The SoCon Stays Grounded
By David England
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Football around the nation may be changing, but the SoCon has remained true to its roots of running the football.
The Southern Conference has hit a lot of road bumps in 2012, with the biggest obstacles being conference realignment. Rumors filled the air that Georgia Southern and Appalachian State would be among the first to move. Fortunately for the conference, the SoCon ultimately stayed intact with the Eagles and Mountaineers remaining in the conference. With all of its teams returning, the 2012 season will feature plenty of offense and football will stay at a high level in the SoCon.
When watching football nationwide, finding an offense revolving around running is not easy, whether it be the NFL, ACC, or Big 12. Passing and complex spread offenses are the name of the game. The use of jumbo, I-Formation, Wishbone, and Full-House packages is nearly non-existent.
The schools in the SoCon might not feature these formations often, but the run game is certainly foremost in their minds and on the field. To see such potent rushing attacks takes us back to the 1970's, where physical ground-and-pound football was number one. You have probably heard your grandfather say "football is losing it's physicality." To a certain extent, grandpa is not far from speaking the truth.
Prominent run games bring back flashes of Johnny Rodgers, Archie Griffin, Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker, and Earl Campbell. In the past ten seasons, only two running backs have won the Heisman Trophy (Mark Ingram and Reggie Bush), while an additional two have received the Walter Peyton Award (Brian Westbrook and Jamaal Branch).
The SoCon has kept true to the early ages of football, with the running game winning the SoCon its fair share of games over the years. In 2011, we saw the running game at a premium, as Wofford and Georgia Southern sat atop the conference and nation in rushing. The Terriers had one of the best running attacks ever seen in FCS Football history, with an average of 364 yards per game on the ground. Georgia Southern was not far behind with over 300 ypg, and The Citadel ranked third with over 250 ypg.
Do not expect the potent rushing attacks to slow down in 2012 with Wofford returns it's two leading rushers in Eric Breitenstein and Donovan Johnson. Breitenstein had a season to emember last fall, leading the conference in rushing yards per game and touchdowns scored (19). Georgia Southern returns a deadly combo in the backfield with Dominique Swope and Robert Brown combining for over 150 rushing yards per game last season.
Furman's Jerodis Williams returns for his senior season with higher expectations after having rushed for over 95 yards per game a season ago. The Paladins had over 166 rushing yards per game last season.
The Citadel expects big things on the ground as well, as Darien Robinson advances into his junior season. Also joining Robinson in the bacfield will be talented QB Ben Dupree.
As you can see, the SoCon is a run-heavy conference, and that is not expected to slow down any time soon. The only top ten rusher in the SoCon that will not return in 2012 is the Citadel's Mitch Allen. Football might be changing around the nation, but the SoCon stays grounded.