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.
[divider]MORE FCS FOOTBALL:
- FCS Home
- FCS Coaches Corner Episodes
- Week Two FCS Playoff Predictions (Because it's never too early)
SOCON WEEK THREE PICKS
Week Three: Other than Furman, The Citadel and Mercer, the Southern Conference has yet to acquit itself very well in non-conference play in the SoCon through the first two weeks of the season. Some results have been more expected than others. Though head coach Brent Thompson’s Bulldogs are off to an 0-2 start to the season with losses to a pair of projected top four CAA teams, give the Cadets credit for going out and challenging themselves through the early portion of the season. It has the potential to pay off big-time in conference play. The Bulldogs have suffered losses to No. 11 Towson (28-21) and on the road at Elon (35-28) to open the 2019 season. The SoCon is 5-9 in non-conference games so far this season, including 3-6 against FCS opponents.
No. 13/18 Furman (1-1, 0-0 SoCon) at Virginia Tech (1-1, 0-1 ACC), 12:00 p.m. EST/ACC Network
For the third time since 2008, Furman will face off against Virginia Tech. The Paladins are 0-6 all-time Hokies, which includes a 42-3 loss to Virginia Tech back on Sept. 12, 2015. The Paladins put on quite the showing at Georgia State this past Saturday night at the former home of the Atlanta Braves, dropping a 48-42 game. The story was Furman’s redshirt freshman signal-caller Darren Grainger. The redshirt freshman signal-caller from Conway, S.C. garnered STATs FCS Freshman of the week honors, as well as being named SoCon Offensive Player of the Week after connecting on 16-of-25 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 53 yards and an additional touchdown in a 48-42 loss at Georgia State Saturday night at Turner Field. Virginia Tech hasn’t looked great so far this season, but they are still Virginia Tech, which sports an FBS college football streak of 26-straight bowl appearances. The Hokies are led by quarterback Ryan Willis and wide receiver Hezekiah Grimsely offensively. So far this season, Willis has connected on 45-of-73 passes for 616 yards, with six TDs and three INTs. Grimsley has hauled in six passes for 143 yards and has a team-leading two scoring catches. The Hokies will struggle to find an answer to Grainger and the Furman offense in the opening half of play, but break the game open in the second half to get their second win of the season and hand Furman its second-straight loss. Final Score: Virginia Tech 38, Furman 17
Chattanooga (1-1, 0-0 SoCon) at Tennessee (0-2, 0-0 SEC), 12:00 EST/SEC Network
Another team looking to play the role of FBS spoiler in the SoCon this weekend is Chattanooga, and with a vulnerable 0-2 Tennessee team set to walk out for a third time this season before a cauldron of Orange, the pressure is starting to mount. It will mark the first meeting between the two programs since 2014, with the Vols posting a 45-10 win.
The Mocs bring some SEC experience into Neyland Stadium, like starting right tackle Harrison Moon and starting quarterback Nick Tiano. Both players transferred into the Scenic City from Mississippi State. Tiano is one of the top pro prospects in the Southern Conference, and might be the league’s best pure passer. He has connected on 31-of-55 passes for 403 yards, two touchdowns and two picks. Tiano’s favorite wideout is All-American junior Bryce Nunnelly, who has hauled in 14 passes for 187 yards and a score so far this season, averaging 13.4 yards-per-catch. The Mocs might have also found a running back in the 41-20 loss at No. 18 Jacksonville State last Saturday, in freshman Ailym Ford, who rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown on 22 attempts in the loss to the Gamecocks.
Defense has been the strength for the Mocs the past few seasons, and the Mocs are led by linebackers Marshall Cooper and Ty Boek, who have 20 and 11 tackles, respectively, this season. Tennessee and head coach Jeremy Pruitt have losses to Georgia State (38-30) and BYU (29-26) for a third-straight home game to start the season in what has been a nightmare so far. It will be 43rd meeting between the Mocs and Vols, with the Vols owning a 38-2-2 record.
