Southern Pigskin

Mercer is Expecting More


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By Matt Osborne
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The Bears are confident that they possess the talent and experience necessary to make a run towards the FCS playoffs.

nFor the first time since the school elected to bring back football for the 2013 season, the Mercer Bears enter the year with high expectations for what they will be able to accomplish.

nThe Bearsxe2x80x99 transition back into Division I college football was, understandably, a difficult one. After playing a schedule filled with predominantly non-scholarship FCS opponents in the programxe2x80x99s first season back on the gridiron, the Bears made the transition to the Southern Conference to experience life in their new permanent home.

nMercerxe2x80x99s first full season in the conference went as you would expect for a startup team still utilizing the services of a significant amount of inexperienced underclassmen. The Bears won just a single conference game in 2014, with that victory coming against VMI, the only other team that was also in its first season in the conference.

nAnd for much of the 2015 season, it appeared that the Bears were on a similar, if not even slightly worse, trajectory. Mercer opened its conference slate last fall with four consecutive losses, including a defeat at the hands of VMI. In total, the Bears lost all four of those contests by a combined 13 points.

nWith its next game coming against the conferencexe2x80x99s premier powerhouse, Chattanooga, is was certainly looking like Mercer would have to wait at least another week in order to try to scrounge up a league victory.

nBut with their backs up against the wall, the Bears played their finest game of the 2015 season, defeating No. 3 Chattanooga 17-14 in what would go down as the biggest upset in the SoCon last fall. It would also be the Mocsxe2x80x99 only conference loss on their way to another league title.

nThe upset win over one of the nationxe2x80x99s top teams propelled the Bears to a win the following week against Furman.

nMore importantly, though, it gave the players the confidence they needed in order to believe that they can compete with any team in the conference.

nxe2x80x9cChattanooga came here to play, and certainly we played a tremendous football game and came out on the winning end,xe2x80x9d head coach Bobby Lamb reflected of the Chattanooga victory on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. xe2x80x9cThe next day at practice our kids were giddy and fired up. Any time you are starting up a program you look for a signature win, and certainly that was our signature win. Hopefully that is going to pay dividends down the road as well.xe2x80x9d

nLamb will undoubtedly have an opportunity to see how much tangible momentum was created by the end of last season very soon, as the Bears open up their 2016 slate against a conference foe in The Citadel.

nThe Bulldogs, who will travel to Five Star Stadium in Macon for a showdown on the opening Thursday night of college football, begin the year ranked No. 15 in the national polls.

nThough it is impossible to tell how well his team will play when it lines up across the Bulldogs to open the campaign, Lamb certainly feels pleased with the way that his team has prepared for the start of another season and a tough opening opponent.

nxe2x80x9cWe feel like wexe2x80x99re ahead of the game. We had a great preseason camp,xe2x80x9d Lamb remarked. xe2x80x9cTechnically game week starts on Friday since we play next Thursday, but wexe2x80x99ve already told our players that game week is upon us even though we have nine days to go. Any time you play a conference game, we sell it to our kids as a championship game. To win the Southern Conference, youxe2x80x99ve got to be very consistent in championship games, and this will be a big one for us.xe2x80x9d

nThe Bears realize that a tough challenge awaits them in their opening game of the fall, but they also realize the fortuitous break they caught by being able to play The Citadel to open up the regular season.

nRather than having a short week to attempt to prepare for the Bulldogsxe2x80x99 vaunted option attack, Mercer now has ample opportunity to get its defensive players ready to face a unique scheme.

nxe2x80x9cAny time you play [The Citadel] in the middle of the year, youxe2x80x99ve basically got three practice days to get out there and try to defend it, which is very difficult,xe2x80x9d Lamb, now in his 13th year as a collegiate head coach, continued. xe2x80x9cOne of the hardest things to do is to implement it with your scout team and try to emulate what they are doing. Our scout team has had more time to work on it and I think that is going to help us with our familiarity.xe2x80x9d

nHaving been picked to finish fifth in the SoCon during the preseason poll, a win against a nationally-ranked league opponent to start the season would undoubtedly make Mercer a legitimate contender in the conference race.

nThe Bears are confident that they possess the talent and experience necessary to make a run towards the FCS playoffs.

nNow, it is simply a matter of building upon last seasonxe2x80x99s momentum and finding more consistency from one week to the next.

Matt Osborne – Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt’s number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at [email protected].

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