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 SoCon picks every week.
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SOCON WEEK 10 PICKS
Last week was my best week yet as far as how I fared in my Southern Conference previews, as I went 4-0 in my picks last week, so I have to issue no apologies this week. This season, however, has not been a normal one as far as the Southern Conference is concerned.
REPORT CARD: SoCon's Midseason Look
Here’s a look at how Week 10 might pan out:
No.13 Furman (5-3, 4-1 SoCon) at Chattanooga (4-4, 3-1 SoCon), 2 p.m. EST
Furman heads to Chattanooga to face the Mocs fresh off a hard-fought 28-7 win at Western Carolina last Saturday, and despite falling out of the top spot heading into the game in Cullowhee with the Catamounts following a 27-10 home loss to The Citadel, now finds itself tied with Wofford at 4-1 atop the SoCon standings.
While Furman’s win came in hard-fought fashion on a rainy homecoming Saturday at Western Carolina last Saturday, the Mocs lost in excruciating fashion to the Terriers, with a failed two point conversion attempt in overtime, as the Mocs dropped a 35-34 decision in Spartanburg to red-hot Wofford.
Saturday’s clash between the Paladins and Mocs will mark the 49th all-time renewal of the rivalry, with the Paladins holding a 29-19 all-time series edge, and Furman has won each of the past two meetings, claiming a 16-10 win in Greenville last season at Paladin Stadium, while posting a 41-17 win over the Mocs in their last trip to Finley Stadium a couple of years ago.
An interesting note about the two coaching staffs is that there are some significant names Furman fans might recognize, including head coach Rusty Wright, who was the linebackers coach at Furman back in 2010.
Adam Mims, who coaches wide receivers for the Mocs, and Mims was at Furman setting records, as he left Furman ranking as the school's all-time leader in receiving yards, receptions and single-season receptions. Mims was a senior at Furman in the lone season that Wright was on staff with the Paladins. Meanwhile, current Paladin wideout Thomas Gordon (29 rec, 503 yds, 5 TDs, 17.3 YPR) continues to move up the charts for the Paladins in career receiving yards (2,279 yds) and receptions (140), ranking fourth on both of the school’s charts in those respective categories.
Saturday’s matchup will be one that will feature two of the SoCon’s premier running backs, in Furman’s Devin Wynn (107 rush att, 807 yds, 8 TDs, 7.4 YPC/6 rec, 106 yds, 1 TD, 13.2 YPC) and Chattanooga’s Ailym Ford (182 rush att, 893 yds, 9 TDs, 4.9 YPC). Wynn, who rushed for 87 yards and a pair of scores last weekend’s win at Western Carolina, is on pace to become Furman’s first running back to reach the 1,000-yard mark since Hank McCloud did so in 2017.
Ford is likely not only the frontrunner to win the SoCon’s Rookie of the Year, but also maybe the leading candidate to win the Jerry Rice Award, which is given to the best overall freshman in FCS football by STATS FCS, and ranks seventh nationally and second in the SoCon in rushing yards. The Palmetto State native, who hails from Florence, S.C., is looking to become Chattanooga’s first running back to rush for more than 1,000 in a single-season since Derek Craine went for 1,083 yards back in 2016.
With 107 rushing yards against the Paladins, he would become the 10th player in Mocs history to accomplish the feat. He is only 311 yards away from setting a single-season rushing record for the Mocs, and had 140 yards and a pair of rushing scores in last week’s loss in Spartanburg.
Furman brings a defense into the matchup that ranks 12th nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 19.1 PPG so far this season. Chattanooga is led on the defensive side of the football by linebacker Ty Boeck, who ranks fifth in the SoCon with 64 tackles in 2019.
It figures to be another barn-burner between the Volunteer State and Palmetto State teams, and could well decide one if not both teams SoCon title fates. With that being said, I expect Furman to hand Chattanooga its second-straight SoCon heartbreaking SoCon loss to keep pace with Wofford.
Final Score Prediction: Furman 27, Chattanooga 20
Samford (4-4, 3-2 SoCon) at Mercer (3-5, 2-3 SoCon), 7 p.m. EST
Last year, Mercer opened Southern Conference play with one of the biggest wins of the Bobby Lamb era in Macon, posting a 30-24 road win over ninth-ranked and SoCon preseason favorite Samford in Birmingham, however, with Mercer having lost its quarterback, chances at a playoff or Southern Conference title in the past couple of weeks in a win over VMI and loss to The Citadel, Lamb finds himself needing to win out just to have a winning season, and that would include a highly unlikely win at North Carolina.
Will another .500 season give Lamb the opportunity to stick around another season in middle Georgia? One feather in his cap that could go a long way in making a decision to fire him much harder for the administration would be posting a 5-3 conference mark–a feat not accomplished by Mercer since it resurrected its football program in 2013 following a 72-year hiatus. To do that, he’ll have to take down Samford, Wofford and win at East Tennessee State. The two schools will be meeting for the 25th time Saturday, with Samford holding a narrow 13-11 series edge.
Samford, meanwhile, remains alive and well in the Southern Conference title race, but can’t afford another loss in league play, and will need some help. The Bulldogs are in a similar situation as Lamb’s Bears when it comes to FBS opponents, as Samford faces Auburn at season’s end.
The only way the playoffs are realistic possibility for the Bulldogs once again this season entering the month of November is to win the SoCon regular-season title and get the auto-bid, so they will need help. With a win over Wofford, loss to Furman, Samford would need to win the remainder of its SoCon games and hope that Wofford defeats Furman in three weeks.
What makes Saturday’s contest an interesting clash is the two offensive schemes are led by a pair of quarterbacks that are dual-threat type signal-controls, as Kaelan Riley (28-of-53 passing, 424 yds, 3 TDs, 3 INTs/10 rush att, 2 yds, 0.2 YPC) leads Mercer and Chris Oladokun (131-of-206 passing, 1,719 yds, 16 TDs, 6 INTs/92 rush att, 393 yds, 6 TDs, 4.3 YPC) continues to lead the Samford offense.
The Samford defense will look to build off a performance which saw it hold the East Tennessee State offense to just three points in a 24-17 Bulldogs win last Saturday. The Bulldogs have the league’s leader on the defensive side of the football, in linebacker John Staton (89 tackles, 2.5 TFL). It’s been a disappointing season on the defensive side of the football for Mercer, surrendering 437.4 YPG on the defensive side of the ball so far in 2019.
This one will be close, however, I expect Mercer to come up big on both sides of the ball at key moments and spring the upset in this one.
Final Score Prediction: Mercer 35, Samford 31
Western Carolina (1-7, 0-5 SoCon) at VMI (4-4, 3-2 SoCon), 1 p.m. EST
Western Carolina looked like a different, much-improved football team in last Saturday’s 28-7 homecoming loss to Furman, while VMI had the week off to prepare for the stretch run of the 2019 season, which sees the Keydets very much in the SoCon race as we head into the final month of the season.
The Catamounts and Keydets will be meeting for the 25th time on Saturday in a series that has thoroughly been dominated by Western Carolina in the all-time series, leading 21-3. Western enters the matchup with 15-straight losses to Division I foes. The Catamounts have also lost 12-straight SoCon games, with the last win over a SoCon foe coming to open SoCon play last season defeating the Keydets, 52-50, in Cullowhee following a furious rally from the Keydets.
VMI will brings record-setting quarterback Reece Udinski (218-of-344 passing, 2,314 yds, 14 TDs, 0 INTs) into the matchup, who last time out, set the FCS record for consecutive passes without throwing an INT, as he has now thrown 344 passes without a pick, which surpassed the previous record of 342 passes without an interception set by Portland State’s Jimmy Blanchard back in 1999.
VMI running back Alex Ramsey (185 rush att, 935 yds, 17 TDs, 5.1 YPC) continues to lead the nation in rushing scores, and with 65 yards rushing Saturday against the Catamounts would become the first 1,000-yard rusher since the late Tim Maypray rushed for 1,288 yards back in 2008. Ramsey is also VMI’s third-leading receiver with 37 catches for 273 yards, averaging 7.4 yards-per-catch.
Tyrie Adams (91-of-129 passing, 897 yds, 6 TDs, 5 INTs/81 rush att, 304 yds, 5 TDs, 3.8 YPC) continues to be under siege because of an offensive line learning as it goes, however, the Catamounts are improving on both sides of the ball with each week. They will keep it close, but look for VMI to remain in the mix with an important home win.
Final Score Prediction: VMI 34, Western Carolina 27
The Citadel (5-4, 3-2 SoCon) at East Tennessee State (2-6, 0-5 SoCon), 2 p.m. EST
For every close win East Tennessee State had in 2018, they have had an excruciatingly loss in league play this season. However, the Bucs are still a very dangerous team and will bite someone before the season is complete. The Bucs have lost seven of their SoCon games by seven points or less this season.
The Bucs and Bulldogs will be meeting for the 28th time Saturday, with the Bucs holding a narrow 16-11 all-time series edge. The Bucs posted a 26-23 win last season in Charleston. The Citadel will be looking to keep its SoCon title hopes and playoff aspirations alive Saturday when the Bulldogs take on the Bucs, having already taken down a power five foe (Georgia Tech) and the No. 8 (Furman) ranked team in FCS football at the time on the road.
The Bucs have only scored over 20 points twice in eight games this season, including just once in Southern Conference play. Meanwhile, The Citadel has scored 20 or more points in all nine games this season. Quarterback Brandon Rainey (42-of-73 passing, 688 yds, 9 TDs, 3 INTs/178 rush att, 719 yds, 14 TDs, 4.0 YPC) continues to pace a Citadel team that ranks sixth nationally in rushing offense (269.6 YPG). Rainey’s 23 TD responsibilities this season are a school record.
The Bucs continue to have one of the nation’s best defensive units, as the Bucs rank 35th nationally in total defense (358.0 YPG) continuing to be led by safety All-America candidate Artevius Smith (58 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 4 INTs, 4 PBUs, 1 FF).
I think the Bucs have enough to upset The Citadel Saturday, holding the Bulldogs to under 20 points for the first time this season, and throwing a wrench into the Southern Conference title and FCS playoff hopes for the Bulldogs.
Final Score Prediction: ETSU 24, The Citadel 19
No. 20/23 Wofford (5-2, 4-1 SoCon) at No. 4 Clemson (8-0, 6-0 ACC), 4 p.m. EST
On Monday, Wofford found itself back in both FCS polls coming in at No. 20 and No. 23, respectively, following five-straight wins since opening the campaign with losses to South Carolina State and Samford.
The Terriers will put their five-game streak on the line Saturday against a Clemson team that is the current active winning streak leader in the FBS, having won 23-straight games.
Wofford and the fourth-ranked Tigers will be meeting for the 16th time when the two tangle Saturday in Death Valley, with Clemson holding a 12-3 lead in the all-time series. Clemson has won five-straight in the series, dating back to Wofford’s last win over the Tigers in 1933.
The Terriers were 35-34 winners over Chattanooga last Saturday in a key Southern Conference game at Gibbs Stadium. Clemson blasted Boston College 59-7 last Saturday.
On paper, this is a game Wofford coach Josh Conklin will be hoping to keep guys healthy, compete and collect a big paycheck. The Terriers have back-to-back great games from Joe Newman (42-of-76 passing, 674 yds, 5 TDs, 4 INTs/92 rush att, 92 rush att, 760 yds, 11 TDs, 8.3 YPC) under center and he is getting more comfortable in a tweaked Terrier offense as the season progresses.
That same thing can be said for Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (137-of-209 passing, 1,809 yds, 17 TDs, 8 INTs), who had perhaps his best performance of the season in last Saturday’s win over the Eagles, completing 18-of-30 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown without an interception.
This one won’t be close, but it’s not an indication of Wofford’s talent level. The Terriers will be a tough out for anyone they face down the stretch in the SoCon.
Final Score Prediction: Clemson 56, Wofford 13
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