HERO Sports welcomes you to "Two-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 125 FCS programs, with two being released each day from June 18 to August 18 (with the final day having three in one day). Today we give you … Mercer.
Southern Conference (Mercer was 5th in the SoCon in 2017)
COACH: Bobby Lamb – 6th year (32-25 record)
2017 OFFENSE: 24.5 ppg (59th in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 23.6 ppg (41st in FCS)
SUM IT UP: Why does Mercer just seem like a program that is ready to explode in a good way? The Bears got out of football during World War II and didn't come back until five years ago, when an accomplished coach in Bobby Lamb came on board from his alma mater at Furman and has been building this program brick-by-brick. This team will be a factor in 2018, but the SoCon is so full of parity that it is tough to figure out where to begin when it comes to predicting its order.
But let's go ahead and drop this nugget: Aside from 2013 when Mercer won 10 games in its non-scholarship Pioneer League CFB re-debut (is that a word/description?), the Bears have never won more than 7 games in a season — and that includes the "old days" when college football players wore leather helmets and rode trains to games. The Bears — thanks to an outstanding job of recruiting and building brick-by-brick (second reference to bricks) are right on the cusp of being a SoCon frontrunner. Last year, the Bears knocked a very good Western Carolina team out of the playoffs, were within 7 points of Auburn late in the 4th quarter, lost by only 1 point to the SoCon champions (Wofford) and were the only non-SEC team to play both Auburn and Alabama in 2017. If that doesn't command your respect, I don't know what would. If an opponent overlooks Mercer, it is going to lose.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: After traveling to a very strong Memphis program in week one, there's not a game on this schedule where Mercer should be considered a clear "underdog". Trips to play Samford and defending SoCon champ Wofford, along with defending Ivy League champion Yale will be the real determinants of how good this program truly is. The Bears could very well win 7 or 8 games, and in a perfect scenario might be able to win more and get into the FCS playoff discussion. A lot of starters last year were underclassmen, so there is major potential to be one of the "big stories" of the FCS this year. But this program must get past the parity of the SoCon. It's time to break the "contender" threshold and ascend.
TOP RETURNEE: DL Isaiah Buehler (1st Team All SoCon – 5.5 sacks, 38 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 6 hurries)
THE NEXT BEST: RB Tee Mitchell (2nd Team All SoCon – 626 yards rushing, 7 TDs); WR Marquise Irvin (2nd Team All SoCon – 536 yards receiving, 4 TDs); QB Kaelan Riley (2,030 yards passing, 13 TDs, 4 rushing TDs); DB Eric Jackson (2nd Team All SoCon – 89 tackles); OL Austin Sanders (started all 11 games at RT); LB Will Coneway (66 tackles, 6 TFLs, 3 FFs); LB LeMarkus Bailey (63 tackles, 6.5 TFLs); DB Malique Fleming (51 tackles).
TOP NEWCOMER: WR Tony Jones Jr. (3-star prospect – 11 FBS offers)
DID YOU KNOW?: Mercer took a 72-year break from football after shutting down the program after the 1941 season due to the U.S.' involvement in World War II. The program had also been shut down during World War I in 1917 and 1918. In 2013, the program started back up and has improved ever since with Coach Bobby Lamb heading things up … In 1933, the Bears played arguably the toughest schedule in school history, beating Clemson in Savannah, Ga., losing to Georgia by one point at home in Macon, Ga., and going on the road to challenge Army and Navy in back-to-back weeks during the service academies' football heydays.
THE QUOTE: "I'm going to be honest with you, when this thing got started, people thought the Southern Conference may have been going south a bit with Georgia Southern and Appalachian State leaving. But you have to commend the schools for stepping back up and making this a premier league again. If you look at the last two years alone, this league is stronger than ever. There's as much parity here as there has been in the SoCon in awhile. What that means is, there are going to be a lot of exciting fourth quarter football games." — Head Coach Bobby Lamb told HERO Sports' Brian McLaughlin
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #RoarTogether
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @MercerFootball
— Mercer Football (@MercerFootball) June 18, 2018
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