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Five SoCon Storylines

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Five questions for the Southern Conference as a year of transition is set to begin.

1. Who Makes a Statement?
Minus Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Elon, there is room for reshuffling in the Southern Conference. Some re-branding must obviously be done, but new opportunities present new excitement. Chattanooga, Furman and Samford are all confident after sharing the league championship a year ago, Wofford has had just two losing seasons the last dozen years, The Citadel has certainly had its moments and Western Carolina is making strides. The conference is also welcoming in Mercer and former member VMI. A new hierarchy is ready to be established.

2. Will This be the Year for Chattanooga?
Though the Mocs won eight games last season, the most since the end of the Joe Morrison era, they haven't made the playoffs since 1984. This summer, Chattanooga is the relatively-heavy Southern Conference favorite and boasts both the league's pre-season offensive and defensive player of the year: quarterback Jacob Huesman and defensive lineman Davis Tull. The Mocs shared the 2013 crown with Furman and Samford, but are hoping for more separation this year. Chattanooga ends the regular season playing at the Paladins in what will undoubtedly be a meaningful grand finale.   

3. Can Wofford Get Right?
The Terriers, a force in the SoCon under veteran head coach Mike Ayers, lost four consecutive league games to finish the 2013 season. Wofford was .500 in conference play last fall after having gone 20-5 the previous three years. If the Terriers are ready for a return to glory, they will get there with strong play at the line of scrimmage and a physical tone on both sides of the football. In a key league opener, Wofford will host The Citadel in early October.

4. Is Western Carolina on the Rise?
Head coach Mark Speir has won just three games in his first two seasons, but a talented base appears to be in place. The Catamounts tied Samford for second with ten representatives on the pre-season all-conference team. Western Carolina has considerable speed returning on offense and a defense and could be primed for a run up the league standings. SoCon coaches recently picked the Catamounts to finish fifth in the league.

5. What Will the Newcomers Do?
New and old, Mercer and VMI are ready to make a SoCon splash. The Bears are led by former Furman head coach Bobby Lamb and are fresh off a 10-2 debut in their first year of college football since 1941. The Keydets of head coach Sparky Woods are returning to the league where they played from 1924-2002. Recent seasons, for VMI, have been a struggle. Outside expectations are probably higher for Mercer, though both programs are ready to prove their worth.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports