published Friday, November 15th, 2013

SoConversation: Week 12

Welcome to 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.

Last week in the SoCon became Separation Saturday — is that trademarked? can we use it? — with Chattanooga defeating Wofford to clinch at least a share of the league title and Samford slipping in the race by falling to Furman in the most meaningful games. Elsewhere, The Citadel clobbered Elon, Georgia Southern took care of Western Carolina and Georgia pulled away in the second half to rout Appalachian State.

What was your prevailing takeaway from Week 11?

JEFF: The Mocs have finally had the breakthrough season we've been anticipating, and good for them. Russ Huesman has done good work turning that program around. Just when the Samford bandwagon was taking on passengers, it blew a tire. Not sure what has happened to the Birmingham Bulldogs, but four straight conference road games can't be too much fun. Furman ... what can you say? The Paladins need a lot of stuff to happen to make the playoffs, but none of it is that far-fetched.


JOHN: It was quite a day in Chattanooga, which hadn’t won even a share of a SoCon title since 1984. As someone who had seen the program hit rock bottom in 2008, going 1-11, I must admit it was pretty neat to see the Mocs succeed and celebrate the way they did.

It was a typical UTC/Wofford game, with not much between the two teams. The Mocs rushed out to a 14-0 lead and played smart, conservative ball the rest of the way, while the defense held the Terriers to 172 rushing yards.

I wasn’t too surprised to see that Furman beat Samford, not given how well the Paladins are playing, but to see that Samford outgained Furman 531-336 and lost 35-17 was a head-scratcher. Turnovers are killers.

ADAM: Here comes Furman. Here comes Furman.

(Works even better when using a Howard Cosell reading voice. Try it again).

Here comes Furman. Here comes Furman.

The Paladins lost four of their first six games and needed a blocked field goal in the final seconds just to survive against Presbyterian. And after Elon beat them in early October, the season looked like it was bound for bleak territory. But wow is Furman back from the brink. The win against Samford was its third in the last four weeks, sandwiched around only a loss at LSU.

I had crowned Samford a couple weeks ago, when it seemed like quarterback Andy Summerlin, do-everything running back Fabian Truss and Co. couldn’t be stopped (or held below 30 points). Just the latest example in my lifelong string of jumping to conclusions.

Congrats to the Mocs, who are delivering on what felt like could be their breakthrough season, and coach Russ Huesman, who always has come across as an easy guy to root for.

As for Elon, The Citadel’s big plays (most notably, TDs of 65 and 61 yards) and more second-half starvation — the Phoenix has been outscored 104-9 in the second halves of its last six games — brought more bad vibes. It was homecoming and it seemed like everybody I bumped into asked about coach Jason Swepson’s job security. That Swepson called it “a low point for Elon football” became a fitting state of the union address.

Chattanooga (6-1 in the league) wins the SoCon outright if it beats Samford (4-2) this week. That’s the simple math. The other scenarios in play, with Wofford (4-2), Furman (4-2) and Samford holding chances to share the title, turn more and more complex.

Two weekends remain in the regular season. How do you see things shaking out at the top of the conference?

JOHN: Things will get real complicated if UTC isn’t able to beat Samford and wrap up the title. There could easily be a three-way tie for the second straight season — but unlike last season, when Wofford, Georgia Southern and App State shared the title and made the playoffs, I don’t think three SoCon teams will make the 24-team field this season.


It’s not going to be easy, but I think UTC pulls out a narrow win at Samford. Even if they lose, I think (but with no degree of certainty) the Mocs are still going to make the playoffs.


It would be a heck of a comeback if Furman managed to earn a share and the automatic bid, though that might not be the best thing for the league, a 7-5 team getting in ahead of a team with a better record. But if the Paladins earn it, they earn it. And I’m not sure anyone wants to play Furman right now.


ADAM: Heck no, nobody wants to play Furman right now, not with the way the Paladins’ purple mojo is working.

I’ve always preferred simple math to any other kind of math, so I’m going to continue agreeing with Johnny Frierson and say Chattanooga wins at Samford to become the outright SoCon champion. That would be the peaking Mocs’ seventh straight victory, if it happens.

The rest looks like a tough, muddled call to me. Maybe the simplest scenario, or the less messy, would be if Chattanooga beats Samford and Wofford wins out by beating App State and Furman. That would send the Mocs (9-3 overall, 7-1 SoCon) and the Terriers (7-4, 6-2) heading to the playoffs and, in my opinion, leave Samford (7-5, 5-3) on the outside looking in.


JEFF: I'm gonna pull for the Purple People Eaters, just because. Furman beats WCU and Wofford, Samford beats Chatt and Elon and Georgia Southern also beats Elon. That gives us our three-way tie with Furman claiming the auto bid, with Chatt and Samford earning at-large berths. With 24 teams in the playoffs, somebody's got to go. And hey, there could be a fourth SoCon team in the field — Mercer is 9-1 and vying for the Pioneer League's spot.

