published Thursday, September 13th, 2012

SoConversation: Week 3

Welcome to week three 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.

Here are last week’s results: The Citadel def. Georgia Southern 23-21, Appalachian State def. Montana 35-27, Coastal Carolina def. Furman 47-45, Elon def. N.C. Central 34-14, Samford def. West Alabama 34-6, Wofford def. Lincoln 82-0, Jacksonville State def. UTC 27-24, Marshall def. Western Carolina 52-24.

The Citadel and Appalachian State both pulled off impressive wins, while the Mocs lost yet another heartbreaker. What, if anything, surprised, impressed or stood out to you from week two?

JEFF: The Citadel's win over No. 3 Georgia Southern definitely qualified as an upset, but you could kind of feeling it coming. The Bulldogs had played the Eagles close in recent years, and probably should have won last year in Statesboro. The biggest shocker was that the Bulldogs finally made a clutch field goal in the final minutes. It had been years since that happened.

Check out these videos (at http://www.postandcourier.com/section/bulldogbites&nocache=1) of Citadel coach Kevin Higgins and GSU coach Jeff Monken for a stark look at the difference between victory and defeat.

Meanwhile, Furman is staring down the barrel of an 0-3 start but seems to have found a QB in freshman Reese Hannon. Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman must be climbing the walls. First, the QB controversy (that apparently shall not be mentioned) and then another close loss. By my count, that's six losses by a total of 15 points the last two years. Ouch. And Wofford's 82-0 win over Lincoln shows that embarrassing scheduling is not limited to the likes of Oklahoma State and Florida State.

ADAM: The Citadel’s toppling of Georgia Southern deserves first mention here, but I won’t linger because Uncle Jeff Hartsell already has it covered. So did Hartsell actually smuggle the camera into the Citadel locker room that filmed Kevin Higgins’ post-game address? That’s either great access or — cue the Sade song “Smooth Operator” — stealth infiltration work.

There no doubt have been merrier bye weeks than what Georgia Southern is experiencing. Yo, Elon, have fun with the Eagles on Sept. 22.

Furman is a combined seven points shy of being 2-0 on the season. Elon avoided reaching for the panic button by racing to a 31-7 halftime lead on N.C. Central before throttling way back in the second half.

Sure, I poked fun at the App State/Montana hype — some breathlessly went so far as to bill it as maybe the most anticipated non-conference game in FCS history — but the matchup of powerhouses delivered on several levels.

App State came up with two fourth-quarter touchdown drives before Demetrius McCray’s clutch interception at the goal line with 18 seconds left clinched the victory.

Announced attendance in Boone for the Montana game: 30,856. Announced attendance in Winston-Salem for Wake Forest’s dramatic win against North Carolina: 29,526.

As for App State’s Jamill Lott and Sean Price, both reinstated from team-imposed suspensions that have yet to be fully served, Lott started at cornerback and made four tackles while Price caught eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.

JOHN: After a pretty crazy week with the Terrell Robinson situation (he quits on Tuesday, returns Thursday and is on the sidelines in street clothes on Saturday), Jacob Huesman handled his first start pretty darn well. He ran for 62 yards on UTC’s first play, finished with 166 yards rushing and he completed 18 of 30 passes for 181 yards. He also led the Mocs 79 yards for the tying score with less than three minutes remaining.

Huesman showed that he wasn’t just playing because he was Russ Huesman’s kid or because he’s white, as some Robinson supporters have claimed. He’s got a lot of talent, just like Robinson, and the Mocs need to figure out a way to utilize them both.

The Mocs also need to figure out a way to win close games. As Jeff noted, when UTC loses to an FCS team, it’s usually a heartbreaker decided in the final minutes.

I expected another close game between The Citadel and Georgia Southern, but I can’t say I felt a Bulldogs win coming. Might this be a sign of some major parity in the SoCon this season? I think it might just be.

And 82-0? Unacceptable.

Here are this week’s matchups: UTC vs. Glenville State (Thursday), Elon vs. West Virginia State, Gardner-Webb vs. Samford, Clemson vs. Furman, Appalachian State vs. The Citadel, Wofford vs. Western Carolina. Any predictions on what’s to come this weekend?

ADAM: Pain for West Virginia State. Pain. (To be read in your best Mr. T inner monologue).

West Virginia State, a Division II team, is coming off a 77-0 whipping administered by North Carolina A&T. And A&T started kneeling on the ball seconds into the fourth quarter. Well, then West Virginia State sent word not to worry about it and to keep on playing. So A&T obliged and scored some more.

Pain.

Though I realize it’s skewed by that assassination of Lincoln, have a look at Wofford’s cumulative score on the season: 116 points scored, 7 points allowed. Western Carolina, in its first SoCon game under Mark Speir, figures to have its hands full.

Samford can secure its first 3-0 start to a season since 1995 by defeating Gardner-Webb, which has been soundly beaten by Wofford and Richmond in the last two weeks.

And Hartsell again will be perched at the sexiest game on the schedule, with The Citadel traveling to App State for what suddenly is a Top 25 matchup.

Hey, what’s that song playing in the background?

Sounds like “Smooth Operator” to me.

JOHN: The Mocs play their home opener tonight against the Division II Pioneers, who were here in Chattanooga four years ago for coach Russ Huesman’s first game as coach. That game was a 30-13 UTC win and this should be a little more lopsided. At 0-2, and coming off the last-second loss to JSU, UTC needs a confidence-boosting blowout because Appalachian State comes to town next weekend.

As for the rest of the games, I’ll be following ASU-The Citadel with much interest. Can the Bulldogs make it two upsets in a row? How will the Mountaineers play after their big win over Montana last week? I think The Citadel shows that last week wasn’t a fluke, but ASU is able to pull away in the fourth quarter.

JEFF: Easy wins for UTC, Elon, Clemson and Wofford. Samford's Bulldogs should take care of G-W's Runnin' Bulldogs. The most interesting game is The Citadel at App State, which is a battle of ranked teams for the first time since 2008, when the No. 2 Mountaineers beat the No. 12 Bulldogs, 47-21. Something along those lines has been the usual score between in recent years between App State and The Citadel, which has not won in Boone since 1992. But in 2009, the Bulldogs took a No. 10 App State team to overtime before losing, and last year the Dogs lost by 49-42 after App built a big early lead.

The Bulldogs need the same formula that worked against GSU — some early turnovers, a big play or two on special teams, solid field-goal kicking. It still might not be enough against Jamal Jackson and crew.

A hot topic in college football here in the early part of the season has been the FBS vs. FCS games, which more often than not provide little drama but an important paycheck to FCS programs. Savannah State is the glaring example with an 84-0 loss to Oklahoma State and a 55-0 loss to Florida State to begin the season.

Are these games good or bad for college football? Or merely a necessity for FBS schedules and FCS budgets?

JOHN: The Savannah State situation is absurd, but I suppose the school wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t have to financially. OSU and FSU knew how bad Savannah State was when the games were scheduled and surely those programs could have found a more competitive opponent.

My dad and brother have season tickets to Georgia games and I know how expensive they are. So when the Bulldogs host a Western Carolina (I use that example because they played in 2007) or even a weak FBS program such as Florida Atlantic, like they are this week (I’ll be helping cover the game for the TFP), they typically feel like it’s a waste of their time to go watch. They’ll tailgate with their friends and go for the first quarter or so, but that’s about it.

It’s not the responsibility of FBS teams to subsidize FCS football, but the reality is that most FCS programs desperately need the big paycheck. Schools like UTC and many others better hope these games continue because $435,000 checks — what South Florida paid UTC — aren’t easy to find.

JEFF: I feel sorry for the fans at schools like Oklahoma State and Florida State who shell out big bucks for seat licenses and season tickets and what not, and then have to watch games like that. It's ridiculous. I blame the BCS schools more than schools like Savannah State, although playing two of those games back-to-back was an equally ridiculous idea by Savannah State's athletic director.

The good news is that the silliest of these paycheck games should start to disappear once the four-team FBS playoff kicks in. We can only hope that strength of schedule is a key component of making the playoff, and that that will discourage these farces.

ADAM: They’re all of the above.

Good for the stage that they offer FCS teams, especially when they seize the moment — think Furman’s 1999 shredding of North Carolina or, of course, App State’s still ubiquitous 2007 upset of Michigan.

Bad for the results, sometimes ranging from blowouts to the absurd, that typically are produced on said stages.

And an absolute necessity for cushioning the across-the-board bottom lines at FCS schools, all of which likely are operating at some sort of deficit, given the cost of fielding Division I sports programs.

Nothing was fun about the 62-0 pounding Elon endured at North Carolina earlier this month. But that payday of several hundred thousand dollars had to soften the blow.

We’re all on Twitter and surely we all follow at least a few other sportswriters that our readers might enjoy, whether it’s for info on the SoCon and FCS or anything else sports related. Who are some worthy of a follow?

ADAM: Russell Varner (@rvarner) does a nice job rounding up SoCon stuff, especially scores and developments from around the league on Saturdays.

As we know, I am nothing if not a homer. So hit up Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow) and Stephen Schramm (@stephenschramm) for ACC basketball and Dan Wiederer (@StribDW) for everything down to the minutest hangnail related to the Minnesota Vikings.

Am I overflowing with natural man love for those three guys? Yes, of course I am. Quit being so guarded, open your heart and you will be, too.

If you live in ACC country and aren’t following Ben Swain (@thedevilwolf), you’re doing Twitter wrong. Pay no mind to the minivan he drives. The man is an entertainer.

Shane Ryan (@TobaccoRdBlues) is a skilled writer and hilarious when posted up in front of the National Spelling Bee.

For mind-numbing free throw stats and musings on DC-area pro teams, give young apprentice Conor O’Neill (@ConorONeillTN) a try. Public service announcement: He needs followers. Click the button.

JOHN: The first that comes to mind for any sports fan is Sports Illustrated writer Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch), who covers sports media and has plenty of interesting thoughts on the happenings in and out of the sports world. I also like him because he often provides links to good, interesting articles.

Yahoo! Sports writer Pat Forde (@yahooforde) is a must for any college football or basketball fan. He doesn’t delve into the FCS much, but he offers up plenty of interesting observations — and his weekly Forde-Yard Dash, which he links, wraps up what’s happening as well as anything.

The Sports Network’s Craig Haley (@craighaley) covers the FCS from coast to coast and the best way to keep up with what he’s writing about is through his Twitter feed. I’ll also throw in ESPN writer Wright Thompson (@wrightthompson), a fellow Ole Miss alum, who tweets about everything from college sports to good grub around the South.

JEFF: @TerrierTracker is good for Wofford/SoCon news and a laugh or two. He said that 82-0 loss to Wofford was Lincoln's worst night since the Ford Theater. @travis_sawchick and @DarrylSlater of The Post and Courier provide good perspective on the ACC and SEC, respectively. And @grantland33 always has good, readable stuff.

If you’ve got a question, e-mail the writers at jhartsell@postandcourier.com, asmith@thetimesnews.com or jfrierson@timesfreepress.com. The guys are also on Twitter: @Jeff_fromthePC, @adam_smithTN and @MocsbeatCTFP.

about John Frierson...

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 ...

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