SoCon fans have often bragged about the parity from top to bottom, that competitiveness (and balanced scheduling) throughout the league was better than the top-heaviness of other conferences.
While the overall depth of the SoCon in past years was rarely questioned, beating up on each other every week was not always conducive, fair or not, to multiple FCS playoff bids. The conference was super-competitive last season, but only one team made the postseason — East Tennessee State. ETSU’s run to the quarterfinals proved at least one more SoCon team should have made the bracket, but the week-to-week battles and parity led to no other teams hitting the magic number of seven D1 wins.
The argument has been made multiple times throughout the years: Would you rather have a conference filled with depth and parity or a conference where the top teams are separated from the pack, resulting in more wins and more opportunities to be considered for the postseason bracket?
The SoCon has bragged about the former, but it’s benefitting from the latter this season.
2022 SoCon Standings
There is a clear top and bottom in these standings. And the top four have avoided losses to the bottom five.
Chattanooga’s lone SoCon loss is to Furman. Furman’s lone SoCon loss is to Samford. Mercer’s lone SoCon loss is to Chattanooga.
Chattanooga’s average margin of victory when playing a combination of those bottom five teams is 31.8-12.5. Furman’s is 34.0-16.8. Mercer’s is 43.6-12.0. Samford’s is 38.0-17.8.
While there have been a few battles where a bottom-five team pushed a top-four team, we haven’t seen your typical SoCon “upsets” this season. Last year, there were plenty, resulting in jumbled standings.
2021 SoCon Standings
The lack of top-to-bottom parity in the SoCon has benefitted the conference in 2022. It has resulted in four teams climbing the polls and being ranked in the Top 15 — No. 10 Samford, No. 11 Chattanooga, No. 13 Furman, and No. 14 Mercer. This also has put more teams on the playoff radar. The SoCon should get 3-4 teams in the bracket this year, allowing the SoCon to show its strength on a more national level.
Positioning between these four to gain the best argument for bids and a seed heats up this week.
Samford plays at Chattanooga, and Furman plays at Mercer. Mercer also plays at Samford in Week 12.
The magic number to get a good look at a playoff bid is seven D1 wins. Last year, the SoCon had four teams with six D1 wins, including some late-season “upsets” that resulted in teams falling short of getting further on the playoff radar.
This season, Samford is already at eight D1 wins with two ranked opponents to come. Chattanooga is at seven D1 wins and should hit eight next week at WCU if it doesn’t this week vs. Samford. Furman is at six D1 wins (has one non-counter W) and should hit seven next week vs. Wofford if it doesn’t this week at Mercer. And Mercer is at seven D1 wins with two ranked opponents to come.
As long as the SoCon continues to avoid upsets, it will have four teams with at least seven D1 wins and at least two of those teams with eight or more D1 wins.
While the SoCon can still brag that all of its teams play each other and there isn’t an unbalanced schedule, the clear separation between the top teams and the bottom teams has benefitted the conference this season. And like it or not, right or wrong, fair or not, top-heaviness in a conference gives it a better shot at more teams in the playoffs.