Here is Saturday’s schedule in the league: Chattanooga at Samford (the ESPN3.com game), Appalachian State at Wofford, Furman at Western Carolina, Georgia Southern at Elon and VMI at The Citadel. What are your thoughts on these games?

ADAM: The coveted Silver Shako is on the line — what a sweet trophy — and, just going to go ahead and make the call, Citadel will hoist it for the third year in a row. Updating the scoreboard, that win will boost the SoCon’s record to 3-6 against the Big South this season. Ouch.

Along these same lines, former Elon coach Pete Lembo’s Ball State team not only missed on knocking off undefeated Northern Illinois earlier this week, but also securing the coveted Bronze Stalk. That’s a pity.

As I said earlier, I’m riding with Chattanooga at Samford, even though the Bulldogs are back at home in Birmingham after four straight road games for the first time since Oct. 5.

Wofford beats App State (dropping the Mountaineers to 2-9), Furman beats Western Carolina and Georgia Southern ends its 21-year run in the SoCon by beating reeling Elon in its final league game. Next up for Georgia Southern after this is a season-ender at Florida and then it’s off to the Sun Belt.


JEFF: Citadel folk will be quick to point out that they've owed the Coveted Silver Shako since 2003 and haven't lost at home to VMI since 1995. Don't see those trend lines changing, though the Bulldogs will have to avoid looking ahead to next week's showdown with CLEMSON. After all its history in the SoCon, Georgia Southern's final league game is a meaningless contest at Elon, which also is on its way out the door. App State's SoCon rivalry with Wofford also comes to an anti-climatic close, with the Terriers coming out on top. And as a fan of three-way ties, I'm taking Samford and Furman.

JOHN: Huge, huge, HUGE game for the Mocs, who don’t want to share the SoCon title and certainly want to put their playoff fate in the selection committee’s hands.


This should be a great matchup of strengths: UTC’s SoCon-leading defense vs. Samford’s very potent offense. Which probably guarantees that it will be either Samford’s defense or UTC’s offense that ultimately decides things. It should be a great one.


Elsewhere, Wofford and Furman have to keep winning and hope for a UTC loss to keep their title hopes alive. Will the App State squad that drilled Georgia Southern ever show up again or was that a one-time thing?
Predictions: Mocs eke one out, App State’s passing game is too much for the Terriers, Furman keeps rolling, the Eagles soar and the Bulldogs give VMI a taste of what’s to come in the SoCon starting next season.


It’s no secret that the SoCon has been viewed with a weakened national perception across the FCS this season. With that and our 2013 Farewell Tour in mind, what’s the best league team you’ve seen during your time covering the conference?

JEFF: The App State/Armanti teams were fun to watch, and the Apps won 71 games over a six-year stretch. Awesome. Adrian Peterson and his Georgia Southern squads of the late 1990s/early 2000s were mighty impressive, as well. And then there was that 15-0 Marshall team in 1996 with some guy named Randy Moss.

JOHN: I suspect the popular answer here is going to be one of App State’s national championship teams, and for good reason. My first year covering the league was 2007 and that legendary, Michigan-beating team was pretty amazing.
Armanti Edwards remains the best FCS player I’ve ever seen and he was tremendous that season, finishing with 1,948 passing yards and 1,587 on the ground. He even outshined Joe Flacco in the national championship game, a 49-21 rout at Finley Stadium.


And it’s not like Armanti was the only stud on that team. The Mountaineers also had Corey Lynch, Dexter Jackson, Kevin Richardson and Devon Moore, to name a few. In my opinion, no other SoCon team has come close to that squad since.


ADAM: In lockstep here with everything Frierson just said (or suspected) on App State, so I’m going to go maybe off the radar a bit and choose Georgia Southern’s 2000 national championship team, led by fullback Adrian Peterson (the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher with 6,559 career yards) and coach Paul Johnson.

That was my first year out of college and Elon, newly renamed as the Phoenix and in its second year on the Division I level, had yet to even join the Big South, much less the SoCon.

Elon played Georgia Southern in Statesboro to end that regular season and lost 32-9, which actually seemed to be a pretty decent showing, given some of the decapitations the Eagles were serving up on their way to back-to-back national championships.

The 2000 national title was Georgia Southern’s sixth and that season marked the middle of a run of six straight years in which Georgia Southern won or shared the SoCon crown.

Johnson was a year away from finishing his five years there with an absurd 62-10 record. Elite stuff.

That’s it for this week and thanks for reading, as always. If you’ve got a question or comment, 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 @MocsBeat.

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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