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 SIX PICKS
All but one game were Southern Conference games last weekend, and in my picks, I went 4-2, with my apologies going to both Campbell and Samford. Campbell picked up a 34-27 win at Mercer, while Samford won a wild, 61-55, four-overtime affair over The Citadel in its SoCon home opener. Two teams scored over 60 and one better than 50 in what was a wild week five of SoCon football.
Here’s a look at how week six might pan out.
#14/14 Furman (3-2, 2-0 SoCon) at Samford (3-2, 2-0), 3 p.m. EST
No. 14 Furman could easily be 5-0 at this point in the season if things had gone a little different in its two FBS games, surrendering halftime leads in both. Samford feels like it should be 4-1 after blowing a big lead in a two-overtime road loss at upstart Tennessee Tech. Suddenly that loss doesn’t look so bad after the Golden Eagles have started the season 4-1.
Samford and Furman will be meeting for the 22nd time in series history, with the Bulldogs holding a narrow 11-10 all-time series edge and have won three-straight in the series dating back to 20-17 Furman come-from-behind win at Seibert Stadium back in 2015. Furman hasn’t started SoCon play 3-0 since 2006. The Bulldogs have scored 61 and 55 points in their first two home games of the 2019 season, and that explosive offense has been led by Chris Oladokun (68-of-108 passing, 1,162 yds, 11 TDs, 4 INTs/50 rush att, 248 yds, 6 TDs, 5.0 YPC) and Liam Welch (24-of-45 passing, 336 yds, 4 TDs, 4 INTs) this season.
Samford has won five-straight games at home dating back to last season, averaging 58 PPG. Welch relieved starting dual-threat signal-caller Oladokun, who left the game in the third quarter last Saturday against The Citadel with a lower leg injury, remains questionable for Saturday’s game with the Paladins. Darren Grainger (53-of-90 passing, 803 yds, 7 TDs, 2 INTs/50 rush att, 173 yds, 4 TDs, 3.5 YPC) and the Paladin offense will look to get back on track after gaining a season-low 268 yards vs. ETSU in last week’s 17-10 win at Paladin Stadium.
It was the Furman defense, led by cornerback Amir Trapp (21 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 3 PBUs) and linebacker Braden Gilby (32 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 2 QBHs) that limited ETSU to just 290 yards of total offense in helping the Paladins to get a different type win than it has been accustomed to this season. Paladins in a close one in a game they are more accustomed to.
Final Score Prediction: Furman 38, Samford 30
Wofford (2-2, 1-1 SoCon) at East Tennessee State (2-3, 0-2 SoCon), 3:30 p.m. EST
East Tennessee State and Wofford meet in another meeting between two of the three teams that tied for the league title a year ago. The Bucs might be the best 2-3 team in FCS football and have been able to manage offensively while starting quarterback Chance Thrasher has been injured, and Thrasher could return Saturday.
The Bucs have been led under center by Trey Mitchell (78-of-133 passing, 839 yds, 5 TDs, 4 INTs/11 rush att, 39 yds, 3.5 YPC), who head coach Randy Sanders called one of the more savvy quarterbacks he has coached. It’s clear the Bucs have lacked something offensively, however, this season. Quay Holmes (77 rush att, 372 yds, 1 TD, 4.8 YPC/6 rec, 39 yds) and Jacob Saylors (48 rush att, 313 yds, 3 TDs, 6.5 YPC/10 rec, 81 yds, 8.1 YPR) and a seasoned offensive line have helped the Bucs move the ball in the tough early start for the offense.
Defensively, the Bucs might have the stoutest unit in the SoCon, led by an outstanding secondary, led by defensive backs Artevius Smith (30 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 PBUs, 1 FF) and Tyree Robinson (25 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 5 PBUs, 1 FF), while Nasir Player (21 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 4 QBHs, 1 FR) continues to anchor the defensive line at bookend. The Bucs are allowing foes just 328.6 YPG this season, and lead the SoCon in total defense and rank second in scoring defense (22.8 PPG).
Wofford looked good offensively in getting a 51-36 win over VMI last time out. The Terriers rolled up 581 yards of total offense, including 439 on the ground, en route to getting a win over VMI last Saturday. Quarterback Joe Newman (18-of-36 passing, 329 yds, 3 TDs, 3 INTs/46 rush att, 405 yds, 2 TDs, 8.8 YPC) has looked good throwing the football the past couple of weeks, and the defense has been bend-but-don’t-break during the two-game winning streak. Could the Terriers make it a third Saturday, or will the Bucs get revenge over Wofford for last season’s 30-17 loss in Spartanburg?
In a game that I think is too close to call, take the Bucs with their proverbial backs against the wall in this one.
Final Score Prediction: ETSU 21, Wofford 17
VMI (2-3, 1-1 SoCon) at The Citadel (2-3, 0-1 SoCon), 2 p.m. EST
The 75th anniversary of the Military Classic of the South will take place this weekend between The Citadel and VMI at Johnson Hagood Stadium in Charleston, with the Bulldogs holding a commanding 42-30-2 all-time lead in the series.
The Bulldogs have won 12-straight in the series, including taking a hard-fought 34-32 win last season in Lexington, VA. The Citadel dropped a tough 61-55 quadruple overtime contest at Samford in their SoCon opener, while VMI dropped to .500 in SoCon play last week with a 51-36 home loss to Wofford.
Led by offensive coordinator Bryan Sheppard, the Keydets have one of the top offenses in the league, and it’s been a unit that has featured more in the running game than last year in VMI’s high-octane attack. The Keydets rank second in the SoCon in scoring offense (33.6 PPG) and third in total offense (433.6 YPG).
Leading that multi-faceted VMI attack have been quarterback Reece Udinski (130-of-217 passing, 1,326 yds, 10 TDs, 0 INTs) and running back Alex Ramsey (94 rush att, 550 yds, 8 TDs, 5.9 YPC), who did his best Thomas Haskins (VMI’s all-time leading rusher/1993-96) impersonation, and is leading the SoCon in rushing yards through the first five games.
The Keydets are a little better defensively this year as opposed to last, but not by much, still surrendering 472 yards and 36.6 PPG this season.
The Bulldogs will challenge that Keydet defense with quarterback Brandon Rainey (14-of-23 passing, 319 yds, 5 TDs, 3 INTs/98 rush att, 345 yds, 8 TDs, 3.5 YPC), running backs Remus Bulmer (30 rush att, 154 yds, 3 TDs, 5.1 YPC) and Clay Harris (79 rush att, 278 yds, 3.5 YPC) and wideout Raleigh Webb (7 rec, 224 yds, 6 TDs, 32.0 YPR). The pass rush for the Bulldogs looked good last Saturday, sacking Samford quarterbacks three times in the contest. As usual expect this rivalry to be a little too close for comfort for Bulldog fans, but expect lucky No. 13 to come Saturday for The Citadel on its home turf.
Final Score Prediction: The Citadel 45, VMI 38
Chattanooga (2-3, 1-0 SoCon) at Mercer (2-3, 1-1 SoCon), 4 p.m. EST
Maybe the biggest game of the day with the most on the line takes place in Macon, GA, when Chattanooga travels to Five Star Stadium to take on Mercer.
The Mocs rushed for over 400 yards for the first time since the Clinton Administration, as Chattanooga recorded a 60-36 win over Western Carolina. The win snapped what had been a three-game losing streak for head coach Rusty Wright’s Mocs, and helped the first-year head coach pick up his first Southern Conference win in the Scenic City.
After throwing 11 touchdowns through the first three games of the season to be tied for the nation’s lead, Bears quarterback Robert Riddle (87-of-152 passing, 1,093 yds, 13 TDs, 9 INTs/26 rush att, 124 yds, 2 TDs, 4.8 YPC) has thrown just two scoring tosses the past couple of weeks, and three interceptions, including one which was that was returned for a score last week against Campbell. It was Riddle’s fourth interception that has been returned for a score this season. Still, he is one of the best quarterbacks in the SoCon in my opinion, and in his defense, he was missing top wideout David Durden (22 rec, 311 yds, 4 TDs,14.1 YPR) last week, who missed the game with an injury.
The real head-scratcher has been the Mercer defense, which gave up just 17 PPG through the first couple of games of the season, however, has given up an average of 42.3 PPG and 523.3 YPG over the past three contests. The Bears are led on the defensive side of the ball by linebacker Will Coneway, who ranks second in the SoCon with 48 tackles through five games. Chattanooga got a lot better offensively against Western Carolina after having struggled in its first four games of the season to find any sort of balance against an extremely tough non-conference slate.
The Mocs put up a season-high 589 yards of total offense, including 423 on the ground–the program’s highest rushing total since 1994. The 589 yards of total offense were the most since an overtime win on Oct. 30, 2004 against former SoCon member Appalachian State. Nick Tiano (58-of-114 passing, 765 yds, 3 TDs, 6 INTs/24 rush att 115 yds, 3 TDs, 4.8 YPC) had a solid day throwing the football, however, it was Palmetto State running back Ailym Ford (90 rush att, 441 yds, 4 TDs, 4.9 YPC) that continues to impress. Ford, a native of Florence, S.C., rushed for 195 yards and a pair of scores to garner STATS FCS National Freshman of the Week accolades. Ford currently ranks third overall in the SoCon in rushing. This one could be another shootout, but look for the Bears to get their feet back under them with a win over the Mocs in a close one.
Final Score Prediction: Mercer 38, Chattanooga 34
Gardner-Webb (1-3, 0-0 Big South) at Western Carolina (1-3, 0-2 SoCon), 3:30 p.m. EST
Western Carolina will play its final FCS non-conference foe Saturday when it hosts in-state rival Gardner-Webb at E.J. Whitmire Stadium. Interestingly, it was the Bulldogs that were part of Western’s first 3-0 start to a season since 1976 last fall. The Catamounts have lost a total of 11-straight to Division I competition.
The Catamounts were 28-10 victors over the Bulldogs in Boiling Springs last season, and have won four-straight over Gardner-Webb dating back to a 27-20 win by the Bulldogs in 2009 in Cullowhee. This will mark the 10th meeting between the two, with the Catamounts holding a 6-3 all-time edge. The good news for Western Carolina fans is that Tyrie Adams (34-of-53 passing, 372 yds, 3 TDs, 3 INTs/28 rush att, 95 yds, 2 TDs, 3.4 YPC) is back under center for the Catamounts, and Connell Young (48 rush att, 306 yds, 6.4 YPC) rushed for 207 yards against the Mocs last Saturday.
The Bulldogs main offensive weapons are quarterback Jordan Smith (28-of-65 passing, 316 yds, 1 TD, 4 INTs) and running back Jaylin Cagle (69 rush att, 321 yds, 4 TDs, 4.5 YPC/8 rec, 78 yds, 19.5 YPR), but a defense that surrenders 514 YPG has a Catamount offense that is licking its chops for a big afternoon with Adams back at the controls. Western wins easily and snaps an 11-game losing streak to Division I competition.
Final Score Prediction: Western Carolina 48, Gardner-Webb 30
NEXT: Top 15 Favorites To Win The National Title After Week 5
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