SoCon Weekend Primer
By Russell V.
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It is week 12. The last week of the regular season in the Southern Conference.
Wait, what? What do you mean it’s already over? It seems like it just started a week ago. It’s crazy just how fast the season flies by and how fast a teams’ season can turn around. Just look at Wofford. A week ago, they were playing for the SoCon championship. This week, they are playing for their playoff lives.
Now before I go into this week’s matchups, I have something I have to get off my chest: Can someone please explain to me why the SoCon is playing four different SEC teams this week? I thought we play all of these FCS-FBS games in the first few weeks of the season, not in the regular season finale. It’s something I am not a big fan of, particularly for a team like Georgia Southern and Furman this year or Appalachian State last year. Al face traditional SEC powerhouses (Alabama and Florida) while either preparing for a playoff matchup or, in the Paladins case, fighting for their playoff lives. It’s a no-win situation for either team, if you ask me. What do FBS teams have to gain from playing against FCS schools this late in the season? Heck, apart from the obvious check and hopes of pulling off another App-Michigan-esque offense, you could ask the same of the FCS teams. But, I digress. Let’s get into what matters most: this week’s games.
Season Record: 41-10
The Citadel at FBS #14 South Carolina, 12 p.m., ESPN3
Here is why there is hope for the Bulldogs on Saturday: the Gamecocks are missing their best player in Marcus Lattimore, the team has not played their best as of late and, most importantly, the team struggles against the triple option. Just ask any Gamecock fans about their games against Wofford in previous years or against Navy earlier this season. The Midshipman nearly pulled off the upset when the two teams played, and that was back when USC was at full strength. If the Bulldogs D can play to their potential and the offense can limit the turnovers, the Citadel has a chance to pull off one of the biggest victories in school history. Here’s hoping the Citadel can put some points on the board, something they have struggled to do all year.
South Carolina 27, The Citadel 10
FCS #24 Furman at Florida, 1 p.m., ESPN3
Speaking of seasons changing in heartbeat, just look at the Paladins. Furman went from the hottest team in the nation and a lock for the playoffs after their upset of Appalachian State to needing to beat the Gators just to get to seven D-I wins following their loss to Elon. It will be difficult of course, but Florida is having one of its worst seasons in recent years. If the Paladins hope to pull off the upset, they will need to get back to what Furman does best, running the ball and forcing turnovers. If Jerodis Williams can establish the run, then Chris Forcier can take advantage of his TE, Colin Anderson – who ranks fourth in the SoCon in receiving yards and third in touchdown catches, and Florida’s secondary. The Gators aren’t the best against the run either – they have given up 132.5 yards per game on the ground this season. The defense will have their hands full trying to contain Jeff Brantley, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey though. They will have to make Brantley throw a few interceptions (Furman has 13 on the year) and Brantley has only thrown six picks this season, though it is worth nothing he did miss some time.
Florida 31, #24 Furman 17
Samford at Auburn, 1 p.m., ESPN3
Coach Pat Sullivan leads his Bulldogs against his alma mater, where he won the Heisman back in 1971. Samford’s success this season has been due in large part to the revival of his own quarterback, Dustin Taliaferro, who is second in the conference in passing yards (2,140) and third in touchdowns (13), and his favorite target, receiver Kelsey Pope – who ranks second in the SoCon in catches (73) and third in receiving yards (720). Not to be overlooked is sophomore running back Fabian Truss, who ranks third in the conference in rushing yards. While the offense has been fine all year, it is the Samford defense that will have to step up for the Bulldogs to have a chance against the defending national champions in the FBS. In particularly, the defense will need to slow down running back Michael Dyer, who has rushed for 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns. Keep in mind that Samford has given up an average of 188.1 yards rushing yards per game. This could be a problem.
Auburn 41, Samford 20
SoCon Game of the Week: FCS #12/13 Wofford at Chattanooga, 2 p.m.
