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 12 PICKS
For the second-straight week, I went undefeated in my picks and it seems I am getting better as the season rolls along. Too bad the season is not a little longer, as I might be able to redeem my early-season struggles. It’s another tough week of SoCon picks, with one game that will decide a lot about the 2019 Southern Conference race…Here goes my best shot..
#7/9 Furman (7-3, 6-1 SoCon) at #20 Wofford (6-3, 5-1 SoCon) Gibbs Stadium, 1 p.m.
Furman and Wofford will celebrate the oldest rivalry in the Palmetto State, when the two meet Saturday at Gibbs Stadium on the campus of Wofford College. It will be the 130th anniversary of the first football game played in the state of South Carolina, as Furman holds a 54-32-7 all-time series edge. The Paladins and Terriers rank as the top two offenses and defenses in the Southern Conference, with Wofford ranking tops in both, averaging 453.7 YPG offensively, while surrendering just 341.4 YPG so far this season. Furman will be battling a team in Wofford that will limit its possessions by at least two Saturday because the nature of the Terriers’ ball-control offense. Wofford comes in ranking second nationally in time of possession, with Furman having already lost its only FCS game of the season to the team leading the nation in time of possession, losing 27-10 against The Citadel.
Expected to start for the second-straight game for the Paladins will be quarterback Hamp Sisson (31-of-44 passing, 395 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT/15 rush att, 99 yds, 1 TD), who had an outstanding first-career start, hitting on 17-of-22 passes for 277 yards and a pair of TDs. Darren Grainger (72-of-146 passing, 1,167 yds, 12 TDs, 3 INTs/81 rush att, 280 yds, 4 TDs, 3.5 YPC), who started the season at quarterback for the Paladins, could also see action in the lineup for the Paladins Saturday. Sisson’s counterpart is Joe Newman (55-of-100 passing, 936 yds, 7 TDs, 5 INTs/107 rush att, 805 yds, 11 TDs, 7.5 YPC), and he’s had a sensational season for the Terriers. He’s on the verge of both rushing for 1,000 yards and passing for 1,000 yards this season. Both Furman and Wofford have a variety of options in the running game, with Devin Wynn (139 rush att, 982 yds, 13 TDs, 7.1 YPC/10 rec, 110 yds, 12.2 YPC), Devin Abrams (85 rush att, 535 yds, 6 TDs, 6.3 YPC/5 rec, 127 yds, 2 TDs, 25.4 YPC) and Corey Watkins (47 rush att, 427 yds, 2 TDs, 9.1 YPC) leading a Paladin ground attack that ranks fifth nationally in rushing offense (282.5 YPG), while Blake Morgan (97 rush att, 503 yds, 5 TDs, 5.2 YPC), Jacquez Allen (44 rush att, 467 yds, 4 TDs, 10.6 YPC), Ryan Lovelace (58 rush att, 338 yds, 4 TDs, 5.7 YPC), and Nathan Walker (61 rush att, 317 yds, 3 TDs, 5.2 YPC) share the carries in Wofford’s NCAA FCS second-ranked ground attack (340.6 YPG).
Both the Paladins play excellent on the defensive side of the football,as the Terriers rank 25th nationally in total defense (341.4 YPG), while the Paladins rank 12th nationally in scoring defense (19.2 PPG). The performers on the defensive side of the ball for the Terriers are Jireh Wilson (38 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 4 PBUs, 1 INT) and defensive end Michael Mason (team-leading 6 sacks), while the Paladins counter with linebackers Jordan Willis (68 tackles, 4.5 TFL) and Adrian Hope (5.5 sacks). This one is going to be close, and it might just come down to the kicking game, which you might have already guessed, both programs excel in that department as well with Wofford’s Luke Carter (8-of-10 FGs) and Furman’s Grayson Atkins (9-of-10 FGs), who has hit 19 of his last 20 field goals. Both Atkins and Carter also handle the punting and kickoff duties for their respective teams. It’s so cliche’ to say this game will be decided in the trenches, but it’s very true about this matchup. The Paladins rank third in the SoCon in sacks (20) and the Terriers offensive line has only yielded one sack this season. That being said, Furman wins a close one..
Final Score Prediction: Furman 21, Wofford 17
Samford (4-6, 3-4 SoCon) at Western Carolina (3-7, 2-5), (E.J. Whitmire Stadium), 2 p.m. EST
When Western Carolina meets Samford Saturday, it will be a matchup between a pair of teams going in different directions, as the Catamounts have won two straight, while the Bulldogs have lost back-to-back games. The Catamounts are coming off a solid, 23-20, home overtime East Tennessee State last weekend, while Samford lost, 35-27, at home vs. Chattanooga last weekend. It was Samford’s sixth-straight loss in the series against Samford. The meeting Saturday will be the 17th all-time meeting between the two, with Samford having a commanding 13-3 all-time series edge over the Catamounts, including having won eight of the last 10. The Bulldogs routed the Catamounts, 66-28, in Birmingham last season, but in Samford’s last trip to the mountains of western North Carolina, it came away 38-34 losers.
