Football Championship Subdivision

In the FCS Huddle: 2014 Southern Conference Preview

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director/Senior Editor

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - George Orwell might have paid close attention to Southern Conference football last season.

With Appalachian State and Georgia Southern getting set to take their oppressive rule out the door, Chattanooga earned its first share of the conference title since 1984.

This year, with both powers up to the FBS level, the same Mocs team hopes to land an FCS playoff bid for the first team since 1984. The Mocs enter the season as the SoCon's preseason favorite.

"I like our team a lot," Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman said. "I think we have some talented players. I'd say depth is a little bit of an issue in certain spots, but not everywhere. I am sure everyone at our level has depth issues in certain areas. I'd say our team goals are the same as they always are. We want to be in the playoffs, we want to win a conference championship and we want to compete for a national championship. Hopefully, our team has made those strides to get there. I think we are progressing the way we should be."

That the Mocs, Furman and Samford tied for the title was particularly surprising. Each was 6-2 and both ASU and GSU were two games behind along with The Citadel. Furman earned the automatic bid to the playoffs, while Samford went in with an at-large bid.

Elon also has departed the SoCon this year - moving to the Colonial Athletic Association - but VMI returns to the conference and Mercer's young program joined as well. A year from now, East Tennessee State will be in with a new team.

Regardless, 2013 was a year of change for the SoCon. When the postseason rolls around in November, Chattanooga hopes to party like it's 1984.

"I think (last season) basically made everyone believe that everyone had a chance," said Wofford coach Mike Ayers, the dean of SoCon coaches. "The league, whether Appalachian State and Georgia Southern were going to leave or not, stepped up."

Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2014 Southern Conference race.

The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:

1. Chattanooga

2. Furman

3. Wofford

4. Samford

5. The Citadel

6. Western Carolina

7. Mercer

8. VMI

Team-by-team capsules:

1. CHATTANOOGA MOCS

LOCATION: Chattanooga, Tennessee

STADIUM: Finley Stadium

COACH: Russ Huesman (31-25 in five seasons at Chattanooga)

LAST SEASON: 8-4 overall, 6-2 SoCon (Tie/1st); No. 23 TSN final ranking

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (5 offense/8 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR/QB Terrell Robinson (27 receptions, 263 yards, 2 TD); OL Kevin Revis; LB Wes Dothard (82 TT, 7.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 4 QBH); S D.J. Key (77 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU); CB Kadeem Wise (75 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 7 PBU); DB/KR Chaz Moore (70 TT, 7.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU; 29.1-yard KO return average)

OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Jacob Huesman, Jr. (164-for-240, 1,637 yards, 16 TD, 5 INT; 176 carries, 894 yards, 9 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Davis Tull, Sr. (52 TT, 15 TFL, 9 sacks, 1 PBU, 8 QBH, 1 FR, 4 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Keon Williams, Sr. (116 carries, 687 yards, 9 TD)

RB Marquis Green, Sr. (69 carries, 282 yards, 1 TD; 31 receptions, 284 yards, 3 TD)

RB Derrick Craine, So.

WR/PR Tommy Hudson, Sr. (28 receptions, 261 yards, 1 TD; 9.1-yard punt return average)

WR Alphonso Stewart, R-Fr.

WR Xavier Borishade, So.

WR C.J. Board, So.

TE Faysal Shafaat, Sr. (35 receptions, 322 yards, 6 TD)

RT Brandon Morgan, Jr.

OL Chris Mayes, Sr.

LT Corey Levin, So.

LG Synjen Herren, Jr.

DT Derrick Lott, Sr. (injured last season; 17 TT, 2.5 sacks, 3 QBH)

DE Daniel Ring, Jr. (42 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)

DE Keionta Davis, So.

NT Josh Freeman, Jr. (41 TT, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 QBH)

LB Muhasibi Wakeel, Sr.

LB Nakevion Leslie, So.

CB Dee Virgin, So.

CB Sema'je Kendall, Jr.

PK/P Nick Pollard, Sr. (5-of-10 FG, 58 points; 51 punts, 40.7 ypp)

OUTLOOK: A share of their first SoCon title since 1984 was sweet, but the Mocs still want to get back to the FCS playoffs for the first time since that season. This year is their best chance. They return the conference's preseason offensive (QB Jacob Huesman) and defensive (DE Tull) players of the year. Their team looks to play efficient ball control and tight defense. In fact, the Mocs led the conference in total defense (328.9 ypg) and scoring defense (20.4 ppg) last season, and Tull already is their all-time sacks leader with 26.5. The return of Lott to the middle of a superb defensive line is huge. Although the offense was sluggish at times last season, Huesman makes plays with his feet as much as his arm. With a healthier Williams at running back and an improved line, the rushing offense should be dominant. The Mocs have a particularly strong non-conference schedule - sans Austin Peay - and have to go to Furman in their regular-season finale. They probably hope their playoff fate won't hinge on that game.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 28 - at Central Michigan

Sept. 6 - Jacksonville State

Sept. 13 - at Austin Peay

Sept. 27 - Samford

Oct. 4 - VMI

Oct. 11 - at Tennessee

Oct. 18 - at The Citadel

Oct 25 - Mercer

Nov. 1 - at Western Carolina

Nov. 8 - Wofford

Nov. 15 - at Tennessee Tech

Nov. 22 - at Furman

2. FURMAN PALADINS

LOCATION: Greenville, South Carolina

STADIUM: Paladin Stadium

COACH: Bruce Fowler (17-19 in three seasons at Furman)

LAST SEASON: 8-6 overall, 6-2 SoCon (Tie/1st); No. 22 TSN final ranking

STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (7 offense/8 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR Ryan Culbreath (39 receptions, 515 yards, 4 TD); LT Dakota Dozier; C Eric Thoni; Nickle Jairus Hollman (112 TT, 11.5 TFL, 3 INT, 7 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 3 FF, 1 BLK); SS Greg Worthy (132 TT, 3.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 3 FF); PK/P Ray Early (20-of-25 FG, 94 yards; 65 punts, 43.5 ypp)

OFFENSIVE STAR: RB/KR Hank McCloud, Sr. (215 carries, 1,092 yards, 5 TD; 23.3- yard KO return average)

DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Gary Wilkins, Sr. (79 TT, 13 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Reese Hannon, Jr. (153-for-254, 1,748 yards, 7 TD, 5 INT)

FB Ernie Cain, Jr.

WR Andre Suttles, So. (50 receptions, 697 yards, 3 TD)

WR/QB Terry Robinson, Jr.

OT Charles Emert, Sr.

OG Tank Phillips, Sr.

OG Joe Turner, Jr.

DE Ira McCune, Sr. (47 TT, 8 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 QBH, 4 FR, 1 FF, 1 BLK)

DT Jordan Hawkins, So.

NT John Mackey, Jr.

LB Carl Rider, Jr. (136 TT, 8 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 QBH, 2 FR, 1 FF)

LB Cory Magwood, Jr. (77 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 2 FF)

LB T.J. Warren, So. (45 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FR)

CB Reggie Thomas, Jr. (63 TT, 2 INT, 5 PBU)

Nickle Richard Hayes III, So. (57 carries, 302 yards, 2 TD)

FS Marcus McMorris, Sr. (113 TT, 9 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)

OUTLOOK: The power of persistence - Fowler and his team put it on glorious display last season, when they overcame a 2-4 start and earned the SoCon's automatic bid to the playoffs. Once there, they won at South Carolina State in the first round. Hollmon was expected to play a big part in this season but was dismissed from the team in June along with Thoni. Offensively, the Paladins prefer to grind out drives behind 1,000-yard RB McCloud and QB Hannon, who's steady but not spectacular. The Paladins will utilize Wildcat packages with Robinson. With the loss of Hollmon, Hayes has switched back to nickel to help steady the defense. There's a potential All-American in DE Wilkins, while LB Rider was the tackle leader on a unit that had four players go over 100 tackles. The loss of Early also means the kicking game needs an overhaul. Expect a better season from the start and another run at the SoCon title and a playoff appearance.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - Gardner-Webb

Sept. 6 - at Mercer

Sept. 13 - at Presbyterian

Sept. 20 - at South Carolina State

Sept. 27 - Western Carolina

Oct. 4 - Coastal Carolina

Oct. 18 - at South Carolina

Oct. 25 - Samford

Nov. 1 - at VMI

Nov. 8 - at The Citadel

Nov. 15 - Wofford

Nov. 22 - Chattanooga

3. WOFFORD TERRIERS

LOCATION: Spartanburg, South Carolina

STADIUM: Gibbs Stadium

COACH: Mike Ayers (176-121-1 in 26 seasons at Wofford; 187-142-2 overall)

LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 4-4 SoCon (Tie/4th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB Donovan Johnson (192 TT, 854 yards, 4 TD); OL Ty Gregory; C Jared Singleton; LB Mike McCrimon (90 TT, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FF); LB Alvin Scioneaux (75 TT, 9.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 2 FF); S James Zotto (65 TT, 1.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF); S Josh Holt (59 TT, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FF); PK/P Kasey Redfern (6-of-10 FG, 44 points; 48 punts, 42.4 ypp)

OFFENSIVE STAR: HB/PR Will Gay, Jr. (70 carries, 486 yards, 2 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Tarek Odom, Sr. (47 TT, 13 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 QBH)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Brad Butler, R-Fr.

QB Evan Jacks, So. (28-for-59, 252 yards; 75 carries, 241 yards, 2 TD)

QB Brandon Goodson, R-Fr.

QB Michael Weimer, Jr. (16-for-40, 313 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT)

HB/KR Nick Colvin, So.

FB Jonny Martin, Jr. (82 carries, 399 yards, 7 TD)

FB Lorenzo Long, So.

WR Will Irwin, Jr. (12 receptions, 220 yards, 2 TD)

LT Davis Lenoir, R-Fr.

C Bradley Way, So.

RG T.J. Chamberlin, Jr.

RT Anton Wahrby, So.

DE Boston Bryant, So.

NT E.J. Speller, Jr.

OLB Travis Thomas, Sr. (55 TT, 4 TFL, 1 PBU, 2 QBH)

ILB Kevin Thomas, Sr. (80 TT, 8.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 FF)

CB Bernard Williams, Sr. (74 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 7 PBU, 3 FF)

CB Chris Armfield, So. (44 TT, 2 TFL, 3 INT, 5 PBU, 2 FR);

SS Cole Higbie, R-Fr.

OUTLOOK: A subpar season never sits well in Spartanburg, so the Terriers are motivated to post a turnaround. They had a winning record in 10 of the previous 11 seasons and had made the playoffs for three straight seasons until last year. But the Terriers never quite replaced All-American Eric Breitenstein in their triple option, even though they ranked fifth in the FCS in rushing yards per game (269.9). This season, HB Gay and FB Martin will share the lead role, but the Terriers still need better play at quarterback, where, surprisingly, a redshirt freshman, Butler, went into preseason camp at No. 1 amid a tight four-way race. It's likely a fluid spot; plus, the Terriers are breaking in three new starters on the offensive line. On defense, there are veteran returnees, but the Terriers lost some solid linebackers. Speller on the inside and Odom on the outside are part of a strong D-line. There's no doubt the traditionally strong Terriers will get back to a winning season, but where they might end up is debatable.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - at Georgia Tech

Sept. 6 - Jacksonville

Sept. 13 - North Greenville

Sept. 20 - at Gardner-Webb

Oct. 4 - The Citadel

Oct. 11 - at Western Carolina

Oct. 18 - at Samford

Oct. 25 - VMI

Nov. 8 - at Chattanooga

Nov. 15 - at Furman

Nov. 22 - Mercer

4. SAMFORD BULLDOGS

LOCATION: Birmingham, Alabama

STADIUM: Seibert Stadium

COACH: Pat Sullivan (40-39 in seven seasons at Samford; 64-81-1 overall)

LAST SEASON: 8-5 overall, 6-2 SoCon (Tie/1st); No. 19 TSN final ranking

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (5 offense/8 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Andy Summerlin (300-for-478, 3,640 yards, 26 TD, 13 INT); RB/RS Fabian Truss (167 carries, 877 yards, 8 TD; 36 receptions, 295 yards, 1 TD; 32.1-yard KO return average, 2 TD); RB D'Morrise Bledsoe (89 carries, 415 yards, 3 TD); WR Kelsey Pope (68 receptions, 789 yards, 3 TD); TW Zeke Walters; OL Kasey Morrison; DT Jeremy Towns (54 TT, 6 TFL, 2.5 TFL); LB Justin Shade (129 TT, 16 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 5 PBU, 1 QBH, 2 FF)

OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Michael Eubank, Jr. (Arizona State transfer)

DEFENSIVE STAR: FS Jaquiski Tartt, Sr. (98 TT, 1 INT, 9 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Carson Barnett, Jr.

RB Jeremiaha Gates, Sr. (56 carries, 238 yards, 1 TD)

RB Stanley Robinson, Sr.

WR Karel Hamilton, So. (38 receptions, 657 yards, 7 TD)

LT Kyle Champion, Sr.

C C.H. Scruggs, Jr.

RG Jordan Boatright, Sr.

RT/LS Gunnar Bromelow, Jr.

NG Jerry Mathis, Sr. (35 TT, 8 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 FR, 1 BLK)

DE Michael Pierce, Jr. (47 TT, 5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF)

DE Calvin Ruff, Sr.

DE Brandon Wilkinson, Sr.

LB Justin Cooper, Jr. (81 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack)

LB Bobby Wilson, Jr. (100 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 1 FF)

SS Trey Wesley, Jr. (98 TT, 4 TFL, 2 PBU, 3 FR)

CB James Bradberry, Jr.

PK Warren Handrahan, So. (19-of-24, 97 points)

P/LB Greg Peranich, Sr. (68 punts, 42.9 ypp)

OUTLOOK: Samford graduated too many key players on offense (QB Summerlin, RB Truss, WR Pope) to be considered a realistic threat for another SoCon title. However, QB Eubank is expected to drop right in and play at a high level this season. The breakout player could be WR Hamilton, who was solid as a freshman. The defense also lost a standout in LB Shade, but there's terrific athleticism throughout the unit, including Buck Buchanan Award candidate Tartt on the back end. Despite the loss of Truss in the return game, the Bulldogs are set up in the kicking game with both PK Handrahan and P Peranich. With two tough FBS opponents (TCU and Auburn) in only an 11-game schedule, the Bulldogs will likely need to win the SoCon's auto bid to find its way back to the playoffs.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - at TCU

Sept. 11 - Stillman

Sept. 20 - VMI

Sept. 27 - at Chattanooga

Oct. 4 - Mercer

Oct 18 - Wofford

Oct. 25 - at Furman

Nov. 1 - Concordia (Alabama)

Nov. 8 - Western Carolina

Nov. 15 - at The Citadel

Nov. 22 - at Auburn

5. THE CITADEL BULLDOGS

LOCATION: Charleston, South Carolina

STADIUM: Johnson Hagood Stadium

COACH: Mike Houston (first season at The Citadel; 29-8 overall)

LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 4-4 SoCon (Tie/4th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Ben Dupree (40-for-77, 578 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT; 193 carries, 1,008 yards, 18 TD); B-Back Darien Robinson (185 carries, 966 yards, 7 TD; 14 receptions, 183 yards, 2 TD); OL Cullen Brown; DT Derek Douglas (40 TT, 8.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 BLK); LB James Riley (76 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks); CB Brandon McCladdie (58 TT, 1.5 TFL, 2 INT, 8 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF); PK Thomas Warren (8-of-12 FG, 64 points)

OFFENSIVE STAR: RB/KR Vinny Miller, Jr. (56 carries, 357 yards, 2 TD; 12 receptions, 175 yards)

DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Justin Oxendine, Sr. (46 TT, 11.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Aaron Miller, Sr. (37-for-71, 407 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT; 51 carries, 196 yards, 1 TD)

B-Back Tyler Renew, So.

Slot DeAndre Schoutlz, So.

Slot Dalton Trevino, Sr.

WR Brandon Eakins, Jr.

WR Alex Glover, R-So.

OL Victor Hill, Sr.

DL Mark Thomas, Jr.

DL Cam Mobley, Sr. (32 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks)

DL Mitchell Jeter, Jr. (37 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 QBH)

LB Carl Robinson, Sr. (92 TT, 4 TFL, 4 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FF)

LB Carson Smith, Jr.

LB Rah Muhammad, Sr.

LB Tevin Floyd, Fr.

DB Walker Smith, Sr.

DB Nick Willis, Jr. (61 TT, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU)

P Eric Goins, So.

OUTLOOK: Coach Kevin Higgins departed following his ninth season, allowing Houston to step in just over a month after leading Lenoir-Rhyne to the NCAA Division II national championship game. Houston will still use Higgins' triple option at the military school, clearly welcome news to the two Millers, RB Vinny and QB Aaron, who were part of a SoCon-leading rushing offense (273.3 ypg) last season. But in Dupree and Darien Robinson, they lost over 1,500 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground. The standouts on defense are seniors, DE Oxendine and ILB Carl Robinson. The multiple unit will really be put to the test by a difficult non-conference schedule (including a trip to national champion Florida State) that leads into opening SoCon games against Wofford and Chattanooga.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - Coastal Carolina

Sept. 6 - at Florida State

Sept. 20 - at Charleston Southern

Sept. 27 - Gardner-Webb

Oct. 4 - at Wofford

Oct. 11 - Charlotte

Oct. 18 - Chattanooga

Oct. 25 - at Western Carolina

Nov. 1 - at Mercer

Nov. 8 - Furman

Nov. 15 - Samford

Nov. 22 - at VMI

6. WESTERN CAROLINA CATAMOUNTS

LOCATION: Cullowhee, North Carolina

STADIUM: E.J. Whitmire Stadium

COACH: Mark Speir (3-20 in two seasons at Western Carolina)

LAST SEASON: 2-10 overall, 1-7 SoCon (Tie/8th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 18 (10 offense/8 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Eddie Sullivan (80-for-165, 1,041 yards, 5 TD, 8 INT); LB Courtland Carson (107 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 3 FF)

OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Karnorris Benson, Jr. (51 receptions, 834 yards, 12 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: FS Sertonuse Harris, Jr. (96 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Troy Mitchell, Jr. (131-for-227, 1,614 yards, 12 TD, 10 INT; 133 carries, 560 yards, 2 TD)

RB Darius Ramsey, Jr. (139 carries, 565 yards, 4 TD)

RB/KR Shaun Warren, Sr. (39 carries, 163 yards, 4 TD)

WR Willie Police, So. (40 receptions, 367 yards)

WR/PR Terryon Robinson, So. (41 receptions, 562 yards, 2 TD)

TE Tyler Sexton, So.

LT Josh Wineberg, Jr.

LG Tanner Poindexter, So.

C Jake Thornton, Jr.

RG Andrew Potts, So.

RT Brandon Berridge, R-Fr.

DE John McBeth, Jr.

DT Kelvin Ume, So.

DE Caleb Hawkins, Jr. (53 TT, 4 TFL, 2 QBH, 1 FF)

OLB Bryson Jordan, So. (53 TT, 2 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 QBH)

MLB Tyson Dickson, So.

OLB Christon Gill, Sr. (101 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)

SS Ace Clark, Sr. (84 TT, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 BLK)

CB Jaleel Lorquet, Jr. (60 TT, 2 TFL, 8 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR)

CB Fred Payne, So.

CB Trey Morgan, So. (45 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FF)

PK Richard Sigmon, Sr. (10-of-13 FG, 53 points)

OUTLOOK: The Catamounts believe this will be their breakout season under Speir. They have a veteran team with plenty in the skill positions to make others take notice. It's Mitchell's team to lead now as a dual-threat quarterback. Benson could be the SoCon's best wide receiver, although Police and Robinson joined him with at least 40 receptions. RB Ramsey also will get better behind the offensive line. But the offense was fickle, often moving the ball without producing on the scoreboard. Regardless, the defense has to improve dramatically because the Catamounts surrendered 38.9 points per game a year ago. The safeties (Clark and Harris) are a dangerous unit and OLB Gill flies to the ball. There's a good chance the Catamounts will start to win more of the close games and at least double last year's win total.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - at South Florida

Sept. 6 - Brevard

Sept. 13 - Catawba

Sept. 27 - at Furman

Oct. 4 - at Presbyterian

Oct. 11 - Wofford

Oct. 18 - at Mercer

Oct. 25 - The Citadel

Nov. 1 - Chattanooga

Nov. 8 - at Samford

Nov. 15 - VMI

Nov. 22 - at Alabama

7. MERCER BEARS

LOCATION: Macon, Georgia

STADIUM: Moye Complex

COACH: Bobby Lamb (10-2 in one season at Elon; 77-42 overall)

LAST SEASON: 10-2 overall, 6-2 Pioneer Football League (3rd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 22 (11 offense/11 defense)

KEY LOSSES: None

OFFENSIVE STAR: QB John Russ, So. (121-for-233, 1,916 yards, 21 TD, 7 INT; 160 carries, 903 yards, 12 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Tosin Aguebor, So. (46 TT, 13 TFL, 10 sacks, 1 PBU, 7 QBH, 4 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB/RS Payton Usher, So. (114 carries, 776 yards, 2 TD)

RB/KR JeTarii Donald, So. (149 carries, 874 yards, 7 TD)

RB Alex Lakes, R-Fr.

WR/PR J.T. Palmer, Jr. (30 receptions, 521 yards, 7 TD; 11.2-yard punt return average)

WR Jordan Marshall, So. (16 receptions, 311 yards, 4 TD)

WR Josh Jones, So. (22 receptions, 416 yards, 4 TD)

TE Robert Brown, So. (21 receptions, 308 yards, 5 TD)

LT Brett Steverson, So.

LG Wilson Heres, Jr.

C Kirby Southard, So.

RG Mitch Payne, So.

RT Alan Posey, Jr.

DE Kelly Brooks, So.

DE Hank Avery, So.

NT Tunde Ayinla, So.

LB Tyler Ward, So. (101 TT, 10.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)

LB Devin Davidson, So. (57 TT, 4 TFL, 1 QBH, 2 FR)

LB Corey Lockett, So. (53 TT, 7.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF)

LB Michael Rainwater (50 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)

CB Alex Avant, Jr. (48 TT, 1.5 TFL, 2 INT, 8 PBU, 1 FF)

CB Sebastian Hicks, So.

SS Mike Gray, So. (58 TT, 5.5 TFL, 3 INT, 4 PBU)

FS Zach Jackson, So.

FS Lendell Arnold, So. (62 TT, 2 PBU, 3 QBH, 2 FR)

PK/P Tyler Zielenske, So. (10-of-12 FG, 77 points)

P Rob East, So. (43 punts, 39.1 ypp)

OUTLOOK: The 10 wins last year set the NCAA record by a first-year program, but Mercer has quickly elevated to the SoCon from the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League. Lamb spent a number of years at Furman, including nine seasons (2002-10) as head coach, so he's well aware of his new/old conference. All of his initial team's starters return. The Bears run the pistol offense behind QB Russ and the tag-team of RBs Donald and Usher, with Lakes possibly joining the rotation. The unit ranked second in the FCS with 277.9 rushing yards per game last season. Of course, Lamb has to build up both of his lines to play well at the scholarship level. The Bears' 3-4 defense struggled to stop the pass last season, so that's been a focal point leading up to the season. The Bears will still play three sub-Division I opponents, Stetson and struggling Austin Peay out of conference, so they definitely can finish at least .500 again.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 28 - Reinhardt

Sept. 6 - Furman

Sept. 13 - at Stetson

Sept. 20 - Ave Maria

Sept. 27 - at VMI

Oct. 4 - at Samford

Oct. 11 - Austin Peay

Oct. 18 - Western Carolina

Oct. 25 - at Chattanooga

Nov. 1 - The Citadel

Nov. 15 - Warner

Nov. 22 - at Wofford

8. VMI KEYDETS

LOCATION: Lexington, Virginia

STADIUM: Alumni Memorial Field

COACH: Sparky Woods (15-52 in five seasons at VMI; 78-98-5 overall)

LAST SEASON: 2-10 overall, 1-4 Big South (Tie/5th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Eric Korenbrock (137-for-239, 1,619 yards, 11 TD, 5 INT); QB A.J. Augustine (93-for-158, 1,149 yards, 9 TD, 7 INT); WR James Rogers (38 receptions, 646 yards, 8 TD); OL Patrick Goulden; OL Will Lucas; DL Justin Smith (64 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR); ILB Weston Reber (82 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 QBH, 3 FR); ILB Ty Garvin (73 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FF); OLB Chris Harper (26 TT, 4.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR); OLB William Hyman (52 TT, 3 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FF); P David Eberhardt (64 punts, 38.8 ypp)

OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Derrick Ziglar, Jr. (148 carries, 768 yards, 5 TD; 25 receptions, 336 yards, 1 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: CB James Fruehan, Sr. (54 TT, 2 INT, 6 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Al Cobb, R-Fr.

QB Hayden Alford, So.

RB Jabari Turner, Sr. (35 carries, 153 yards, 1 TD)

WR Doug Burton, Sr. (25 receptions, 322 yards, 1 TD)

WR Samuel Patterson, Jr. (38 receptions, 646 yards, 8 TD)

WR Matthew Nicholson, So.

WR/RB Deon Watts, Sr. (56 carries, 182 yards, 1 TD)

OL Nate Murray, Jr.

LT Emmanuel Cooper, Sr.

RT Andy Marcotte, Sr.

C Patrick Doucette, R-Fr.

DL John Washington, Sr.

DL Joe Nelson, So. (56 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QBH)

DE John Washington, Sr. (44 TT, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF)

OLB Logan Staib, Sr. (69 TT, 6.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR)

CB Damian Jones, So. (50 TT, 1 INT, 5 PBU)

DB Caleb Furlow, Sr. (52 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 QBH)

FS Alex James, Jr. (80 TT, 1.5 TFL, 2 PBU)

SS Alex Keys, So. (43 TT, 2 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FF)

PK Dillon Christopher, So. (9-of-16 FG, 55 points)

OUTLOOK: After an 11-year absence while competing in the Big South Conference, VMI returns to a SoCon in which it was a member for 79 years. The Keydets are expected to struggle in the conference, although they are thrilled to reunite with military rival The Citadel. Woods will replace a four-year starting quarterback in Kordenbrock with either Cobb or Alford. Whoever starts will have the benefit of strong pass catchers, led by Patterson. RB Ziglar also catches passes out of the backfield, but he prefers to follow the lead of Marcotte and the offensive line. The defense has to cut down on allowing 455 yards per game. Opponents averaged five yards a carry - way too much. The secondary returns all four starters and is the strength of the defense. PK Christopher is a weapon, having blasted two 52-yard field goals last season. The Keydets have won only two games in each of the last three seasons and four of the last five seasons. Expect something similar this season.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - at Bucknell

Sept. 6 - at Bowling Green

Sept. 13 - Davidson

Sept. 20 - at Samford

Sept. 27 - Mercer

Oct. 4 - at Chattanooga

Oct. 11 - at Navy

Oct. 18 - Gardner-Webb

Oct. 25 - at Wofford

Nov. 1 - vs. Furman

Nov. 15 - at Western Carolina

Nov. 22 - The Citadel

08/19 10:07:46 ET

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