Welcome to week 10 of the SoConversation, featuring The Citadel beat writer Jeff Hartsell of the Charleston Post and Courier, Elon beat writer Adam Smith of the Burlington Times-News and UTC beat writer John Frierson of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable because this is a long one.
Before we discuss what happened elsewhere in the SoCon last week, let’s take a moment to go over what happened with the teams we cover. The Mocs lost a triple-OT heartbreaker, The Citadel lost a regulation heartbreaker and the Phoenix got beat despite another ridiculous game from “Merle.” Thoughts?
JOHN: The Mocs got behind 14-0, trailed 21-10 at the half and led 24-21 early in the fourth quarter. Two special teams turnovers, one in the first quarter and one in the fourth, gave the Eagles the ball on UTC’s half of the field and led to 10 Georgia Southern points. The second one set up the field goal that forced overtime.
UTC was out-gained 427-316, but actually averaged 5.6 yards a play to GSU’s 5.3. The difference: number of plays. The Mocs ran just 43 offensive plays in regulation and GSU had a time of possession advantage of nearly 18 minutes.
This was just one more oh-so-close loss for the Mocs, who are the masters of scaring the heck out of good FCS teams.
JEFF: Wofford kicked a 42-yard field goal, into the wind, which The Citadel's 6-5 Dom Jones blocked. The kick went through the uprights anyway, the winning margin in Wofford's 24-21 victory. Still, Citadel fans should be more encouraged by the Bulldogs' peformance in a loss to Wofford than in last week's 45-31 win over Western Carolina.
The Citadel's D stoned the Terriers in the second half, shutting them out and holding them to 89 rushing yards. True freshman linebacker James Riley, un-redshirted and making his college debut, looks like a star-to-be. And Citadel coaches used the open date to add some stuff to the offense, which should help down the stretch as the Dogs make a run for their first playoff bid since 1992.
ADAM: For those who aren’t down — none of our faithful SoConversation readers, you loyal guys have been down since Day 1 — “Merle” is the first-name-turned-ubiquitous-nickname of Aaron Mellette, the beast who plays receiver at Elon.
He went for 14 catches, 194 yards and two touchdowns last week against Furman. Just imagine that in terms of fantasy football points. Snap back to reality and Merle, after five SoCon games, has hauled in 54 catches for 830 yards and 12 touchdowns in the league alone. No other receivers in the SoCon can match those numbers with their season totals.
So, yeah, he’s good.
But the latest installment of that elite production couldn’t prevent Elon from slipping to 1-4 in the league with a disappointing 31-17 loss to Furman. The Paladins benefited from a 95-yard TD on a fumble return by Marcus McMorris, a potential 14-point swing that could be considered somewhat controversial because Elon, predictably, felt running back Karl Bostick’s forward progress had stopped before he was stripped. (Bostick, an Akron transfer, talked afterward about the need for video review on the FCS level).
Furman’s defense prevented explosive plays with two deep safeties who kept everything in front of them. On offense, Furman stayed patient and on schedule behind Jerodis Williams (95 rushing yards, 2 TDs) and true freshman QB Reese Hannon (181 passing yards).
In this era of no-huddle, spread offenses, Furman remains old school in some ways with its deliberate style, I-formations and two tight end looks.
Here are last week’s results: Georgia Southern def. UTC 39-31, Appalachian State def. Western Carolina 38-27, Furman def. Elon 31-17, Wofford def. The Citadel 24-21. What surprised you or caught your eye during week nine?
ADAM: How about App State backup QB Logan Hallock, who entered when Jamal Jackson hurt his knee, and completed the first 20 passes of his career as the Mountaineers maintained their dominance over rival Western Carolina (26 wins in the last 28 meetings).
Wofford found a way to win despite not having its proverbial fastball, doing enough in the first half to overcome a scoreless second half at home. Tough loss for Citadel, which rallied and nearly left Spartanburg with a 4-2 record in the league.
And wow on the instant classic in Chattanooga. Johnny Frierson has been on a quest in recent weeks for the SoCon Game of the Year. Game over in that department. If anything else comes close to equaling that three-overtime epic, consult Frierson for proper usage of Maalox. He has to be something of an expert by now.
JEFF: Continue to be impressed with the Mocs, even in defeat to Georgia Southern. Be a shame if Division II Glenville State was the only thing between Chattanooga and a playoff berth. Playing with heavy hearts after the death of a team manager, Georgia Southern showed big-time toughness in gutting out a triple-OT win on the road.
JOHN: Actually, Adam, I’m more of a Tums man. And I wouldn't be surprised if Wofford coach Mike Ayers had one or two during the second half against The Citadel. The Terriers don't get shut out in a half very often and the Bulldogs should be commended for that.
Western Carolina put up a nice fight against the Mountaineers and I think Mark Speir is going to get that Catamounts program headed in the right direction sooner rather than later. They've got a good freshman quarterback in Troy Mitchell that is going to put up some big numbers before his career is done.
And what can you say about Aaron Mellette? He's simply outstanding.
Here are this week’s matchups: Elon at The Citadel (2 p.m.), Appalachian State at Georgia Southern (2 p.m./ESPN3), Wofford at Samford (3 p.m.) and UTC at Western Carolina (3:30 p.m.). Any predictions on what’s to come this weekend?
JOHN: UTC is rooting so hard for App State to hand the Eagles a second SoCon loss that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mocs sent the Mountaineers cookies, cakes and cut-ups of some of the plays that worked best against the Eagles.
With GSU and Wofford at the top of the standings with one league loss, UTC and App State need a lot of help to earn a share of the SoCon title. I think the Mountaineers take down the top-ranked Eagles, 34-30, in a game I’d love to watch.
And don’t think Samford isn’t going to pose more than a few problems for the Terriers. This should also be a very good game, one that Wofford wins by less than a touchdown.
Elsewhere: The Mocs should hand Western Carolina SoCon loss No. 22 in a row, and The Citadel will solve the “Merle” problem by not letting Elon touch the ball very often.
JEFF: Georgia Southern>Wofford, and Wofford>App State. I guess that means that Georgia Southern>App State. Especially when you consider that App State allowed 45 points and 529 yards in losses to option squads Wofford and The Citadel.
Elsewhere, it sounds like hitting the road might be just what Elon needs after last week's loss in "The Coffin," but I'm not sure if the Phoenix D can slow down The Citadel enough for Aaron Mellette's 3 TD catches to win the game. And I've got road teams Wofford and Chattanooga winning, though Wofford will find it tough going at Samford.
ADAM: Prediction of absolute certainty — Uncle Jeff Hartsell will be engulfed by pregame and postgame meaningful hugs on Saturday. And I will be doing the engulfing. Don’t get jealous and whiny, Frierson. Your hugs are coming Nov. 17 and they will be just as meaningful. Also, Hartsell is 50? When did this happen? That’s one well-preserved gentleman.
Prediction of near certainty — Chattanooga will clobber Western Carolina, sending the Catamounts to their second season in a row with a winless SoCon record (0-8).
Other predictions — Samford almost knocked off App State a couple weeks ago in Birmingham and should be rested after its bye to … wait for it … almost knock off Wofford. I want to go with Samford here, but picking against coach Mike Ayers, fullback / monster Eric Breitenstein and the Terriers feels like the wrong call.
Citadel’s triple-option offense could chew up (and possibly feast on) a banged-up Elon defense that has had problems stopping the run. Google “Breitenstein 321 yards” and guess what opponent pops up.
I’ll take Georgia Southern to beat App State, finish 7-1 in the SoCon and clinch at least a share of the league title for the second time in as many years. Georgia Southern has won 14 straight home games. And App State’s two SoCon losses this season have come against option offenses (Citadel and Wofford).
The end of the regular season is fast approaching and the SoCon title will soon be decided — right now it’s a two-horse race (Georgia Southern and Wofford — and the playoff field is starting to come together. Do you foresee any surprises or will it, once again, be GSU, Wofford and ASU in the playoffs and the rest of the league home for Thanksgiving?
JEFF: Hey, there are 20 playoff teams this year and they can't all come from the Colonial Athletic Association. If App State and The Citadel both end up 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the SoCon, that will be an interesting test case for the selection committee (which, FWIW, is chaired by App State AD Charlie Cobb).
Does the committee take App State and its storied history or The Citadel and its 52-28 whipping of App and two wins over top 10 teams (including current No. 1 Georgia Southern). Hmmmm....
ADAM: If Chattanooga wins out, the Mocs have to be in the playoffs, right? That would mean victories against Western Carolina, Wofford and Elon to close the regular season, getting them to 7-4 overall and 6-2 in the SoCon. Plus, to borrow NCAA basketball lingo, Chattanooga’s three-overtime near-miss of Georgia Southern would be considered a “good loss.”
Assuming App State takes care of Furman on Nov. 10, the Mountaineers would seem to be in with seven Division I wins. There were no D-II creampuffs on App State’s schedule.
Speaking of which, Wofford’s early-season schedule sure was marshmallow soft compared to the gauntlet it has faced since mid-October. Samford and Chattanooga will be challenging these next two weeks. And I’ll go out on a limb and say South Carolina on Nov. 17 will be, too.
Of course, the Colonial Athletic Association’s seven ranked teams also will play a factor in the at-large playoff bid picture.
JOHN: As Jeff alluded to earlier, what could wind up killing the Mocs is that Glenville State game. Wins over D-II teams don’t count and that was a replacement opponent after Presbyterian had to cancel a scheduled game. UTC can still finish 7-4, but it can’t get to seven D-I wins; and we all know the (lack of) history of teams with six D-I wins getting at-large bids.
There are 10 auto bids and 10 at-larges. The CAA will get at least four teams in, the Big Sky will also probably get four and the Missouri Valley might, as well. That doesn’t leave much for the the SoCon or any other conference, which means the SoCon might only get three in the field.
Basketball season starts in a couple of weeks and the SoCon’s coaches and media have picked Davidson and UNC Greensboro to be the teams to beat in their respective divisions. What kind of season will it be in the SoCon and give us a team or player to watch?
(UTC men’s hoops beat writer David Uchiyama will fill in for Frierson on this one.)
DAVID: I think the coaches and rest of the media must have cheated off my preseason ballot. Or, it’s that obvious that UNCG and Davidson are the respective favorites in their divisions.
I feel a lot more confident that the Davidson prediction will hold up than the selection of UNCG because the Wildcats return the 2011 player of the year in Jake Cohen and the 2012 player of the year in De’Mon Brooks.
There are plenty of players across the league that are worth seeing for the price of a $15 general admission ticket and $5 dollars more for popcorn and a Diet Coke.
The Citadel center Mike Groselle does more with less help than arguably any player in the country. The Davidson trio of Brooks, Cochran and Jake Cohen have been coached up and are the definition of mid-major star. Elon guard Jack Isenbarger (the son of a former Indiana player) plays like a Hoosier. UNCG guard Trevis Simpson makes it easy for the Spartans promotional office to create a highlight reel.
But I’d pay for a front-row ticket to see Georgia Southern junior Eric Ferguson. I think he’ll be the third SoCon player that I’ve covered to get drafted by the NBA, with Kevin Martin and Stephen Curry being the other two. Ferguson spent his summer playing in the LeBron James Skills academy and Kevin Durant’s camp. Not everybody gets invited to one of them, let alone both.
ADAM: Shocking that Uchiyama could be located this soon after his San Francisco Giants became World Series champs for the second time in three years. Kudos to Frierson’s Mark Eaton-like reach for rustling up that sucker.
It should be an interesting and competitive SoCon hoops season, especially in the North Division, where UNCG and Elon are picked at the top and Chattanooga is predicted to finish at the bottom. That’s quite the departure from recent years.
How will 29-year-old coach Wes Miller and UNCG, coming off last season’s North title, handle heightened expectations? We’ll find out. The Spartans have a talented backcourt returning, led by Trevis Simpson, the SoCon’s top scorer from a season ago.
In the South, Davidson is loaded with not only good players, but experience and depth. The Wildcats, at least on paper in November, look like the type of team that could win a game in the NCAA Tournament. De’Mon Brooks (the league’s Preseason Player of the Year) and Jake Cohen work well together down low while Nik Cochran and JP Kuhlman are a pair of steady senior guards.
Even with all that love I just heaped on Davidson, College of Charleston could be just as dangerous with scoring guard Andrew Lawrence, who played in the Olympics this summer for Great Britain, and wide body Trent Wiedeman on the block.
Player to watch — Georgia Southern’s Eric Ferguson. Yes, my man crush endures. He’s a long, 6-foot-7 leaper who had to be the best dunker in the SoCon last season. I saw him posterize Elon’s Austin Hamilton and my heart fluttered.
JEFF: With College of Charleston heading to the Colonial, I'm looking forward to the constant CAA/SoCon comparisons. Kenpom.com currently has the CAA No. 16 among conferences, and the SoCon No. 20, not a huge divide.
Nobody ever picks Wofford to win, but somehow Mike Young's club is always there. Davidson should own the league, and we'll find out if UNCG whiz kid Wes Miller is the real deal. Methinks he is.
The Citadel is picked to finish dead last among the 12 teams, and our friend @sandlapperspike says the last time that happened, the Bulldogs won 20 games in 2008-09. Now that would be a shocker.
If you’ve got a question, e-mail the writers at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. The guys are also on Twitter: @Jeff_fromthePC, @adam_smithTN and @MocsbeatCTFP.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...