The SoCon will be an incredibly competitive conference again in the 2022 FCS season. East Tennessee State won the league last year at 7-1, while Mercer went 6-2, Chattanooga went 5-3, and three teams (Furman, VMI, Western Carolina) finished 4-4 in the standings. The SoCon was just a one-bid league into the playoffs in 2021 with several six-D1-win teams left out. It is a strong enough league to get at least two, if not three, teams into this season’s bracket.
How does the conference look heading into 2022? Here are the top returning players and our projected order of finish.
Returning All-Conference Players
From last year’s All-SoCon Team
Chattanooga — 6: DL Devonnsha Maxwell (1st Team), DL Ben Brewton (1st Team), LB Ty Boeck (2nd Team), LB Jay Person (2nd Team), OL McClendon Curtis (1st Team), RB Ailym Ford (1st Team)
ETSU — 5: DB Alijah Huzzie (2nd Team), DB Mike Price (2nd Team), K Tyler Keltner (2nd Team), OL Tavon Matthews (2nd Team), RB Jacob Saylors (2nd Team)
VMI — 5: DB Aljareek Malry (2nd Team), K Jerry Rice (1st Team), LB Stone Snyder (1st Team), LS Robert Soderholm (1st Team), P Jack Culbreath (2nd Team)
Furman — 4: DB Travis Blackshear (2nd Team), OL Anderson Tomlin (1st Team), OL Pearson Toomey (2nd Team), TE Ryan Miller (1st Team)
Mercer — 3: DB Lance Wise (1st Team), DL Chris Hill (2nd Team), DL Solomon Zubairu (1st Team)
Samford — 2: DL Seth Simme (2nd Team), OL Gavin Orr (2nd Team)
The Citadel — 2: DB Destin Mack (2nd Team), LS Steele Judy (2nd Team)
Wofford — 2: DL Micheal Mason (2nd Team), RB Irvin Mulligan (2nd Team)
Western Carolina — 1: WR Raphael Williams (1st Team)
Returning HERO Sports All-Americans
From last year
ETSU — 4: WR Will Huzzie (Soph.), OL Tavon Matthews (Soph.), QB Tyler Riddell (Fr.), DB Alijah Huzzie (Fr.)
VMI — 4: LB Stone Snyder (2nd Team), LS Robert Soderholm (3rd Team), K Jerry Rice (Soph.), P Jack Culbreath (Soph.)
Chattanooga — 2: DL Devonnsha Maxwell (2nd Team), RB Ailym Ford (Soph.)
Western Carolina — 2: WR Raphael Williams (Fr.), RS Calvin Jones (Fr.)
The Citadel — 2: DB Dominick Poole (Fr.), LS Steele Judy (Fr.)
Mercer — 1: DB Lance Wise (Soph.)
Teams With The Most D1 Transfers
Chattanooga – 19 (17 FBS, 2 FCS)
Samford — 15 (10 FBS, 5 FCS)
Mercer — 8 (5 FBS, 3 FCS)
Furman — 8 (4 FBS, 4 FCS)
Names To Know
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Jacob Saylors, ETSU RB — Saylors was a part of a 1-2 punch with Quay Holmes that combined for 27 rushing TDs last season. Saylors is back this year with an even bigger role after rushing for 1,019 yards and 10 TDs.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Devonnsha Maxwell, Chattanooga DL — Maxwell is a four-year All-American dating back to 2018 and is also a three-time All-SoCon First Team selection. The 6-foot-2, 296-pounder was named last season’s SoCon Defensive Player of the Year, totaling 42 tackles, 15.5 TFLs, 12 sacks, and five quarterback hurries in 11 games.
TOP NFL PROSPECT: McClendon Curtis, Chattanooga OL — A three-year starter and back-to-back First Team All-SoCon selection, Curtis is an agile 6-foot-6, 328-pounder. PFF graded him the No. 2 FCS offensive guard last season with an 84.2 grade, right behind teammate Cole Strange, who was selected in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft.
HERO Sports’ Predicted Order of Finish
6. Western Carolina
8. The Citadel
The competitive balance in the SoCon will be on display again. And while that’s a lot of fun week-to-week with upsets happening, the league needs its top teams to beat the bottom teams to avoid what happened last year. I felt the SoCon was good enough to get three teams into the 2021 bracket. But multiple teams lost games they shouldn’t have, leaving many six-D1-win teams on the bubble.
This year, I view ETSU, Chattanooga, and Mercer as teams that can make the playoffs. The next two will make it interesting, though. Furman was very competitive and lost some close games, and VMI will be in the mix as well with its high-flying offense.
ETSU did lose a lot of key names from last season’s quarterfinal team, whether through graduation or the transfer portal. The Buccaneers still bring back a strong nucleus under first-year head coach George Quarles. I’m sticking with the Bucs as my preseason No. 1, but Chattanooga will make a serious run at the SoCon title with those big names returning in the All-Conference section above. The Mocs have been aggressive in the transfer portal as well, bringing in 17 FBS transfers. Mercer took a hit with 2021 Freshman All-American RB Fred Davis no longer on the roster, especially as a run-first team. But this is still a tough team with a strong defense that will push ETSU and Chattanooga.
VMI lost several standouts, but its offense led by QB Seth Morgan will give defenses trouble. And Samford will be an interesting team, losing many of its top players but bringing in double-digit FBS transfers. It won’t be surprising at all to see WCU or The Citadel knock off a top team in the conference while sitting near the bottom of the standings. But again, teams like Chattanooga and ETSU need to avoid those losses to position themselves for playoff success. Finally, we’ll see if Wofford can turn things around, especially as a team we were used to seeing in the playoffs throughout the 2010s. But it has fallen off rather rapidly, going 1-10 overall last season and winless in the SoCon.