A win for Mocs first-year head coach Rusty Wright would be quite a feat, and it wouldn’t be so unbelievable either. With the Vols struggles on the offensive side of the ball, this one will be too close for comfort once again for Rocky Top, but I am picking Tennessee to pick up its first win of the season. Final Score: Tennessee 28, Chattanooga 14
The Citadel (0-2, 0-0 SoCon) at Georgia Tech (1-1, 0-1 ACC) 12:30 p.m. EST
In somewhat of a strange irony, The Citadel, which features a version of the triple option offense travels to face Georgia Tech–a team which once featured the triple-option–but is now transitioning to a spread offense. It could be argued that The Citadel is the best 0-2 team in FCS football, as the Bulldogs lost both of its first two games by a touchdown to teams predicted to finish no worse than fourth in the 12-team, powerhouse FCS conference. Saturday’s matchup between the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets will mark the 11th all-time meeting between the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets, with the Bulldogs having never defeated Georgia Tech in 10 previous meetings. The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets last met on the college football gridiron back in 2001, with Georgia Tech posting a 35-7 win.
The Citadel has more in common with Georgia Tech than many think, and the coach which brought the Yellow Jackets their most-recent national title in 1990 was Bobby Ross. Ross first collegiate stop as a head coach was at The Citadel in 1973. Ross led the Jackets to an 11-0-1 record in 1990, tying for the national title with Colorado. The Bulldogs were held to just 156 rushing yards in last Saturday’s setback at Elon, however, still rank second in the Southern Conference in rushing offense, posting 244.0 YPG on the ground per game. Junior quarterback Brandon Rainey ranks second in the SoCon in rushing, having posted 210 ground yards and four touchdowns on 52 rush attempts so far this season.
Linebacker Willie Eubanks III continues to lead the Bulldog defense, with a team-best 18 tackles, while fellow linebacker Sean Thomas-Faulkner is the reigning SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week after blocking a pair of punts in the loss to Elon last time out. Georgia Tech is led by first-year head coach Geoff Collins, who played and coached at rival Southern Conference member Western Carolina, and is coming off his first win at the helm of the Yellow Jackets’ football program last weekend, with a 14-10 win over South Florida. This one should be close for a while, however, expect The Citadel to fall to 0-3 and be on serious playoff alert before even starting league play. Final Score: Georgia Tech 42, The Citadel 20
North Greenville (1-0) at Western Carolina (0-2, 0-1 SoCon), 3:30 p.m. EST
Western Carolina has not gotten of to an ideal start to the 2019 football season, and with high hopes now seemingly fading in Cullowhee, the Catamounts now see a dangerous Division II foe pay a visit to E.J. Whitmire Stadium, as the North Greenville Crusaders pay a visit for the first-ever meeting between the two.
While the 41-0 loss at N.C. State last Saturday wasn’t totally unexpected, the 49-27 season-opening loss to Mercer certainly raised a few eyebrows.
Catamount quarterback Will Jones started and went the whole way the last time out against NC State, completing 15-of-27 passes for 98 yards and was sacked three times, as he started for SoCon Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Tyrie Adams, who was suspended for the contest. North Greenville opened the season with a 17-7 last Saturday over the Newberry Wolves. The Crusaders ground attack was potent in last Saturday’s win, as it rolled up 241 yards. So far this season, the Catamounts are yielding 260.5 yards-per-game on the ground, which ranks eighth out of nine teams in the Southern Conference.
You get the feeling this one won’t be easy for the Catamounts, and with no word on whether or not Tyrie Adams will return under center Saturday, this game could be interesting in Cullowhee. Final Score: Western Carolina 28, North Greenville 17
Austin Peay (1-1, 0-0 OVC) at Mercer (2-0, 1-0 SoCon), 4 p.m. EST
Mercer will open its home slate at Five Star Stadium Saturday night when it hosts Austin Peay. The Bears, who are the only remaining SoCon unbeaten, have an all-time series edge of 3–0 vs.Governors, including a 41–34 win in Clarksville back in 2016.
Austin Peay looks to be a dark horse in the Ohio Valley Conference this season, and come into the battle against the Bears with a 1-1 record this season, with a win over North Carolina Central (41-10) in the season opener, while dropping a 24-16 decision to the 18th-ranked Central Arkansas Bears last Saturday night in Clarksville, Tenn.
Mark Hudspeth is in his first season as the head coach of the Governors, and he leads an Austin Peay team that was picked fourth in the preseason Ohio Valley Conference poll.
The Governors are led by some explosive players on the offensive side of the ball, with running back Kentel Williams (31 rush att, 191 yds, 6.2 YPC) and dual-threat quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall (237 pass yds, 3 TDs, 3 INTs) highlighting things offensively for Austin Peay.
Mercer counters with its own offensive firepower, led by quarterback Robert Riddle, who is the league’s second-leading passer, with 532 yards, seven touchdowns and three INTs, while his favorite target in that potent Bears passing game has been Tucker Cannon, who just happens to lead the Southern Conference in receiving yards, as Tucker Cannon has nine catches for 237 yards and a pair of TDs so far this season. The Bears have 85 and 98-yard scoring passes in their first two games of the 2019 season.
If Mercer can survive a tough Austin Peay team, it will head to Greenville with a 3-0 record to face Furman in a key early-season Southern Conference matchup. Expect the SoCon’s only unbeaten to get the win, though it won’t necessarily be easy.
Final Score: Mercer 35, Austin Peay 24
Samford (0-2, 0-0 SoCon) at No. 21/22 Wofford (0-1, 0-0 SoCon), 6 p.m. EST
(NOTE: SoCon Game of the Week/Check your local Nexstar affiliate for broadcast info in your area)
The first of the two Southern Conference matchups of the night is the biggest. The preseason SoCon favorites from 2018 and 2019 meet in what is suddenly a precarious situation for both, and it’s only the SoCon opener for both. That’s because the Terriers raised plenty of folks eyebrows around the country with a 28-13 loss to MEAC member South Carolina State at Oliver C. Dawson Bulldog Stadium in week one, while head coach Chris Hatcher’s Bulldogs have dropped games to Tennessee Tech (59-58, 2 OTs) and Youngstown State (45-22) in the FCS Guardians Classic, which kicked things off for FCS football in 2019.
Both the Terriers and Bulldogs have a week off to prepare for one another, and it will be Josh Conklin’s Terriers looking to put an end to a four-game skid against Samford. The two teams will be meeting for the 17th time in series history, with Samford holding an 11-5 all-time series edge. One thing we do know is that Samford can once again move the football. South Florida transfer Chris Oladokun has un-seated Liam Welch under center, and in his first official start last time out a couple of weeks against Tennessee Tech, Oladokun completed 20-of-26 passes for 420 yards and tied a school record with six TD tosses last time out, garnering SoCon Offensive Player of the Week honors a couple of weeks ago.
Meanwhile, Wofford, which was looking to introduce more of a passing game this season, saw starter Joe Newman and Miller Moseley combine to complete just 9-of-23 passes for 129 yards and four interceptions without throwing a TD in the opener against SC State. The run-heavy Terriers managed just 177 yards on the ground. The Terriers got more bad news this week, with a pair of all-conference defensive linemen having already seen an early end to their respective seasons, with Thad Mangum and Mikel Horton suffering season-ending injuries, and that unfortunately brings an abrubt end to a standout career for Mangum. While everything seems to be setting up against the Terriers to lose a fifth-straight against Samford, I like Wofford with their backs against the wall at home this week. Final Score: Wofford 34, Samford 31
VMI (1-1, 0-0 SoCon) at East Tennessee State (1-1, 0-0 SoCon), 7 p.m. EST
The final game of the day sees East Tennessee State honor its 2018 Southern Conference championship team when it opens league play against Virginia Military Instituted at William B. Greene Stadium.
Both the Bucs and Keydets have wins over non-Division I foes, with the Keydets blasting Mars Hill, 62-21, last Saturday in Lexington, VA, while the Bucs were 48-10 winners over Shorter in their home opener last Saturday night. Both have also lost games to former Southern Conference members in the opening week of the campaign, with VMI dropping a 56-17 game at Marshall, while the Bucs were blasted, 42-7, in the 2019 opener at Appalachian State. The meeting between the Bucs and Keydets could have gone either way last season, with plenty of fireworks for the Friday afternoon meeting, as the game was moved up due to Hurricane Florence. The Bucs squeaked out a 27-24 win at Foster Stadium, and that started the Bucs on a quest to a first-ever Southern Conference title.
We know the Keydets don’t lack offense with all-conference quarterback Reece Udiniski and all-league wideout Javeon Lara, as well as an emerging ground game led by Alex Ramsey. Udinski has connected on 37-of-64 passes for 456 yards, five touchdowns and no INTs in the first two weeks of the season. The Bucs, which saw Chance Thrasher start the season under center until going out with an injury against Appalachian State in the opener, have now seen the role filled by Trey Mitchell, who has connected 26-of-34 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns and an INT through the first two games of his Buccaneer career.
The Bucs have stars at all three levels on the defensive side of the ball, with preseason SoCon Defensive Player of the Year and All-American OLB Nasir Player leading a unit that ranked in the FCS Top 35 in total defense a year ago. Expect that to be the difference in what should be another good conference game. Final Score: East Tennessee State 28, VMI 21
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast