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.
[divider]MORE FCS FOOTBALL:
SOCON WEEK 11 PICKS
Coming off an undefeated week last week, I had my share of stumbles this week, and at one point during the day, I thought my lone right selection of the day might be the only obvious one–Clemson over Wofford big. Furman came through to get a big win, as did Mercer, bringing my record to 3-2 on the week. Apologies obviously go out to The Citadel and Western Carolina, who I picked to lose. Let’s see if I can fare a little better this week in what has been a wild Southern Conference race in 2019.
VMI (4-5, 3-3 SoCon) at #9/10 Furman (6-3, 5-1 SoCon), 1 p.m. Paladin Stadium
At one time not to long ago, Furman owned a 22-game winning streak in the series against VMI, with the Paladins charting that streak from 1980-2002, spanning two different stints of membership for the Keydets. Then came 2014. With the Paladins struggling in that particular season, VMI would claim a 31-15 win. The Keydets no doubt have one of the most versatile offenses in the country and coming into Saturday’s game against Furman has the 27th-best offense in the FCS, averaging 441.2 YPG. Reece Udinski (241-of-375 passing, 2,631 yds, 16 TDs, 1 INT) threw his first INT of the season last Saturday against Western Carolina, which ended up being one of five turnovers for the VMI offense, who also fumbled four times in the 43-35 homecoming loss. Three other weapons, in wide receivers Javeon Lara (39 rec, 540 yds, 5 TDs, 13.8 YPR) and Jakob Herres (49 rec, 753 yds, 5 TDs, 15.4 YPR), as well as running back Alex Ramsey (214 rush att, 1,078 yds, 20 TDs, 5.0 YPC/41 rec, 291 yds, 7.1 YPR). Ramsey currently ranks third nationally in rush yards, and his 20 rushing scores this season ranks tops in the country. Furman counters with a defense that has played well all season, and a unit that currently ranks 12th nationally in scoring defense (19.2 PPG) and has allowed over 20 or more twice this season against SoCon foes, while VMI has scored 20 or more points in a game in its last seven against FCS competition, dating back to a 49-13 home loss to Furman last season. The Paladins had a change under center last week against Chattanooga. Trailing 9-0, and with Furman’s offense having generated just 65 yards and turned the ball over twice in its first four possessions, Hamp Sisson (14-of-22 passing, 118 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT/9 rush att, 60 yds, 1 TD, 6.7 YPC) was inserted into the lineup in place of Darren Grainger (70-of-141 passing, 1,126 yds, 12 TDs, 3 INTs/80 rush att, 274 yds, 4 TDs, 3.4 YPC). It resulted in a 35-20 win for the Paladins last week. Sisson will once again start under center this week, and look for Furman to get its seventh win Saturday to potentially set up a de facto SoCon championship showdown with Wofford in a couple of weeks.
Final Score Prediction: Furman 42, VMI 24
East Tennessee State (2-7, 0-6 SoCon) at Western Carolina (2-7, 1-5 SoCon), EJ Whitmire Stadium 3:30 p.m.
East Tennessee State will look to snap what is now a seven-game Southern Conference losing streak when it travels to Cullowhee and E.J. Whitmire Stadium to face Western Carolina in the Blue Ridge Border Battle. The Catamounts are slowly but surely improving, snapping a streak a 12-game SoCon losing streak and a 14-game skid against Division I competition with a 43-35 win over VMI last time out. ETSU dropped a heartbreaking 31-27 contest against The Citadel in Johnson City. This will mark the 49th all-time meeting between the Catamounts and Bucs, with the Catamounts leading the all-time series 24-23-1. Last season’s game between the two was a SoCon classic and potentially the game of the year in league, as ETSU survived to win a 45-43 triple-overtime thriller. Tyrie Adams (105-of-151 passing, 1,219 yds, 9 TDs, 5 INTs/94 rush att, 311 yds, 5 TDs, 3.3 YPC) is improving as the season progresses, but ETSU signal-caller Trey Mitchell (139-of-242 passing, 1,536 yds, 11 TDs, 5 INTs) is coming off his best overall performance of the season under center the Bucs, helping the Bucs roll up 428 yards in last Saturday’s loss to the Bulldogs. Defensively, the Bucs continue to get it done, despite struggling a little last week, the Bucs still rank 38th nationally in total defense (360.7 YPG). This has the potential to be the game of the day in the Southern Conference, and I like the Catamounts to spring the upset and hand the Bucs their eighth-straight SoCon loss dating back to last season.
Final Score Prediction: WCU 31, ETSU 28
No. 23/24 Wofford (5-3, 4-1 SoCon) at Mercer (4-5, 3-3 SoCon), Five Star Stadium, 3 p.m.
Wofford gets back into SoCon play following its 59-14 thrashing at the hands of No. 4 Clemson last Saturday, as it was the Tigers’ 24th-straight win. The Terriers will now to tangle with a suddenly hot Mercer football team that has won two of its last three and is coming off a thrilling 36-33 triple-overtime win against Samford last weekend in Macon. Saturday’s meeting at Five Star Stadium will mark the 12th meeting between the two programs, with the Bears holding a narrow 6-5 all-time series edge, but have not won a game in this series since 1941, with the Bears taking a 20-14 in 1941. In fact, the last time Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb beat any Wofford team as a head coach came in 2009 when he was at the helm of the Furman football program, as the Paladins thrashed the Terriers 58-21 at Paladin Stadium. Wofford is a team on a mission right now, however, head coach Josh Conklin doesn’t need to let his time to start looking ahead to a potential game for all the marbles in the SoCon next week against Furman. Two good dual-threat signal-callers will be on each side Saturday, with Wofford’s Joe Newman (45-of-85, 785 yds, 6 TDs, 5 INTs/102 rush att, 788 yds, 11 TDs, 7.7 YPC) being a more-than-viable candidate for SoCon Offensive Player of the Year. Kaelan Riley (49-of-97 passing, 674 yds, 3 TDs, 3 INTs/15 rush att, 36 yds, 2.4 YPC) has officially taken over under center for the Bears and has led Mercer to impressive wins over Samford and VMI. Riley started against Wofford last year, but got injured in what ended up being a 42-21 win by the Terriers. The Bears defense surrendered 558 yards, including 359 yards on the ground in last season’s matchup. Defense has once again been a problem this season, although reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Year is Mercer linebacker Sidney Otiwu (78 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 INT, 2 PBUs), who registered the top individual tackles performance in school history, with 21 stops in last Saturday’s triple-overtime win over Samford. Still, the defense as a whole has struggled all season once again, ranking 106th nationally, surrendering 449.9 YPG and 113th nationally in stopping the run, giving up 227.8 YPG on the ground. That’s not a great recipe for success against the nation’s second-best ground attack (333.9 YPG). I am taking Wofford, but it will be close.
Final Score Prediction: Wofford 31, Mercer 24
Chattanooga (4-5, 3-2 SoCon) at Samford (4-5, 3-3 SoCon), Seibert Stadium, 3 p.m. EST
Though Chattanooga has lost its past couple of ball games, we’ve been impressed with what Rusty Wright is doing in the Scenic City to get this program back to where it was 2013-16, which is routinely competing for Southern Conference titles. Back-to-back losses to Wofford (35-34, OT) and Furman (35-20) came in impressive fashion, and both Palmetto State teams had to come from behind to get wins over the Mocs in those games. Today, the Mocs meet rival Samford in a game that used to be dubbed “The Battle of the Southern Railway.” It will mark the 45th all-time meeting between the Mocs and Bulldogs, with Chattanooga having dominated the all-time series, leading 31-10-3. Since Samford joined the SoCon as an official member in 2008, the Mocs are 10-2 against the Bulldogs, including having won five-straight against the Bulldogs. This matchup will feature two of the top newcomers to the league, in Samford’s South Florida transfer quarterback Chris Oladokun (158-of-253 passing, 1,989 yds, 17 TDs, 6 INTs/112 rush att, 457 yds, 8 TDs, 4.1 YPC), and a player in Chattanooga Ailym Ford (203 rush att, 1,072 yds, 9 TDs, 5.3 YPC), who is likely the front-runner right now for the Jerry Rice Award, ranking fourth nationally in rushing yards. Ford put on a show last week against Furman, with 145 first-half rushing yards. Like Mercer, Samford has struggled stopping the run this season, surrendering 243.3 YPG to rank 114th in the FCS in rush defense. Chattanooga's continues to drive Ford, as it has done lately, and snaps a two-game losing streak to get back on track.
Final Score Prediction: Chattanooga 28, Samford 24
Listen to the latest episodes of B-Mac and Herd's FCS Podcast, which is also available on iTunes, Spotify, iHeart, Stitcher and Spreaker.
SUBSCRIBE: B-Mac and Herd's FCS Podcast