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 13 PICKS
After putting together back-to-back weeks of undefeated picks, I suffered some setbacks last Saturday in my picks. Apologies to Wofford, Chattanooga and Samford for picking against these teams last week, sending me to a less-than-spectacular 2-3 record in my picks for the weekend. That being said, I’d like to offer my congratulations to Wofford head coach Josh Conklin and his Terriers, who clinched the SoCon’s automatic bid and no worse than a share of the Southern Conference crown last Saturday, with a 24-7 win over Furman at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg. A lot of people were ready to give up on Conklin and the Terriers after an 0-2 start, with losses to both South Carolina State (L , 28-13) and Samford (L, 21-14) to open the season, however, Wofford rebounded to win seven of its next eight games, which includes a streak of seven-consecutive wins over FCS opponents heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale against The Citadel.
Point (5-6) at Furman (7-4), Paladin Stadium 1 p.m.
It will be a reunion of sorts when No.15 Furman battles Point to close out the 2019 football campaign at Paladin Stadium, as a pair of former Paladin players-turned-head-coaches face each other on the gridiron Saturday.
Furman head coach Clay Hendrix (1982-86) will face off against former teammate and standout defensive back Julius Dixon (1985-89), who brings his Point Blackhawks to Paladin Stadium for a 1 p.m. kickoff this afternoon in the first ever gridiron meeting between the two institutions. Both Hendrix and Dixon were members of the 1985 Furman that made an appearance in the national title. Furman was a 24-7 loser to No. 17 Wofford last Saturday in what was the de facto Southern Conference title. A win Saturday would like seal of the NAIA program would likely seal Furman’s inclusion into the 2019 FCS postseason, and it would give the Paladins eight regular-season wins for the first time since 2006. Point will be playing its second FCS opponent of the season, having already played Kennesaw State to open the season, losing that one 59-0. Furman had to submit a special waiver to play this game because the SoCon bye week went to them the final week of the regular-season, nearly costing the Paladins a chance a game for a second-straight season. Point marks the first Non-Division I foe since 2008, and the 11-year span without a meeting with a non-Division I foe marks the longest stretch of any current SoCon member. Furman rolls to a win in Greenville.
Final Score Prediction: Furman 58, Point 0
Chattanooga (6-5, 5-2) at VMI (4-7, 3-4), Foster Stadium, 1:30 p.m. EST
Chattanooga faces VMI and remains in the hunt for a share of the 2019 Southern Conference regular-season crown should The Citadel upset No. 17 Wofford. That being said, it’s probably a stretch, but hey there is a chance. The Mocs have a really faint playoff pulse as well, and that’s thanks in large part to its 34-33 come-from-behind win over The Citadel last Saturday, which marked the third-largest comeback in program history, as the Mocs trailed by as much as 14 points (26-12) in the third quarter. VMI is reeling at the moment, having dropped four-straight, including two in blowout fashion. It hasn’t slowed Reece Udinski (286-of-443 passing, 3,602 yds, 17 TDs, 3 INTs) and running back Alex Ramsey (248 rush att, 1,260 yds, 22 TDs, 5.1 YPC). That being said, the Keydets have been out-scored 107-27 the past two weeks. I think Chattanooga wins on the road, and then is forced to play the waiting game..
Final Score Prediction: Chattanooga 38, VMI 21
Mercer (4-7) at North Carolina (4-6)
If Lamb’s Bears win today, it would be almost miraculous, considering the numerous injuries the Bears have endured on the offensive side of the ball, particularly at quarterback and receiver. Both the Tar Heels and Bears are in need of a win, as Mercer is coming off consecutive losses to Wofford and East Tennessee State, while North Carolina has dropped six of its last eight, including a heartbreaker in overtime to Pittsburgh last Thursday night. Tyray Devezin (194 rush att, 949 yds, 11 TDs, 4.9 YPC) has been running the ball like a wild man of late, gaining 647 yards and nine touchdowns over the past five games. That’s an average of 129.4 YPG. Remarkable, but it won’t be enough to take down Mack Brown’s Tar Heels in 2019. North Carolina wins big. .
Final Score Prediction: North Carolina 58, Mercer 17
Wofford (7-3, 6-1 SoCon) at The Citadel (6-5, 5-3), Johnson-Hagood Stadium, Noon
In what will most certainly be the game of the day in the Southern Conference and one that many around the nation will have their collective eyes on on the eve of selection Sunday, Wofford travels to The Citadel, as the two Palmetto State schools will renew their rivalry for the 73rd time Saturday, with the Terriers holding a commanding 43-29-1 all-time series edge.
Last weekend, Wofford guaranteed itself at least a share of its third-straight Southern Conference title, with a 24-7 win over Furman in Spartanburg in a game that was essentially the de facto Southern Conference title game at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg. For the Terriers, it marked the seventh Southern Conference crown and guaranteed its 10th trip to the FCS playoffs since joining the conference affiliation back in 1997. Since joining the SoCon in 1997, the rivalry game between Wofford and The Citadel has been one of proximity alone, as the Terriers have been dominant in the series since joining the SoCon, winning 19 of the 23 gridiron clashes between the two programs. The Bulldogs snapped what had been a 16-game winning streak by the Terriers with a 39-12 victory in Charleston in 2015.
The turnaround of success after an 0-2 start for the Terriers this season directly correlates to its control of the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. With a seasoned offensive front that includes the likes of center Blake Jeresaty, right tackle Josh Burger, and right guard Justus Basinger, and a defensive line that includes freshman sensation Michael Mason (31 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 1 FF) and junior Austin Lufkin (29 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR), the Terriers have been able to rank second nationally in rushing offense (335.3 YPG) and 21st nationally in total defense (333.8 YPG). It’s a major reason why the Terriers to win the SoCon title outright, and this comes despite losing two of its best defensive linemen to injury for the season early on in the campaign, in Thad Mangum and Mikel Horton early in the season due to injuries.
Both the Terriers and Bulldogs’ option-based attacks are led by two seasoned leaders under center, with Joe Newman (59-of-108 passing, 984 yds, 7 TDs, 5 INTs/845 rush yds, 13 TDs) having his best season as a starter for the Terriers, while Brandon Rainey (52-of-93 passing, 990 yds, 12 TDs, 3 INTs/825 rush yds, 17 TDs) has been Mr. Everything for a Bulldogs ground attack that already ranks sixth nationally entering Saturday’s regular-season finale. The Citadel’s 34-33 loss to Chattanooga last Saturday likely saw the Bulldogs squander its FCS playoff hopes, losing in the cruelest of fashions, blowing a 13-point lead with a little over eight minutes left last Saturday. It will be interesting to see what the mindset of the Bulldogs is in Saturday’s game. I would suspect they will want to finish strong for the seniors, however, I think its the Terriers that raise an outright SoCon banner with a close win in Charleston.
Final Score Prediction: Wofford 28, The Citadel 21
Samford (5-6) at Auburn (7-3)
Samford heads to the plains to finish out the regular-season, and a good performance, which means keeping the score within a respectable margin will be the realistic goal here. Samford has played some good football at times this season, but has been too inconsistent. Though there are plenty of connections between Auburn and Samford, the two teams will be meeting for the 29th time Saturday, with Auburn having claimed 27 of the 28 all-time meetings between the two. The most recent meeting between the two came in 2014, with the Tigers posting 31-7 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Liam Welch (58-of-107 passing, 693 yds, 6 TDs, 5 INTs/150 rush yds) has been playing well as of late, and he 100 yards passing and 100 yards in last week’s game, while Auburn’s Bo Nix (170-of-298 passing, 2,043 yds, 13 TDs, 6 INTs) has been solid in his freshman year under center for the Tigers. This one won’t be all that close, which means Samford will finish below .500 in a season for the first time since 2010. .
Final Score Prediction: Auburn 42, Samford 10
Western Carolina (3-8) at Alabama (10-1), Bryant-Denney Stadium, Noon
Western Carolina heads to Alabama to be the Crimson Tide’s warm-up game prior to the Iron Bowl, and it will mark the fifth all-time meeting between the Crimson Tide and the Catamounts, with the last meeting coming back in 2014, with the Tide picking up a 48-14 win. Much of the talk surrounding Crimson Tide this week has been surrounding the season-ending hip injury to Tua Tagovailoa (180-of-252 passing, 2,840 yds passing, 33 TDs, 3 INTs/17 rush yds, 2 TDs) and what his future will be after this season moving forward after the 2019 season, and then most of the other talk has surrounded the college football playoff talk and what the prospects of making the field are for Alabama, and then even after that whether or not new signal-caller Mac Jones (45-of-65 passing, 566 yds, 4 TDs, 1 INT) is enough to carry the Tide past Auburn in a couple of weeks and into the playoffs. Talk of this weekend’s game with the Catamounts comes somewhere about fifth or sixth on the same list. It will be the final game of a record-breaking career of Tyrie Adams (135-of-206 passing, 1,587 yds, 11 TDs, 5 INTs/409 rush yds, 5 TDs), and he’s a player that certainly be celebrated considering all he has accomplished in his career at Western Carolina. That being said, I don’t think this one is very close.
Final Score Prediction: Alabama 58, Western Carolina 10
East Tennessee State (3-8) at Vanderbilt (2-8), Vanderbilt Stadium, 3:30 p.m. EST
In the final SoCon vs. SEC game of the weekend will put two Volunteer State teams with a combined five wins against one another and it will be the first-ever meeting between the Bucs and Commodores. It will also be the SoCon vs. SEC matchup that will produce the most competitiveness and intrigue. The Commodores are 34-6 all-time against members from the Southern Conference, with The Citadel (2), VMI (2), Furman (1) and Chattanooga (1) accounting for the six wins by the conference against the Commodores. The Bucs will look to 1987 for confidence, which is when ETSU pulled off a shocking 29-14 win at Carter-Finley Stadium over the NC State Wolfpack, which still stands as the biggest win in school history. A win Saturday would be right up there with that victory over the Dick Sheridan-led Wolfpack. Derek Mason brings a Commodores team that has collected just two wins this season over Northern Illinois (W, 24-18) and then No. 22 Missouri (W, 21-14) at mid-season in what at the time, was one of the biggest upsets of the college football season. The Commodores are led offensively by a 3,000-yard career rusher, in Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and a 2,000-yard career receiver, in Kalija Lipscomb.
Both will be playing their final game for the Commodores Saturday. ETSU’s Quay Holmes (195 rush att, 1,133 yds, 7 TDs, 5.8 YPC) is coming off a school-record 255-yard, three touchdown rushing performance for the Bucs in their win over Mercer last week. Holmes is one of four running backs in the SoCon that has rushed for 1,000 yards this season, which could reach five at the end of Saturday’s action around the league. It will be the final game for several Bucs that were a part of that magical championship run a couple of years ago, including offensive lineman Ben Blackmon, as well as standout defenders Nasir Player (41 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 8 QBHs, 1 FR) and defensive back Artevius Smith (81 tackles, 5 INTs, 2 FFs, 5 PBUs). Player was the preseason SoCon Defensive Player of the Year and Smith could well end up being the SoCon’s postseason Defensive Player of the Year. While this game will be closer than the other SoCon vs. SEC clashes, look for the Commodores to win relatively comfortably.
Final Score Prediction: Vanderbilt 38, ETSU 14
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