MACON -- Here's today's Valdosta Daily Times consumer alert.
If you are offered a special season ticket package consisting of only September home games for the Valdosta State football team, just say no thanks.
Why? There are no Blazer football home games that month.
That's just one of many obstacles the VSU football team faces as it goes for Gulf South Conference history and one more win than last season -- a win in the Division II national championship game.
"Our goal is to finish, to win one more game than we did last season," said VSU head coach Chris Hatcher at Wednesday's Pigskin Preview at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. "We're going to try to do it by winning one game a week. Everything else will take care of itself."
The Blazers open the season Aug. 30 vs. Albany State at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. Then comes a swing of three road games in four weeks from one end of the country -- Division I-AA Florida Atlantic on Sept. 6 -- to the other end of the Gulf South Conference, with games at Delta State (Sept. 20) and at Southern Arkansas (Sept. 27).
Florida Atlantic, coached by veteran Howard Schnellenberger, is the money game on the Blazers' schedule, replacing Fort Valley State. Hatcher said VSU will receive $40,000 for the game, minus travel expenses.
But because of the same budget cuts most all of us face, the Blazers may fly to just one of four long-distance Gulf South Conference games.
"We've got to play well on the road, and traditionally we've done that," said Hatcher, whose teams haven't lost in seven same-day charter-flight games in his three years. "We'll have to be real creative in how we travel this season."
Of course, Hatcher's three years at Valdosta State have rarely been about losses. The Blazers have won 36 of 40 games in three years. Only one loss was as a visitor -- the 2000 playoff loss at Delta State. Two others were on Cleveland Field.
And then there was last year's 31-24 loss to Grand Valley State in the championship game. The Blazers came back from a 24-6 deficit, only to give up the winning touchdown with 64 seconds left.
"You catch yourself thinking about it all the time," said junior quarterback Buster Faulkner, who threw for 41 touchdowns in his first starting season. "It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. Our No. 1 goal is to get back there and win it. We came a minute short of being a national champion, and that's our motivation."
To make the national playoffs and get a chance at that title, the Blazers will probably need to make some history. No Gulf South Conference team has ever won four consecutive conference titles. The great North Alabama teams of the mid-1990s, a nemesis for Hatcher the Valdosta State quarterback, won three in a row (and won three national titles).
To repeat, the Blazers hope their young quarterbacks and offensive line grow up with a year of experience in the system. VSU also needs to replace its two all-star receivers in Reggie Mosley and C.J. Lofton and will count on an experienced running backs group led by seniors Aaron Jenkins and Lee Tarpley and junior Tyran Robinson.
The defense turns to its fourth coordinator in four years. Ashley Anders was promoted from linebackers coach, meaning at least the Black Swarm won't be starting from scratch again.
Among the early worries? Filling holes in the middle of the defensive line and depth at linebacker.
The Blazers report Aug. 4, with the first practice on Aug. 6 at North Campus. More on the new practice schedule college teams face this month in Sunday's Valdosta Daily Times.
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