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Wofford’s Growing Role

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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As the Southern Conference brand changes over the next few years, we will see an even more dramatic shift in both the functional and perceptual football hierarchy within the league.

Veteran head coach Mike Ayers has established Wofford as one of the premier programs in all of FCS football. The Terriers, who had just one victory in the year before his arrival, have won nearly 60% of their games in the Ayers era. This is a program that has claimed four Southern Conference championships since 2003, advanced to the playoff semifinals that season and played in the quaterfinals a year ago. Wofford has become a fixture in the national polls and a regular in postseason discussions at the FCS level.

With roughly 1,500 students, Wofford College is the second-smallest of the NCAA Division I schools competing in football. Alongside The Citadel, which is a Senior Military College, Wofford is the only non-university playing football in the Southern Conference. Located in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the school rests on just 175 acres; a tally the institution can almost match in faculty members. Wofford is most well-known for its academics, a liberal arts college that has gained high praise from the likes of "US News & World Report".

On the field, the Terriers play at Gibbs Stadium, a 13,000-seat, multi-purpose stadium shared with nearby Spartanburg High School. There recent editions of the old gold and black have taken Wofford football to new heights. Last season, the Terriers went 9-4, beating Appalachian State, Citadel and Furman in conference play and topping New Hampshire in the second round of the FCS playoffs. Wofford pushed South Carolina to the brink in mid November, a year after taking Clemson down to the wire the September before.

Taking on programs with more hype and name recognition is a challenge the Terriers have had to face in their own classification and conference. This upcoming fall, they will face more-established rivals Appalachian State and Georgia Southern as league foes for the final time. Despite resource disadvantages, Wofford has competed admirably against the two future Sun Belt Conference members. The Terriers have split their last six games with the Mountaineers, are 5-6 in their last 11, and have split their past dozen with the Eagles.  

With Appalachian State and Georgia Southern moving up to the FBS landscape, the focus of the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and to a certain extent the FCS, will soon be on tiny Wofford. It's an spotlight they deserve.

Both of the aforementioned powers are ineligible for the SoCon championship this season, making the Terriers the favorite to the claim the crown. Ayers is tasked with the challenge of replacing All-American fullback Eric Breitenstein, and must settle on a quarterback, but this is a coach and a program that has earned the benefit of the doubt. Wofford completed their spring practice at the end of March. The team that will spend the summer resting after physical scrimmage sessions.

“It was a very productive spring,” Ayers explained. “Starting out we wanted to improve in the throwing game and we have done that. Defensively we wanted to make sure that everyone was assignment sound and understood their job and how to do it. We worked on the kicking game, probably not as extensively as we would have liked, but we got some work in on that. The big concern coming out of spring ball is some of the injuries that we sustained.”

As the Southern Conference brand changes over the next few years, we will see an even more dramatic shift in both the functional and perceptual football hierarchy within the league. In terms of recent merit and credentials, Wofford will stand out and, this time, stand alone.

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