HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs from June 17 to August 6. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 12-15. Today, we present … Samford.
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SAMFORD (6-5 IN 2018)
The SoCon (Samford was 4th in 2018)
COACH: Chris Hatcher – At School: 5th year (27-19 record), Overall: 20th year (148-76-0)
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2017 (lost in first round to Kennesaw State)
2018 OFFENSE: 38.5 ppg. (9th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 26.4 ppg. (48th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Aug. 24 vs. Youngstown State: This will be a big-time test in front of a big-time audience, as ESPN is tuning in on this one — the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff game at the historic Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. YSU is a solid program just a few years removed from the FCS national title game, but the Penguins are in a bit of a rebuilding mode too. Both of these programs need this game to go well.
SUM IT UP: Samford has posted eight consecutive winning seasons, a testament to the job that Coach "Hatch" and his staff have done at Samford. This season might teeter on breaking that trend, but it would only be temporary as the core of this team lies in this outstanding sophomore class and the recruiting the program has done over the years. The Bulldogs have been in the playoffs, broken FCS records, you name it. That won't go away permanently, it's just that this year may be a bit of a rebuilding season with Walter Payton Award winner Devlin Hodges and his No. 1 pass target Kelvin McKnight both currently on NFL rosters (Steelers and Broncos respectively, as of July 2019). Oh, and last year's defensive stud Ahmad Gooden is also on the Broncos' roster … you get where I'm going here.
There's nothing wrong with rebuilding, it's the lifeblood of college football. You can't keep guys like the ones mentioned above on the roster forever. These were the guys who last year scared the dickens out of Florida State deep into the fourth quarter. They were special, and the Bulldogs are looking for the next crop of players who can do that too. One bright spot is knowing that 67 letterwinners return to the roster, with only 13 players departing. Four offensive linemen are back with starting experience, so that's a big plus with what the Bulldogs do well — score points. A couple of key skill players return, also.
The quarterback position may be more important at Samford than any other school in the FCS, so the spring battle for the starting position was critical. Junior Liam Welch has some fall playing experience under center, while sophomore South Florida transfer Chris Oladokun also got time with the first team this spring. Even freshmen backups Ty Hatcher and Cade Blackmon had their moments. If one of these guys catches fire? Watch out SoCon — this is an offense that has "Top 10 in the FCS" written all over it when the right components are locked in.
OUR TAKE: We try to be upbeat but honest with our previews, and in this preview, we have to say we think Samford may be in for a rebuilding campaign. Will the Bulldogs lose every game? Heck no. Will the program be stuck in the lower half of the SoCon for the next half-decade? No, and we'll go ahead and stake a claim on Samford being pretty strong in 2020 once this stellar sophomore class gets a tad bit more seasoned. And truthfully? If this underclassmen core finds itself quickly? This team may be rocking and rolling by year's end. You can't exactly bet the mortgage on such things, but it's possible. The bottom line is, this program is a traditional winner and it will bounce back, it just may take some time.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./OL Nick Nixon (2nd Team All SoCon In 2018 – HERO Sports Freshman All-American in 2016)
THE FOUNDATION: Soph./DL Nelson Jordan (HERO Sports Freshman All American – 33 tackles, 8 TFL, 5 sacks, 5 hurries); WR Chris Shelling (63 catches, 688 yards, 9 TDs); Soph./DB Jordan Montgomery (2 INTs, 2 PBUs, 13 tackles); Soph./LB Nathan East (34 tackles, 2 TFLs); Soph./PK Mitchell Fineran (13 of 17 on field goals, perfect 50 of 50 on XPs); Soph./RB DeMarcus Ware (Led team in rushing, 429 yards and 7 TDs); Jr./LB Tre'Shun Floyd (47 tackles, 3.5 TFL); Sr./DB William Bryant (35 tackles).
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./DL Nick Jackson (No. 53 FCS Signee according to HERO Sports' recruiting rankings – Duke offer, 4 total FBS offers and 17 overall)
THE QUOTE: "All-in-all, it's been a good spring. We just have a lot of new bodies and a lot of new faces that we're trying to figure out what they can do well. I think we've gotten better in some areas we need to improve in, but we have a long way to go. We have some good senior leadership, but we have a lot of new faces that haven't taken a lot of snaps that are going to have to play and play a lot for us this season." — Head Coach Chris Hatcher said during spring ball
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's Samford Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The SoCon
Chattanooga | ETSU | Furman
Mercer | Samford | The Citadel
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