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November 8, 2012

Blazers working towards upcoming playoff game

VALDOSTA — The Valdosta State football team doesn’t know when it will play again or who its next opponent will be. But that hasn’t stopped the 14th-ranked Blazers from working hard and preparing for the playoffs.

“We are just trying to get everyone back healthy again,” junior linebacker Chris Pope said. “We are focusing back on our fundamentals and just trying to get back right again. … We are taking it day-by-day.”

Ranked No. 1 in the latest Super Region 2 rankings, the Blazers (8-2) must wait until Sunday to find out their playoff destiny, and whether or not they’ve earned a first round bye in the Division II playoffs or if they will have to play next weekend in the first round.

“You keep saying to yourself, ‘There is no way they are going to drop us down and we are going to have to play next week,’” Valdosta State head coach David Dean said. “But they dropped West Alabama from two to seven, so you never know. And that is what we are trying to tell these guys — you have to be ready to play next week.”

The only way the Blazers will have to play next weekend (Nov. 17) will be if they drop out of the top two seeds in the region. The top two seeds are awarded bye weeks and won’t play until Nov. 24.

If the Blazers are awarded a bye week for the first round, 23 days will pass between their season finale last Thursday and their playoff game at the end of the month. To help prepare for a long break, Dean said he reached out to some Division I-FBS coaches that are familiar with long breaks before competing in bowl games.

“I called a lot of guys that I know at the Division I level that go to bowl games, and asked them, ‘How do y’all handle these things?,’” Dean said. “I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on that, and we are kind of going off a lot of that. They usually have a longer time, but the general idea we picked up from them.”

When asked what teams could potentially knock VSU out of the top two in the region, Dean said he could see the winner of the Mars Hill (currently ranked No. 3) versus Carson-Newman (No. 4 in region) game moving into the top two, possibly joining Miles.

“The only ones I could see would be the Carson-Newman-Mars Hill winner, or maybe they jump West Alabama back in there, since they are conference champions and they beat us head-to-head,” Dean said.

Ultimately, the Blazers don’t expect to drop below the region’s No. 2 seed.

“I find it hard to believe,” Dean said. “If they drop us below Miles, I can’t see that happening. Why aren’t they already there? Because Miles isn’t playing this week and we are not playing anybody this week. It is just really weird with the way it all worked out.

“I really feel like we are going to be a No. 1 or a No. 2, but stranger things have happened. We are preparing to play next week.”

With the week off, the Blazers are working three days this week, focusing primarily on fundamental work.

“We’re focusing on a lot of fundamental-type stuff and getting a lot of young guys in some pass scale stuff,” Dean said. “Without knowing who we are going to play, there is not a whole lot of scheming. So basically we are focusing a lot on fundamental technique and a lot of special teams work.”

Staying healthy is another major concern for Valdosta State during the extended time off. Moving into the playoffs, Dean said there are no major injury concerns.

“We’ve got a couple of guys that are injured, but they could practice if we were in a game week,” Dean said. “Right now, the biggest concern I had was (running back) Austin Scott, but he’s looked good this week.”

With an experienced team, the Blazers aren’t worried about a lack of focus throughout the bye week.

“We have a real good senior class, and they want the most out of us, and we are going to give them the most back,” Pope said. “I don’t think they will let us settle for less.”

Along with preparing for a game that hasn’t yet been determined, the Blazers are keeping their eyes on tonight’s West Alabama-North Alabama game in Livingston, Ala. With a West Alabama loss, the Blazers will earn a share of the Gulf South Conference championship.

“I’m definitely a North Alabama fan,” wide receiver Gerald Ford said. “I’m trying to get West Alabama to lose, so we can win the conference.”

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