This game is a season-definer for both teams. The Terriers need this victory to get seven D-I wins this season, which the playoff committee sees as the necessary amount of victories for a team to be playoff eligible. The Mocs have, for the second straight year, been just a few plays away from making the playoffs themselves, despite the injury to starting quarterback B.J. Coleman. Now, Chattanooga can play the ultimate spoiler role and put a cap on their season by more or less ending Wofford’s. No word yet on whether it will be Coleman or freshman sensation Terrell Robinson under center, which could be big because the Mocs are a very different team depending on who plays. With Coleman, they are pass happy, while Robinson makes them one of the more dangerous running teams in the SoCon. Either way, it is not good for Wofford, as their defense is still trying to recover from last week’s thrashing at the hands of Georgia Southern. As with any time you play Wofford, the key will be if they can establish the run. The Terriers average 356 rushing yards per game, while the Mocs give up just 145.1 in each contest. Wofford’s rushing attack was shut down last week, particularly Eric Breitenstein, the SoCon’s leading rushing. I have a feeling he and the rest of the Terriers will come out particularly angry and will not let there be a repeat of last week.
#12/13 Wofford 34, Chattanooga 30
Coastal Carolina at Western Carolina, 2 p.m.
Saturday brings the end of a long 2011 season in Cullowhee when the Chanticleers visit E.J. Whitmore Stadium. It will also mark the beginning of a new era in Catamount football history as it will be Mark Rhea, not Dennis Wagner, who will lead Western Carolina into battle. For those who do not know about Western’s interim head coach, he joined the staff last March from D-II Tiffin University after playing and coaching at the Universtiy of Toledo. He has served as the defensive line coach at four different schools and was Western’s D-line coach and recruiting coordinator. Perhaps he can bring a solution to the Catamounts’ defensive woes as they try to end 2011 on a high note. The good news is Coastal’s offense has struggled for the most part this year, as they rank 100 out of 120 schools in the FCS. The strength of the team is found on the opposite side of the ball, as the Chanticleers have the nation’s 67th-best D. If Western can force a few turnovers, the Catamounts could make Rhea’s debut a memorable one. Sadly, I don’t see that happening. After all, this is the same Coastal team that beat Furman earlier this season.
Coastal Carolina 37, Western Carolina 27
FCS #2/3 Georgia Southern at FBS #3 Alabama, 2 p.m., ESPN3
Two of the best programs in FCS and FBS history face off for the first time Saturday when the Georgia Southern Eagles, fresh off their clinching of the 2011 Southern Conference championship, make a trip to Tuscaloosa to face off against Trent Richardson, Nick Saban and Alabama. First interesting thing to watch for: how long the starters for both teams play. Neither Alabama nor Georgia Southern wants to lose any key players heading into their respective postseasons. The second interesting thing to watch for will be how DT Brent Russell plays against Alabama’s O-line. Russell is one of, if not the most dominant defensive forces in the FCS and has some potential to play on Sundays. A good showing against the vaunted Alabama offensive line would only further cement his status as a future NFL player. The third interesting thing to watch? As with anytime an FBS team faces a triple option FCS team, I’m curious as to how well the Tide will handle facing an offense so far different from anything they have faced this season. In the end though, I think that the Eagles just do not have as much talent as the Tide does and that that will be the difference in the game.
#3 Alabama 33, Georgia Southern 14
FCS #8/9 Appalachian State at Elon, 3 p.m., SoCon Sports Network, ESPN3
The final SoCon Sports football broadcast of the 2011 season will showcase two of the best wide receivers in the country as Brian Quick (53 catches, 905 yards, nine touchdowns) and Appalachian State visit Aaron Mellette (99 catches, 1,403 yards and 11 touchdowns) and Elon. Following last week’s demolition of Western Carolina, Quick now holds just about every school receiving record and the Mountaineers have their mojo back as they try to stay hot going into the playoffs. The Mountaineers put up 553 yards and 46 points on their poor rivals as they took home the Old Mountain Jug for the 25th time in 27 years. ASU may not win their seventh-straight conference title, but they still have a chance to take home yet another national title. Elon is coming off what is easily their biggest win of the season, as they upset Furman – arguably the hottest team in the nation at the time – and did something they had struggled to do all season long: they held onto the ball. They had two turnovers, one of which was an interception in the closing minutes that acted as more of a punt. The Phoenix had a balanced attack and shut down Furman’s rushing attack. They will need to have that kind of success again this week in order to have any hope of beating the Mountaineers for the first time since 1965. Good luck with that though – the Phoenix have the second-worst run defense in the conference and Jamal Jackson and the rest of the offense looked unstoppable last week and had have plenty of success in recent years against the Phoenix. Keep your eye on both of the aforementioned receivers throughout the game. If nothing else, we are sure to see a show from the two future all-conference selections.
#8/9 Appalachian State 41, Elon 37