John Hooper is one of HERO Sports' FCS Campus Correspondents, and he resides in the Greenville-Spartanburg area of South Carolina. He's a longtime Southern Conference "expert" and tracks the league for HERO Sports. You can follow John on Twitter @SoConJohn. Read John's weekly SoCon picks every week.
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Week seven is a light week in Southern Conference football, but it is an important one. Last week was my worst yet in terms of predicting games in the Southern Conference race, as my apologies go out to Gardner-Webb, VMI, Chattanooga and Wofford. All told, I went 1-4 on the week–awful for someone that calls himself SoCon John, right? The only game I got correct was Furman’s win over fashion, although again it came in a much different fashion than I thought.
SOCON PICKS: John Hooper's Week Seven Take
Since it is a light week, I am going to do a SoCon mid-season report card.
These are listed by this week's SoCon standings:[divider]
1. Furman (4-2, 3-0 SoCon) (Grade: A+)–All Furman has done wrong this season is lose to two FBS opponents by 13 points. The Paladins have won nine-straight games against FBS competition and are off to their first 3-0 start to Southern Conference play since 2006. Hard to find too much wrong with the Paladins thus far and Clay Hendrix’s Paladins will have a week off before The Citadel comes to town for homecoming..
2. Chattanooga (3-3, 2-0 SoCon) (Grade: A-)–The Mocs played a brutal three-week stretch, which included games against two ranked FCS teams, in Jacksonville State and James Madison, sandwiched by a game against FBS Tennessee. The past two weeks, the Mocs have looked good and gained confidence in wins over Western Carolina and on the road against Mercer, scoring 27 second-half points to overcome a halftime deficit in getting that win. Don’t look now, but the Mocs seem to be creeping slowly back up the SoCon ladder. They host East Tennessee State next Thursday in the “Battle for the Rail” trophy at Finley Stadium.
3t. Wofford (3-2, 2-1 SoCon) (Grade: B+)–Wofford has some of the best talent in the Southern Conference, and were the preseason pick to win the league. Early-season losses to both South Carolina State and Samford had most of us scratching our heads, but the Terriers have rebounded three-straight, with their most impressive win being their most recent, as the Terriers took down East Tennessee State, 31-17, in Johnson City..
3t. Samford (3-3, 2-1 SoCon) (Grade: B+)–As it turns out, the Bulldogs have really played a tough schedule, with the loss to Tennessee Tech now not looking all too bad, even though the manner in which the Bulldogs lost that game should never happen. The Bulldogs also have played three ranked teams, with an epic 61-55 quadruple overtime win over No. 25 The Citadel. The only unfortunate thing to come out of that win was an injury to starting quarterback Chris Oladokun, and he wasn’t 100% Saturday against Furman this past Saturday in a 58-14 loss. The Bulldogs are one of four SoCon teams this weekend, taking on VMI in Lexington.
3t. VMI (3-3, 2-1 SoCon) (Grade: A)–Scott Wachenheim’s Keydets snapped what had been a 12-game losing streak in the Battle for the Silver Shako, as the Keydets knocked off The Citadel, 34-21, last Saturday in what was a big win for the Keydets and not only was it the first win over The Citadel since 2002, it was also the first win for VMI over The Citadel in Charleston since 1995.Outside the loss to Robert Morris in mid-September, the Keydets have exceeded expectations and preseason prognostications so far and seem to be getting better with each passing week..
6. Mercer (2-4, 1-2 SoCon) (Grade: D-)–Mercer had us believing early on this season, getting out to a 2-0 start, which included a conference win over Western Carolina, 49-27, which got the Bears out of the gates quickly. Robert Riddle at one time led the nation with 11 TD passes through three games, however, since has just three scoring tosses to go along with five interceptions, including three returned for scores. Riddle though hasn’t been getting much helped from a ground game, which was without Tyray Devezin last week against Chattanooga, who missed the game with an injury, and the Bears posted their lowest rushing total since re-starting the program in 2013. The Bears, like The Citadel, are on life support when it comes to postseason talk.
7t. The Citadel (2-4, 0-2 SoCon) (Grade: C+)–With back-to-back losses to Samford and VMI, the season for the Bulldogs is on life support now. Just three weeks ago, we were thinking the Bulldogs could be a real player to potentially win the Southern Conference title, however, now for that to happen, they likely need to win out and have some help along the way. A less-than-100% Brandon Rainey under center has been a difficult situation for the coaching staff to navigate the past couple of weeks. The win over Georgia Tech was great, but that win is now proving to be costly, as Rainey has looked hobbled ever since with various injuries. Since that milestone win over the Yellow Jackets–The Citadel’s first over an ACC foe in its history–the Bulldogs have one lone win over Charleston Southern.
7t. Western Carolina (1-4, 0-3 SoCon) (Grade: F)–Expectations were high in Cullowhee as the anticipation of starting the season at home against a Southern Conference rival with the preseason SoCon Offensive Player of the Year Tyrie Adams, the thought was the Catamounts might just exceed preseason expectations. Then the season actually kicked off, and an 82-yard kick return by Mercer’s David Durden should have signaled warning signs for how the first five games would go. The Catamounts have lost 12-straight games to Division I foes, starting with a 44-38 loss to Furman in Greenville last season and the most recent, 24-21, home setback to Gardner-Webb might have seen the Catamounts reach a low point it hasn’t encountered since Mark Speir’s first season in Cullowhee, when Western finished 1-11 with the lone win coming against Division II Mars Hill..
9. East Tennessee State (2-4, 0-3 SoCon) (Grade: C)–ETSU came into the season one of the three reigning champions that tied for the regular-season title a year ago, but it’s been a rough start to league play to say the least for Randy Sanders’ club in year two. Unlike this season, the Bucs have been unable to overcome early quarterback issues. A season-ending injury to Miami transfer Cade Weldon in fall camp and then another injury Chance Thrasher in the season-opening loss at FBS unbeaten Appalachian State. Trey Mitchell has managed the position since. ETSU lost an overtime affair to VMI to open conference play, 31-24, a close game, which it won on the road last season. The Bucs have shown us glimpses though. A 20-14 win over a good Austin Peay team, and played maybe their best defensive game of the season in a 17-10 loss at nationally-ranked Furman. Obviously the Bucs need to win out to have any shot at the postseason. Another loss and folks in Johnson City will start shifting focus to a much-anticipated hoops season.
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