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SoCon Weekend Primer

By Jim Johnson
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Samford and Chattanooga meet up this weekend in a game that has serious conference title implications.

Mercer at VMI

The Mercer Bears and the VMI Keydets face off in Lexington this Saturday. One of these teams will walk away with its first conference win, while the other will fall to 0-2 in the SoCon. Mercer is looking to extend its winning streak to three games after a big win over Ave Maria last week. The Keydets are trying to get back on their feet following an embarrassing loss at Samford. VMI boasts the eighth-ranked passing offense in the FCS through its first four games, averaging 292 yards per game behind the arm of freshman quarterback Al Cobb. Mercer can move the ball too, though, coming in with a top 20 FCS rushing offense. Expect a shootout this weekend at Alumni Memorial Field, when these two offenses run into each other's less-than-stellar defenses. Look for the Bears' freshman star, Alex Lakes, to continue to put up big numbers and ultimately propel Mercer to an important road win.

Prediction: 41-31 Mercer

Western Carolina at Furman

The Catamounts travel to the unfriendly confines of Paladin Stadium for their conference opener against Furman this weekend. For fans of the color purple, this is a can't miss game. Since losing Reese Hannon in Week One, it's been a real struggle for the Paladins to score points. The defense has continued to thrive though, allowing the seventh-fewest points per game in the FCS. This game hinges on the play of the Catamount's signal caller, Troy Mitchell. Mitchell and the rest of Western Carolina's offense have averaged 250 yards per game through the air. If he has a big week the Catamounts will win, unless Furman has magically figured out how to score without Hannon. Expect the Paladins to continue to underachieve, and allow the Catamounts to steal a win on the road.

Prediction: 21-20 Western Carolina

Gardner-Webb at Citadel

The Citadel is still looking for its first win of the season after a heartbreaking road loss to Charleston Southern. Gardner-Webb, on the other hand, is riding high, having beaten Wofford in a shootout last week. Gardner-Webb is tasked with defending a top-five rushing attack for the second game in a row. This could work in their favor, though, since they just had to deal with a similarly physical offense. Then again, having to take a beating like that two consecutive weeks can be very taxing. Expect the crowd to be fired up in Johnson Hagood and for it to be tight most of the game, but The Citadel just doesn't have the firepower to get its first win this week.

Prediction: 31-21 Gardner-Webb

UVA-Wise at Wofford

Wofford gets a chance to regroup this week following its loss to Gardner-Webb. The Terriers should use this as an opportunity to shore up some of its struggles on the defensive side of the ball against UVA-Wise's severely lacking offense. Having said that, it would not be wise to look past the Cavaliers, an athletic team that throws the ball all over the field. The Cavs' balanced attack should really give the Terriers a chance to work on all facets of its defense. Assuming Wofford executes the way it should, the Terriers ought to be able to run the ball down the Cavaliers' throat and come away with a resounding victory.

Prediction: 42-10 Wofford

Samford at Chattanooga

This is a huge game for both of these teams. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this game may very well decide who gets the SoCon's automatic playoff bid. It's early in the season, and a lot can change over the course of a few games, but as of right now, Samford and Chattanooga look like the best two teams in the Southern Conference. The Bulldogs destroyed the VMI Keydets last week 63-21. They will hope to carry that momentum into this weekend's matchup. The Mocs had a bye last week, giving them lots of time to prepare for this monumental matchup. One has to wonder, though, if the Mocs will come out sluggish as some teams do after a week off. Home field advantage will play a significant role in this game and if Chattanooga can start fast, Samford might struggle to come back amongst the roars of the rowdy fans in Finley Stadium. This is anyone's game and the victor will send a firm message to the rest of the conference. The team that makes the fewest mistakes and executes the most effectively will win this game and put themselves in the driver's seat for that all important playoff spot.

Prediction: 38-35 Chattanooga

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP