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.
Week eight in the SoCon was a light one with only three games. UTC didn’t have too much trouble with Elon, winning 20-9; Wofford had to shut out Western Carolina in the second half to rally for a 21-17 win; and Furman dropped Appalachian State to 1-6 overall with a 27-10 victory.
Did anything surprise you, or are we at the point of no longer being surprised by anything this season?
JEFF: We should be at the point where we are no longer surprised, but the tire fire in Boone remains fairly stunning. We keep waiting for the real Mountaineers to appear, but reality is setting in — these are the real Mountaineers. And with Georgia Southern, Chattanooga, Georgia and Wofford upcoming, App State is staring 1-10 right in the face. Wow.
Wofford continues to impress with its ability to do whatever is required to win — an 83-yard TD run from a 6-5 quarterback against WCU, a rally from 24-7 down against Elon, a deep pass when needed against GSU and The Citadel. The Terriers cannot cut it that close this week against Samford.
JOHN: It was impossible not to be surprised by the Catamounts’ 17-7 halftime lead over the Terriers. That Wofford was able to come back and win, just like it did against Elon the week before, was not a surprise.
I thought Furman had a good shot against App State given the current state of the Mountaineers, so the final score didn’t really shock me. What did were the stats: App State outgained Furman 473-336, had 30 first downs to Furman’s 14 and the Paladins committed 11 penalties for 115 yards.
So how did Furman win? It had a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown and it recovered four App State fumbles. The Mountaineers put the ball on the ground eight times.
As for UTC’s win at Elon, the Mocs defense kept its second opponent in a row out of the end zone. It wasn’t a pretty win, but UTC is running the ball effectively (five straight games with 200-plus yards) and the SoCon-leading defense is playing very well.
ADAM: How about the clean living going on at Wofford. Back-to-back goal-line stands as time has expired to preserve back-to-back comeback wins against Elon and Western Carolina and remain unbeaten in the league.
Those games ended with Groundhog Day scenarios. Both Elon and Western Carolina had the ball last, trailing by four, and put together drives that produced first-and-goals at the Wofford 5-yard line. And that’s where the Terriers stiffened, with, um, their hind legs backed up to the end zone.
Can you imagine Western Carolina scoring a game-winning touchdown on the very last play to end its three-year losing streak in the SoCon? That would’ve been a special scene.
Back to Wofford, two weeks ago, while I was taking forever to finish in the press box at Gibbs Stadium, the guys from Terrier Vision were cutting video of coach Mike Ayers’ pre- and post-game speeches against Elon. Let there be no question that in his 27th year there, Ayers still has his fastball when it comes to fire in the locker room.
As Uncle Jeff Hartsell mentioned, it’s almost become a weekly ritual to check the scores around the league and find App State in another mess.
I didn’t find much surprising about Chattanooga strangling Elon into submission. Can’t help but wonder if the way that potential upset ended at Wofford has cursed Elon at the goal line. Elon got down to the Mocs’ 2, 13 and 6 and came away with nothing but field goals last Saturday. Those weren’t nearly enough.
Right now it looks like a three-team race for the SoCon title. Samford is atop the standings at 4-0, Wofford is right behind at 3-0 and the Mocs are 3-1. Furman is next among the eligibles at 2-2, but it seems a longshot that a two-loss team will have a chance to take the title.
Samford visits Wofford this week, so one of those teams will have a loss, and both still have games against UTC on the schedule. So who is your favorite at this point to win the SoCon?
JOHN: For all of the craziness that has taken place so far in the league, it does appear that we’re set up for a pretty interesting finish. Samford looks like the front-runner at this point with its dynamic offense and at least solid defense, but it sure is hard to pick against Wofford.
The Terriers so often seem to find a way to get the job done. It’s seldom sexy, but it’s effective.
UTC is taking care of business during the stretch of the season when it should. The Mocs are beating the weaker teams on their schedule and may be 5-1 in the league — if they can beat The Citadel this week and win at App State — when Wofford comes to town on Nov. 9 That game is followed by a trip to Samford, so one way or another the SoCon title could be up for grabs that day.
Because of the way the schedule works out, all three teams have a lot of challenges ahead.
ADAM: To piggyback on Johnny Frierson, it’s pretty sweet how the schedule shapes up with these moment-of-truth games — all between the eligibles for the conference title, no less — that will decide who emerges from the three-team pack of Samford, Wofford and Chattanooga.
I’ve got to keep riding with Samford as the favorite, party because I never would cheat on do-everything running back Fabian Truss, and mostly because quarterback Andy Summerlin and the rest of that offense look scarily potent.
Chattanooga’s stout defense against Samford’s offense figures to be an interesting matchup Nov. 16. I’ll walk out on a limb and say that game between the Mocs and the Bulldogs in Birmingham will determine the league champion.
Wofford seems tough to trust right now. For all of the coach-speak that you hear about teams being a play or two away from experiencing a different kind of season, Wofford truly is two plays away from being 2-2 in the SoCon (with losses to Elon and Western Carolina) rather than 4-0.
JEFF: We've got some slugfests down the stretch — Samford at Wofford this week; Wofford at Chattanooga Nov. 9; Chattanooga at Samford Nov. 16. Those games should tell the tale. Samford and Wofford handled GSU, while the Mocs lost narrowly. Right now, I think I like Samford and an offense that's averaging 46.7 points in league play.
All nine teams are in action this week and here are the games: Samford at Wofford, The Citadel at UTC, Elon at Western Carolina, Georgia Southern at App State and Furman visits LSU. How weird does it feel that the GSU-ASU game is totally irrelevant to everyone but the players coaches and fans of those schools? And what are your thoughts on the other games this week?
JEFF: Georgia Southern and App State will meet for the last time as SoCon rivals — with absolutely zero on the line. But ESPN3 will be there, which lets me go off on a tangent. Since The Citadel was off last week, I took the opportunity to lay on my couch and click around the dial. There were a lot of football games on — Steve Spurrier had a brain cramp (or two), Clemson got handled by FSU — but there was no SoCon game. This must be fixed. ESPN3 is all well and good, and I guess someday everyone will have a smart TV that can play live streams right along with regular broadcasts. But until then, watching on your laptop or hooking up your computer to the TV is no substitute for having your games on TV. The SoCon is missing out on valuable branding and recruiting opportunities, and it makes a difference. End of sermon.
As for the games — Samford in a close one, Chattanooga in a not quite as close one, GSU and Elon win on the road. As for Furman — night game in Baton Rouge, coming off an LSU loss. Enjoy.
ADAM: Totally weird that Georgia Southern and App State, the teams that have been the SoCon’s most recognizable name brands, are getting together and it means zilch.
I couldn’t agree more with Hartsell’s tangent and point about television games. I have about 500,000 channels — OK, maybe a little less — on DirecTV and the other day, by pure chance, stumbled upon a commercial for the Big Sky’s Game of the Week, Eastern Washington at Montana. Sure, the Audience Network (channel 239) isn’t ESPN, but that doesn’t matter. The Big Sky is an FCS league and a situation like this is exactly what the SoCon should be working toward or already doing. Just take what happened with me. I saw the commercial. Boom. Now I know the Big Sky is on Audience every Saturday.
I’m predicting Samford to beat Wofford and take over sole possession of first place atop the league. Chattanooga handles Citadel for its fourth straight win and sixth in the last seven games. Elon at Western Carolina? Yikes. Maalox moments for the Phoenix.
And Furman just beat App State, which is sort of a pseudo FBS team. That should have the Paladins prepared to deal with LSU, am I right? Anybody? Hello? Bueller?
JOHN: App State won’t save its season with a win over Georgia Southern, but it sure would ease the pain up on the mountain for a little while. But I don’t see it happening. As long as McKinnon is on the field the Eagles should be favored to win most every game.
I haven’t thought much about the SoCon’s TV situation this season (short-timer’s syndrome?), in part because two of UTC’s home games have been televised. UTC paid to air its stinker of an opener vs. UT-Martin and Western Carolina paid to show the Mocs beat the Catamounts by 21. To echo my esteemed colleagues’ thoughts, it will be hard to take the SoCon truly serious as a football and basketball league until its games are regulars on TV. Something has to be done before next season.
Anyway, I think the Mocs will win a tight game against The Citadel, earning the program’s 500th win all-time. UTC, now 499-505-35, was above .500 for a long, long time, then came the horrendous ’90s and ’00s, when three-win seasons seemed to be the norm.
Elsewhere, I give Samford and QB Andy Summerlin the edge over Wofford, Western Carolina will stop its streak with a double-digit win over Elon, Georgia Southern will beat App State by two touchdowns and Furman will maybe gain 100 yards in an ugly loss at LSU.
Now for the important business of the week. What are your favorite nicknames and/or logos and mascots in the SoCon (counting Georgia Southern and App State, if you like)? If you feel like sharing, what is your least favorite? And if you think this is a waste of time, tell us your favorite of The Canterbury Tales.
JEFF: Things I like — Freedom the Eagle; Sir Paladin (though I understand he had a mishap last week; hope everyone is OK); the nickname "Mocs" (I kind of like that no one knows what it means); The Citadel's bulldogs (the real ones); Western Carolina's Pride of the Mountains Marching Band; Elon's old nickname (the Fighting Christians).
JOHN: I don’t particularly like dogs — I can have great affection for an individual, well-behaved dog but as a whole I find them loud and annoying — so that might eliminate some schools. On the other hand, I grew up about 100 yards from Georgia’s campus, during the Herschel years, so any team, other than Mississippi State, named Bulldogs has a shot.
For the complete package in the SoCon, I’ll have to go with The Citadel Bulldogs, and their logos and other looks as the best all-around in the league. Some of that may be their color scheme, which I think is the best.
In terms of nicknames (here comes trouble), my least favorite is the Mocs. The reason is that after seven years covering UTC, I still don’t have a good, concise answer when people inevitably ask, “What’s a Moc?”
Any nickname that has to be explained in multiple paragraphs — here’s a link to UTC’s explanation: http://www.gomocs.com/ViewArticle.dbml?ATCLID=204825720 — might not be a great nickname. I do like some of UTC’s logos, but my favorite, the mockingbird head, which would look great on a helmet, is used the least.
But remember, I’m a guy that went to Ole Miss and always loathed its Rebels nickname, as well as the Colonel Reb mascot. That’s why I was for the change to Admiral Ackbar a few years ago.
ADAM: Back in my college days of more hair and less bags under my eyes, I was in need of an upper-level English credit and found myself in a class devoted to Geoffrey Chaucer. So if y’all need me to bang out the prologue to the Canterbury Tales, say the word and it’s on, son.
I wasn’t a fan of Phoenix when Elon picked it 13 years ago. One of the nicknames up for consideration was Express. That seemed like the right call. Railroad tracks run right through campus and trains are clanging by all the time. Plus, Elon Express has a nice look and sound. But Phoenix has grown on me. The school was all but destroyued in 1923 by a fire and managed to rise from the ashes, so there’s symbolism aplenty. Can’t beat Fighting Christians, though. That’s special.
I used to love App State’s Yosef mascot when he carried the moonshine jug and musket. But these are politically correct times, of course. Sigh. Freedom the Eagle – a real living, flying eagle – is awesome at Georgia Southern. One minute he’s perched next to the pre-game buffet spread in the press box and the next he’s soaring around the stadium before kickoff.
I was reading an online basketball preview the other day and the site called Furman the “Purple Paladins” the whole way through. Just can’t trust the internet.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. The guys are also on Twitter: @Jeff_fromthePC, @adam_smithTN and @MocsBeat.
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 ...