Saturday will be a special day, as it will celebrate its seniors, including one of the best to ever grace a Southern Conference turf at quarterback, in Tyrie Adams (121-of-176 passing, 1,404 yds, 10 TDs, 5 INTs/102 rush att, 388 yds, 5 TDs) . The St. Petersburg, FL native currently ranks fifth all-time in SoCon history in career total offense (11,181 yds), seventh in touchdowns responsible for (81), fifth in career games with 250 or more yards of total offense (24), fourth in career games with 300 or more yards of total offense (16) and eighth in SoCon history in career rushing yards by a quarterback (2,498 yds). Samford’s Chris Oladokun (166-of-266 passing, 2,041 yds, 18 TDs, 7 INTs/120 rush att, 483 yds, 8 TDs, 4.0 YPC) and Liam Welch (49-of-88 passing, 578 yds, 5 TDs, 5 INTs) both saw action under center last Saturday against Chattanooga, with Welch nearly engineering the second-half comeback.
Oladokun is explosive, but has battled nagging injuries all season. Steady improvement has been seen by the Western Carolina defense over the past few weeks, and the Catamounts have the reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Week, Ty Harris (81 tackles, 7.0 TFL), at linebacker. This has the makings of a game similar to the one the two teams played a couple of years ago, and I am going upset here, with the Catamounts taking down the Bulldogs..
Final Score Prediction: Western Carolina 44, Samford 41
VMI (4-6) at Army (4-6), Michie Stadium, 12 p.m. EST
VMI was the talk of the SoCon just last month, but have now endured three-straight losses heading into its second game with an FBS opponent, while Army has experienced a disappointing season after so many preseason expectations. The nation saw how good Army could be with its game at Michigan earlier this season, when the Black Knights dropped a 24-21 overtime decision at the Big House. The Black Knights were able to snap a four-game skid last week, taking a 63-7 win over UMass at home.
The meeting between the Black Knights and Keydets will mark the 16th all-time clash between the two programs, with Army holding a commanding 14-1 edge. Army has claimed each of the past five meetings in the series, with VMI’s last victory coming in 1981. The Black Knights are coached by Jeff Monken, who coached in the Southern Conference, spending four seasons at the helm of Georgia Southern, leaving just after the 2013 season when the Eagles vacated the SoCon for the Sun Belt Conference. After not having thrown an interception for eight games to set a new NCAA FCS record, VMI quarterback Reece Udinski (264-of-409 passing, 2,844 yds, 17 TDs, 3 INTs) has now thrown three in the past two weeks, including throwing a pair of picks in VMI’s 60-21 loss at Furman last Saturday.
Running back Alex Ramsey continues his assault on the single-season rushing record book at VMI, and enters the contest ranking second nationally in rushing yards (1,210 yds) and ranks first nationally in rushing touchdowns (22) Army will be celebrating Senior Day Saturday when it faces VMI, and the Black Knights are led offensively by quarterback Kelvin Hopkins, Jr. (27-of-65 passing, 452 yds, 4 TDs, 3 INTs/111 rush att, 411 yds, 6 TDs, 3.7 YPC) and defensively by linebacker Cole Christiansen (89 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR). It might help the Keydets some against the Black Knights since they played Furman last week, and there are some similarities between the two, however, don’t expect an upset here.
Final Score Prediction: Army 48, VMI 21
The Citadel (6-4, 4-2 SoCon) at Chattanooga (5-5, 4-2 SoCon), Finley Stadium, 2 p.m. EST
In the other major Southern Conference clash Saturday, The Citadel travels to Chattanooga for a SoCon showdown with playoff implications. Both the Mocs and Bulldogs still have an outside shot at sharing the Southern Conference crown should they win this game. Both teams need Furman to lose at Wofford Saturday to keep them in the running for sharing the conference title. For The Citadel, a win this week, and a win next week over Wofford, and a Wofford win over Furman this week would mean they would not only share the Southern Conference title, but gain the league’s automatic bid to the FCS postseason. Saturday’s meeting between the Mocs and Bulldogs will mark the 53rd all-time renewal of the rivalry, with the Mocs holding a 32-19-2 all-time series edge.
