(STATS) - The term "playoffs" has not been thrown around much at Austin Peay over the years. In fact, the school is still waiting to make its first FCS postseason appearance.
Whether or not that happens this year remains to be seen, but a victory at home Saturday against Eastern Illinois would leave the Governors at 8-4 and with a case for one of the 14 at-large berths heading into Sunday's announcement of the 24-team playoff field.
"It's a huge game for us this week," Austin Peay coach Will Healy said. "We've got to win Saturday just to continue to be in this conversation."
However, if Saturday is the last game Healy's squad plays this season, the campaign can still be deemed highly successful considering the Governors went 1-45 the previous four seasons. No longer a pushover within the FCS, Austin Peay is one victory away from posting its first eight-win season since winning the Ohio Valley Conference in 1977.
The Governors' impressive turnround also included the end of a 29-game losing streak and their first road triumph in 46 contests.
A victory would also improve the Governors to 7-1 in the conference and 8-1 against FCS competition, with the only loss coming to second-ranked and OVC champion Jacksonville State. Healy, who in two seasons has completely changed the culture within the Austin Peay program, believes his team, or even EIU (6-4, 5-2), can make an argument that Saturday's winner should be playoff bound.
In five of the last seven seasons, at least two OVC teams have made the playoffs, most recently in 2015. The conference had three qualify in 2013.
"To think about how talented the players are in this league and how well coached the teams are in this league, and for people across the country to talk about this league being only a one-bid league, is crazy to me," Healy said.
"I don't think the league gets any where close to the credibility that it deserves. I've spent all week trying to market what the league has been able to do. ... I think it's a great league and I'll fight for it everyday."
If the Governors don't hear their name called Sunday, the sting might not last too long with the foundation having obviously been laid for potentially greater success down the road.
Freshman quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall has blossomed into one of the league's budding stars while throwing for 1,070 yards and rushing for 404. He went 11 of 15 for 203 yards with two touchdowns and rushed for 64 with a score to help Austin Peay overcome a 17-point, third-quarter deficit to win 31-24 at Eastern Kentucky last weekend.
Sophomore Kentel Williams and freshman Ahmaad Tanner have combined for 1,258 rushing yards to pace a ground game that ranks seventh in the subdivision, averaging 252.7.
Austin Peay has dropped eight straight against Eastern Illinois since a 15-13 win there in 2008, and been outscored 287-80 over the last five meetings. However, Panthers coach Kim Dameron knows this is truly a case where the past means absolutely nothing.
"That was the distant, distant past," Dameron said. "All you have to do is put the film on and you can see right away that they're a much improved football team. The difference between where they were a year ago to now is just light years."