ORANGEBURG -- As Marshall McFadden waited for the Football Championship Subdivision playoff pairings to be announced Sunday, the South Carolina State linebacker was hoping his team would stay in Orangeburg for the first round.
What the Bulldogs got, however, was the toughest road assignment possible -- a game in Boone, N.C., against three-time defending national champion Appalachian State.
"Everybody wanted a home game," McFadden said. "But when it came across the screen that we were playing Appalachian State, that was better. They've got everything we want."
The No. 2 Mountaineers have what every team in the 16-team playoff field wants -- three consecutive crowns and an excellent shot at a fourth. S.C. State center Raymond Harrison was nearly rendered speechless when the first matchup was broadcast.
"It was -- I don't know how to explain it -- it popped up so quick there, I was like, wow," he said.
But the amazement quickly gave way to the reality of playing the champs at noon Saturday on ESPNU in front of 30,000 fans at Kidd Brewer -Stadium. Like McFadden, Harrison was fine with the enormity of the task.
"If you're going deep into the playoffs, you're going to see them," said Harrison, an all-conference player and four-year starter. "You might as well play them early."
The No. 13 Bulldogs (10-2) got to this stage by sweeping through the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, while the Mountaineers did the same in the Southern Conference. But Appalachian State has appeared in the playoffs eight times in the past 10 seasons, while S.C. State is making its first trip since 1982.
McFadden, a junior who leads the Bulldogs with 79 tackles, is convinced, however, the experience gap will not intimidate his teammates.
"I think everybody on our football team knows we're a high-caliber team. We can compete with anybody," he said. "There's nothing we can't handle if we put our minds to it."
If a shock is going to come to the FCS world, Harrison is convinced this is the right time for it to happen. The Bulldogs are on an eight-game winning streak. Their two losses came early in the season against Football Bowl Subdivision foes Central Florida and Clemson. They have won their past three games by scores of 56-0, 32-0 and 55-0.
"I feel we've got a good bit of momentum on both sides of the ball," Harrison said. "This will be our best chance. We're on a roll."
But rolling over MEAC opponents such as Howard and North Carolina A&T is a far cry from playing the Mountaineers, who have won nine in a row and average 39.3 points per game behind All-American quarterback and Greenwood High graduate Armanti Edwards. Their two losses came to LSU and James Madison, the No. 1 seed in the FCS playoffs.
McFadden can't wait to stand across the line from Edwards -- who has passed for 2,146 yards, rushed for 890 and accounted for 34 touchdowns -- for the challenge of facing the best.
"I can have no mistakes," he said. "I'm going to play my best."
Three consecutive shutouts have McFadden feeling confident the Bulldogs -- who are getting strong play from linebacker Tony White, safety Markee Hamlin and cornerback and former Rock Hill High standout Phillip Adams -- can slow the Appalachian State offense.
"We all knew we had a good team and a good defense. It just took us time to put it together," McFadden said. "When we got down to the final three games, everybody got intense. We knew our roles."
S.C. State's balanced offense could present matchup problems for the Mountaineers. The Bulldogs average 209 yards per game on the ground and 179 through the air.
More than anything, the Bulldogs are looking to earn respect on the national level for both themselves and the MEAC. They realize maintaining focus in the midst of a large, hostile crowd will be important. They don't want get too caught up in the gameday atmosphere.
"We're trying to be as businesslike as we can. It'll be more business than pleasure," Harrison said.