible in the opening round. One current projection has Furman hosting Davidson in the first round, with the winner advancing to face sixth-seeded William and Mary. Another has the Paladins hosting Elon in round one, with the winner advancing to play at fifth-seeded Samford.

“Don’t think we don’t think about it, even if we don’t talk about it,” Hendrix said of potentially hosting a playoff game.

One guaranteed way to secure a home playoff game would be to earn one of those eight seeds, which also secures a first-round bye. If things shake out just right Saturday, Furman could find itself in position for one. The Paladins are No. 13 in the FCS Coaches poll and No. 10 in the Massey Ratings, a scientific poll which factors in strength of schedule.

“I think we have a chance to be a seeded team. That kind of drives me. … That’s a big advantage when you can do that,” Hendrix said. “Being a grad and being a part of this place for so long, I want that for our school, our alumni and particularly the old players that came before us.

“Winning does lots of great things for lots of people. … I’m just excited for the chance to keep playing.”

Scoreboard-watching for Furman fans

In the FCS Stats Perform poll, one team ahead of Furman that won’t be in the playoffs is No. 10 Jackson State, which will instead participate in the SWAC Championship game.

Key matchups that could boost the Paladins this Saturday include: No. 24 UC Davis at No. 2 Sacramento State, No. 13 Montana at No. 3 Montana State, No. 16 North Dakota at No. 4 North Dakota State, No. 8 William and Mary at No. 11 Richmond and No. 19 Mercer at No. 9 Samford.

Upsets would do wonders for Furman’s hopes of elevating. Those games to keep an eye on are: No. 5 Incarnate Word at Northwestern State; No. 6 Holy Cross at Georgetown; No. 7 Weber State at Northern Arizona.

The FCS playoff selection show is scheduled for Sunday (12:30 p.m., ESPNU).

Furman football appears on the verge of its first FCS playoff appearance since 2019. The Paladins' next obstacle comes Saturday against Wofford College.
Furman football appears on the verge of its first FCS playoff appearance since 2019. The Paladins' next obstacle comes Saturday against Wofford College.

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Why Furman football dares dream of getting a home game in FCS playoffs