Normally games in this series come down to the wire, just like last season’s Southern Conference opener for the Mocs, which claimed a 29-28 overtime win in Charleston. Six of the last seven matchups between the two have been decided by eight points or less. In 2016, it was this game that decided the Southern Conference outright champion. Chattanooga quarterback Nick Tiano (144-of-261 passing, 1,744 yds, 10 TDs, 9 INTs/64 rush att, 316 yds, 7 TDs, 4.9 YPC) has settled in and is playing some of his best football of the season. The senior signal-caller will be one of 14 Mocs seniors to be honored Saturday on Military Appreciation Day at Finley Stadium. It appears the Mocs will be without Ailym Ford (206 rush att, 1,081 yds, 9 TDs, 5.1 YPC/5 rec, 32 yds, 6.4 YPR), who left last week’s game vs. Samford early with an apparent knee issue. His replacement was Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks (65 rush att, 379 yds, 4 TDs, 5.8 YPC) stepped in and played well for the Mocs. The Mocs defense has been good in the first halves of games this season, including holding Samford to just 109 yards and seven points in last week’s 35-27 win.
However, at times, the Mocs have seemingly given up big plays in the second half to let teams back in the game. The Citadel continues to be led by quarterback Brandon Rainey (46-of-79 passing, 842 yds, 10 TDs, 3 INTs/195 rush att, 758 yds, 16 TDs, 3.9 YPC) and a powerful ground attack of its own, which comes into Saturday’s contest ranking sixth nationally in rushing offense (265.5 YPG). The Bulldogs will also limit opponents’ possessions by at least two per game and come into Saturday’s contest leading the nation in time of possession (35 MPG) The Bulldogs also have had a bend-but-don’t-break defense that is seemingly only getting better as the season has progressed, surrendering 386.1 YPG to rank 57th nationally in total defense. Leading the defense is linebacker Willie Eubanks III (92 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT, 10 QBHs, 3 PBUs, 2 FFs, 1 INT, 1 FR), who ranks 27th nationally in solo tackles, with 51 solo hits this season. This one will be close, but look for The Citadel to win by a touchdown on the road to keep its FCS playoff hopes alive.
Final Score Prediction: The Citadel 38, Chattanooga 31
Mercer (4-6, 3-4 SoCon) at East Tennessee State (2-8, 0-7 SoCon), Greene Stadium, 1 p.m.
When East Tennessee State visited Mercer late last season, the Bucs were looking to clinch a share of their first-ever Southern Conference title, and did so by getting a hard-fought, 21-18, win over the Bears in Macon. When the two square off in a late SoCon clash this season, it will be the Bucs will be looking to avoid just their third winless Southern Conference campaign since joining the league as an official member in 1979. In fact, the Bucs haven’t gone winless in the Southern Conference since the Don Riley era way back in 1991, when the Bucs finished 1-10 overall and 0-7 in the SoCon. The only other winless season for the Bucs came in 1985 under the direction of Mike Ayers, as the Bucs finished 0-10-1 overall and 0-7 in the SoCon.
Saturday’s clash between the Bears and Bucs will mark just the fifth meeting between the two, with the series all tied at two. The Bucs have lost all but one SoCon game by a touchdown or less this season, and have had a bit of a quarterback carousel this season. Trey Mitchell (143-of-250 passing, 1,566 yds, 11 TDs, 5 INTs) and true freshman Tyler Riddell (8-of-16 passing, 59 yds) saw action last week in the 23-20 overtime road loss to Western Carolina. Consistency has not been an issue in the running game, as one of the few positives for an offense that has struggled most of the season is running back Quay Holmes (169 rush att, 878 yds, 4 TDs, 5.2 YPC/15 rec, 116 yds, 1 TD, 7.7 YPR), who is having another outstanding season. On defense, the Bucs have been stout all season, and come into the game with the Bears ranking 42nd nationally in total defense (364.8 YPG).
Defensive back Artevius Smith (77 tackles, 1 TFL, 4 INTs, 4 PBUs, 2 FFs) is having a season worthy of being considered for the SoCon Defensive Player of the Year award. Mercer is beat up with injuries on both sides of the ball, and it showed in last Saturday’s 41-7 loss to Wofford. The Bears have suffered injuries to both big-play wideouts and have had to use a makeshift offensive line the past couple of weeks. The leaders on offense continue to be junior quarterback Kaelan Riley (56-of-114 passing, 729 yds, 4 TDs, 3 INTs/21 rush att, 15 yds) and reliable running back Tyray Devezin (165 rush att, 781 yds, 7 TDs, 4.7 YPC/15 rec, 125 yds, 2 TDs, 8.3 YPR). Look for ETSU to get its first conference win of the season, and avoid going from winning their first SoCon title last season to going winless in league play this season.
Final Score Prediction: ETSU 24, Mercer 14
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