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SoCon Weekend Primer

By Southern Pigskin Staff
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Numerous teams are still alive in the race for the SoCon title.

Greetings and welcome one and all to Week Eight of the Southern Conference football season. What’s on tap this week? Well, you will be glad to know it is highlighted by two classic SoCon rivalries, including one that could help decided the conference title and playoff positioning. I know you are itching to hear more, so we won’t keep you in suspense anymore. Let’s start with…

Western Carolina at Elon, 3 p.m., ESPN3

Both teams desperately need a victory to try to turn their seasons around. Safe to say that neither squad has experienced the success they had hoped for coming into this year.

The Catamounts were hoping to see an immediate turnaround under first-year head coach Mark Speir, and while their record may not show improvement, Western Carolina has looked better on the football field. They have been able to hold their own against some of the competition this season – they only lost by four against Wofford and held a lead late at the Citadel a week ago – and freshman Troy Mitchell and redshirt sophomore Eddie Sullivan have formed a solid one-two punch at the quarterback position, where Sullivan has the better arm (879 passing yards, four touchdowns) and Mitchell has the better legs (238 rushing yards, team-high six touchdowns). Mitchell has seen more playing time lately, though, and has been penciled in as the starter on Saturday against an Elon defense that is giving up 230.2 yards per game on the ground. Oh, and then there’s Rock Williams, who – along with having one of the best names in the conference – is coming off a 24 tackle game which earned him Defensive Player of the Week honors.

On the other side, the Phoenix have been inconsistent this year, playing in their fair share of blowouts and close loses. Elon still has what Speir calls “as a group, the best receiving corps in the conference.” While he has not had as strong a season as last year, receiver Aaron Mellette still leads the conference in receptions (50), yards (660) and receiving touchdowns (10). The combination of Mellette and quarterback Thomas Wilson (1,581 yards, 13 touchdowns) against Western’s pass defense (giving up just 151.7 yards per game) will be the key to the game.

Prediction: Elon 38, Western Carolina 27

No. 9/8 Wofford at No. 11/13 Appalachian State, 3:30 p.m., GoASU.TV

You may seriously want to consider investing in GoASU.TV, at least for this weekend, because the best game of the weekend will take place in Boone, N.C. The Mountaineers come in riding high, winners of four straight, coming off of a last-second victory at Samford and looking for revenge after last season’s 28-14 loss at Wofford. The Terriers come in to the Rock licking their wounds following a deflating 17-9 loss to Georgia Southern, the first t\ime Wofford was held to single-digit points this season. The winner will have sole possession of second place in the conference, and will possibly have a leg up on the other come playoff selection time.

In what should be a surprise to no one, the Terriers go as fullback Eric Breitenstein goes. He is second in the nation with 165.8 rushing yards per game, has nine touchdowns and has moved into second place on Wofford’s all-time rushing list. He now sits just 438 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns behind Shawn Graves (one record seems slightly more attainable than the other). The Terriers hope to have the services of linebackers Mike Niam and Josh Roseborough back, noth of whom were sorely missed in last week’s defeat. The defense will need all the help it can get as they try to slow down ASU’s high-powered offense. But, they do sport the conference’s best rushing defense (101 yards per game), making for an intriguing matchup.

It is no surprise to find Appalachian State’s offense clicking the way they are. QB Jamal Jackson (1,869 passing yards, 14 passing TDs) is not only the conference’s top passer, but also leads the SoCon in total yards, averaging nearly 315 yards per contest. RB Steven Miller has also enjoyed a career year. He currently ranks third in the conference in rushing yards (764) and tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns (seven). Freshman receiver Sean Price, who caught last week’s game-winner with a nice toe-tapping effort, is the favorite for the conference Freshman of the Year, having caught 34 balls for a team-high 488 yards and six touchdowns. He and Jackson should have a field day against a Wofford defense that has struggled against the pass this season, giving up 205 yards per game, third-worst in the SoCon. LBs Jeremy Kimbrough and Brandon Grier will have their hands full trying to slow down the top offense in the conference, but the Mountaineers have shown the ability to stop triple option offenses before. Then again, they also struggled mightily against The Citadel’s option attack earlier this season. Which ASU defense shows up will determine the winner of this game, and I see the red hot Mountaineer defense stepping up when it is called upon.

Prediction: Appalachian State 31, Wofford 28

No. 3 Georgia Southern at Furman, 1:30 p.m.

The Eagles had the win of the year in SoCon last week over then undefeated Wofford. In that game, Dominique Swope put up career numbers against the ninth-best run defense in FCS football. Expect much of the same this week as Furman is 59th in rushing defense, a recipe for disaster against a triple option team like Georgia Southern. With Swope and Jerick McKinnon ranked in the top 40 in the country in rushing, it could be a long day for the Paladins.

The weakness for Georgia Southern, if they have one, has been run defense, where they still rank in the top 25. Jerodis Williams must play well for Furman to stand a chance. He has shown a lot of talent with over 800 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. The Eagles one loss came against The Citadel, a team that challenged them physically at the line of scrimmage. Do not expect Georgia Southern to lose this one.

Prediction: Georgia Southern 38, Furman 6

Samford at Chattanooga, 6:00 p.m.

Samford at Chattanooga doesn't have a great ring to it, but, surprisingly, this could turn out to be a very good game. The Mocs come into the game off of a 31-10 win over Furman, in which they proved they are still alive in the 2012 campaign. Chattanooga comes in with one of the best run defenses in the conference, but a less than stellar offense. Jacob Huesman would like to argue my point about the Mocs offense, as he has put up great numbers and carried his team to a .500 mark and a 2-1 record in conference play. The shocking factor in Huesman is his maturation process. He is a freshman who plays like a senior. The Mocs will rely heavily upon Huesman and their solid defense.

Samford comes into the game with revenge on their minds after losing in 2011 to the Mocs. The Bulldogs have been the shock of the 2012 season, and even entered the top 25 at one point. Quarterback Andy Summerlin has really silenced the pundits this season, and looks like a rock solid quarterback with over 1,650 yards and seven touchdowns. The offense is also led by running back Fabian Truss with over 600 yards on the ground and eight touchdowns. Samford must run the ball very well to beat a feisty, tough Chattanooga team.

Prediction: Samford 24, Chattanooga 21


The SoCon Weekend Primer is put together by Southern Pigskin writers Russell Varner and David England.