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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SOCON WEEK FIVE PICKS
SUM IT UP: Last week went a little better for me in my SoCon picks, as I went 5-2. I missed on VMI and Austin Peay, with my apologies to East Tennessee State. Week five commences a heavy dose of Southern Conference play, with Mercer being the lone team involved in a non-conference clash.[divider]
COACHES REUNION: Furman's Hendrix and Mercer's Lamb
ETSU (2-2, 0-1 SoCon) at #15 Furman (2-2, 1-0 SoCon), 1 p.m.
Furman meets East Tennessee State in a key Southern Conference clash in a meeting between two of the three teams that tied for the Southern Conference title last season. The Paladins are 15-2 against the Bucs in Greenville, and haven’t suffered a setback to ETSU since a 58-28 setback on Oct. 25, 1997. There could be an element of revenge to Saturday’s matchup in Greenville, as the Paladins blew what was a 27-6 third quarter lead in Johnson City to drop a 29-27 contest to the Bucs–a loss that ended up ultimately costing the Paladins a shot at the FCS playoffs. The second-half comeback was also the largest in ETSU history.
This season, the Bucs are still trying to find their way offensively, with new quarterback Trey Mitchell (60-of-105 passing, 716 yds, 5 TDs, 3 INTs/6 rush att, 43 yds, 7.2 YPC) getting more comfortable with each passing week. The Bucs have relied on running backs Quay Holmes (62 rush att, 287 yds, 1 TD, 4.6 YPC/5 rec, 36 yds, 7.2 YPR) and Jacob Saylors (36 rush att, 260 yds, 3 TDs, 7.2 YPC/9 rec, 71 yds, 7.9 YPR) early on this season.
The strength of ETSU has been its outstanding defense through the first four weeks of the season, ranking 29th nationally in total defense (343.8 YPG).
Furman counters with an offense that continues to be prolific, led by dual-threat signal-caller Darren Grainger (47-of-76 passing, 694 yds, 6 TDs, 1 INT/43 rush att, 149 yds, 4 TDs, 3.5 YPC), while running backs Devin Abrams (31 rush att, 207 yds, 3 TDs, 6.7 YPC/2 rec, 40 yds, 1 TD, 20.0 YPR), Devin Wynn (51 rush att, 379 yds, 2 TDs, 7.4 YPC/3 rec, 29 yds, 9.7 YPR), and Corey Watkins (15 rush att, 139 yds, 2 TDs, 9.3 YPC/2 rec, 23 yds, 11.5 YPR) have all proven to be big-play threats this season.
While many will make more out of the revenge factor than should be made out of it both before and after the game vs. ETSU, it will ultimately talent that wins out. Furman’s improving defense will get after Mitchell early and often Saturday. Paladins win comfortably. Final Score Prediction: Furman 30, ETSU 10[divider]
#25 The Citadel (2-2, 0-0 SoCon) at Samford (2-2, 1-0 SoCon), 3 p.m. EST
The Citadel heads into Southern Conference play hoping the health of its quarterback is good enough to go Saturday against the league’s other Bulldogs–Samford. Meanwhile, it appears Samford has found its quarterback, in Chris Oladokun (59-of-90 passing, 1,033 yds, 11 TDs, 4 INTs/40 rush att, 230 yds, 4 TDs, 5.8 YPC), who appears to be picking up right where Devlin Hodges left off in Samford head coach Chris Hatcher’s ‘Hatch Attack’ offense. He won his third SoCon Offensive Player of the Week Honor last week.
Despite not having starter Brandon Rainey (8-of-16 passing, 123 yds, 3 TDs, 3 INTs/ 69 rush att, 280 yds, 5 TDs, 4.1 YPC) last Saturday against Charleston Southern, Brian Murdaugh performed admirably in leading the Bulldogs to a 22-13 victory Saturday night.
Highlighting the defensive efforts was a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter, with linebacker Willie Eubanks III making three of the four stops on running plays to stymie the Bucs. Eubanks (30 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 INT, 1 FR) is tied for sixth in the SoCon in tackles, averaging 7.5 tackles-per-game.
This game sets up to be the game of the day in the league and the result will likely hinge on whether Rainey plays or not. I am guessing he will, and that should be enough for The Citadel to capture its third-straight win, and open conference play in positive fashion. Final Score Prediction: The Citadel 40, Samford 35[divider]
Campbell (2-1, 0-0 Big South) at Mercer (2-2, 1-1 SoCon), 7 p.m.
Mercer will look to bounce back consecutive losses Saturday when it host Campbell at Five Star Stadium Saturday. The Bears were held to just 283 yards of total offense in Greenville in last Saturday’s loss, and Mercer quarterbacks were intercepted three times, and the Bears offense turned it over a total of four in the loss.
Robert Riddle (76-of-131 passing, 968 yds, 12 TDs, 7 INTs) was limited to just one touchdown pass last season and now has 12 scoring tosses this season. David Durden (22 rec, 311 yds, 4 TDs, 14.1 YPR) continues to be his main target in the passing game. The Bears defense yielded 600 yards to the Paladins last week, including 410 on the ground. Dorian Kithcart (17 tackles, 4.0 TFL) and linebacker Will Coneway (27 tackles, 1.0 TFL) continue to lead the Mercer defense this fall.
Campbell, who is coached by former Nebraska Hall-of-Famer and Carolina Panther Mike Minter, brings in talent on both sides of the football. Hajj-Malik Williams (42-of-62 passing, 576 yds, 7 TDs, 2 INTs/40 rush att, 136 yds, 2 TDs, 40 rush att, 136 yds, 2 TDs) leads the Camel offense under center. Saturday’s meeting between the Bears and Camels will mark the first-ever meeting between the two full-scholarship programs. Look for the Bears to get back on track with their first victory of the season over the Camels. Final Score Prediction: Mercer 38, Campbell 20[divider]
Chattanooga (1-3, 0-0 SoCon) at Western Carolina (1-2, 0-1 SoCon), 3:30 p.m.
One of the more crucial games in the Southern Conference Saturday will take place in Chattanooga, Tenn, when the Mocs host Western Carolina at Finley Stadium in a key SoCon tilt. The Catamounts are already down one one conference loss in the standings, opening the season with a 49-27 home loss to Mercer. The Catamounts snapped a 10-game losing streak with a 20-17 win over Division II North Greenville a couple of weeks ago.
The Mocs made the Tyrie Adams-led Catamounts look human last season, holding he and the Catamount offense to their lowest output of the season–a mere 238 yards on 54 plays–en route to a 26-6 win in Cullowhee. The Mocs hold a 28-17 lead in the all-time series between the two and have won 11 of the past 13 games in the series. It’s unclear whether Tyrie Adams (25-of-38 passing, 318 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT/17 rush att, 34 yds, 1 TD) will be back from suspension as of yet, but my gut tells me he will.
Chattanooga quarterback Nick Tiano (35-of-71 passing, 443 yds, 1 TD, 4 INTs/11 rush att, 41 yds, 2 TDs) has yet to really get untracked this season, but this could be the week he and All-America wide receiver Bryce Nunnelly (15 rec, 194 yds, 1 TD, 12.9 YPR) get things going. Look for the Mocs, who have played one of the toughest non-conference slates in the country coming in, to get off to a positive start in Southern Conference play. Final Score Prediction: Chattanooga 27, Western Carolina 14[divider]
Wofford (1-2, 0-1 SoCon) at VMI (2-2, 1-0 SoCon), 1:30 p.m. EST
The clash between Wofford and VMI is the classic rushing attack vs. the league’s most lethal aerial assault. VMI looked to have things rolling in the right direction a couple of weeks ago, opening conference play with an epic, 31-24, overtime win over defending co-champion East Tennessee State in its first road conference win since 2002.
The Keydets will look to break another streak against the Terriers on Saturday, which is a winning streak of seven, with the last win the Keydets got in the series coming way back on Oct. 12, 2002, as VMI was able to score a 27-16 win over the Terriers.
Wofford looked like itself last week in its 49-10 home win over Gardner-Webb, with quarterback Joe Newman (13-of-28 passing, 187 yds, 1 TD, 3 INTs/36 rush att, 321 yds, 1 TD, 8.6 YPC) leading the ground attack with 155 yards rushing and 67 yards passing, which also included his first touchdown pass of the season. Jireh Wilson (11 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 PBU) is the reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Week after racking up eight tackles, including three sacks, in the big win over visiting Gardner-Webb. Statistically, the Terriers rank tops in the SoCon in total defense, allowing just 301.7 YPG in three games this season.
VMI counters with Reece Udinski (105-of-179 passing, 1,011 yds, 8 TDs, 0 INTs/20 rush att, 15 yds, 0.8 YPC) under center on offense, as he has yet to throw an interception in 179 attempts so far this season. He may keep that streak intact, however, expect the Keydets to lose their second-straight at home Saturday. Final Score Prediction: Wofford 21, VMI 7[divider]
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