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SoCon Weekend Primer

By Russell V.
SouthernPigskin.com
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The top four teams in the conference face off in what could very well be season-defining games, while others hope to get their seasons back on track.

Hope you guys are strapped in tight. This weekend will be the biggest of the season to this point. The top four teams in the conference face off in what could very well be season-defining games, while others hope to get their seasons back on track. It’s a great weekend to be a SoCon football fan, so I hope you are ready for a memorable SoCon Saturday.

Chattanooga (2-3, 1-1 SoCon) at Furman (2-4, 1-2), 1:30 p.m., ESPN3

The Paladins came painfully close to completely changing their season last week, falling three points short of an upset of rival Wofford. This week, they welcome a well-rested Chattanooga team that is riding high coming off a bye week.

In case you have forgotten, when the two squads met a year ago, Furman topped the Mocs 14-7 in a low-scoring, defensive battle. Don’t be surprised if we see more of the same this year. Both teams match up very well on paper, highlighted by the Paladins’ offense (fourth-best in the SoCon) against the Mocs’ defense (third-best in the conference). I’m most interested to see how the Mocs will handle Furman running back Jerodis Williams. Chatty has been stout against the run for the most part, giving up 137 yards per game and a grand total of four rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, Williams is having the best season of any SoCon running back not named Eric Breitenstein. He is second in the conference with 127.7 yards per game, and is tied for third with seven touchdowns. The X-factor, though, will be Furman QB Reese Hannon, who has quietly had a solid freshman campaign (1,107 yards, 63.2 completion percentage, six touchdowns).

Home field will help determine the winner of this one, as the Furman faithful will help push the Paladins over the top and to a victory.

Furman 17, Chattanooga 13

Western Carolina (1-5, 0-4) at The Citadel (3-3, 2-2), 2 p.m., Bulldog Insider

It has been tough times lately for both the Bulldogs and the Catamounts. No one in the nation got off to a more surprising start to the season than the Bulldogs, who have since fallen flat in their three-game losing streak. In their three wins, they have outscored opponents 124-63. In their three losses, they have been outscored 112-31. Up in Cullowhee, Mark Speir’s first season as a head coach has gone far from the way he wanted. The Catamounts have struggled on both sides of the ball, ranking last or second-to-last in the conference in total offense, scoring offense, total defense and scoring defense.

I don’t think it is out of the question to call this game a must win for the Bulldogs, and there is no better team to turn things around against right now than Western. A year ago, the Bulldogs cruised to a 35-7 win. Expect something worse this season. The Catamount defense has had trouble against the triple option in recent years and is giving up a conference-worst 359.8 rushing yards per game, while the Citadel averages a little under 300 yards per game on the ground. I would be shocked if there is not a heavy dose of Darien Robinson and Ben Dupree, and this game is not a blowout.

The Citadel 45, Western Carolina 10

No. 12/13 Appalachian State (4-2, 3-1) at No. 25 Samford, 3 p.m., Samford Sports TV

I bet no one had this game circled as a potential game of the year candidate when the season started. And yet here we are, staring at this game and drooling with excitement over it. Conference title and playoff hopes are on the line in Alabama when these two sides face off. The Mountaineers do lead the all-time series 5-1 against the Bulldogs, including a 35-7 win a year ago, but something tells me it will be a slightly closer game this season.

First, let’s start off with Appalachian State. The 52-28 loss to The Citadel at the Rock has been a turning point for the Mountaineers' season. While the offense is still producing at a high rate, the defense has stepped up its play of late. In the three games since the embarrassing loss, the defense has given up a grand total of 54 points. The Bulldogs have a chance at perhaps the biggest win in school history (at least since the move to the SoCon). Samford sits tied for second in the standings, thanks in large part to the play of running back/return specialist Fabian Truss, the SoCon’s leader in all-purpose yards.

The matchup I am looking forward to the most is App QB Jamal Jackson against Samford DB Jaquiski Tartt. Jackson has shown why he is the conference’s best quarterback, throwing for 1,581 and 12 touchdowns to go with just five interceptions. His 66.7 completion rate and 327 rushing yards make him the conference’s leader in passing efficiency and total offense. Tartt, just a sophomore, has established himself as one of the best defenders in the conference. He is first in the SoCon in interceptions and passes defended, and sits in seventh place in tackles per game.

Get ready for a memorable showdown. This will be one that should be talked about for quite some time.

No. 25 Samford 34, No. 12/13 Appalachian State 32

No. 4/5 Wofford (5-0, 3-0) vs. No. 7/7 Georgia Southern (4-1, 3-1), 6 p.m., Eagle All-Access

I would highly suggest looking into how much Eagle All-Access would cost just to watch this game. Not only will the Eagles be wearing a special alternate uniform to honor our nation’s soldiers (Georgia Southern Unveils Special Uniforms), but it is also one of the best rivalries in the Southern Conference. Ok, so maybe it’s much more the latter than the former, but that’s beside the point.

We will find out just how talented this Terrier squad is over the next month, as this week begins a murderer’s row of a schedule. Their next four games are at Georgia Southern, at Appalachian State, at home against The Citadel and at Samford. The Terriers have stood up to every challenge to this point in impressive fashion, thanks to an offense averaging 510+ yards of offense and nearly 49 points per game, and a defense that is allowing a mere 13.6 points per contest. Eric Breitenstein is en route to another career season (893 yards, 9.6 yards per carry, nine touchdowns, 178.6 yards per game) as he climbs his way up the SoCon’s list of career rushing leaders. The Eagles, though, have had the upper hand in this series lately. They own a lead in the all-time series as well (11-7) and thrashed the Terriers 31-10 in Spartanburg a year ago. They also rank just behind Wofford in total offense, scoring offense and scoring defense, while being able to say they are the third-best defense in all of the land.

This game is a real coin flip, a traditional old-school football battle that will come down to a break or two and the bounce of the ball. The Eagles will need to be careful with the ball (their turnover ratio currently sits at -1), while Wofford is a conference-best +6 in turnover margin. In a classic nail biter, I believe the Terriers keep their dream of a conference title alive for another week. I would not be surprised at all if this is not the last time these two teams meet this season, though.

No. 4/5 Wofford 30, No. 7/7 Georgia Southern 28

Russell V. - A recent graduate of Elon University, Varner is a Southern Conference enthusiast who now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. His love for SoCon football can only be matched by his love for Carolina Panthers football. He has been published in multiple newspapers in North Carolina, has worked on television and radio and now covers SoCon football for Southern Pigskin.