#34 Mercer FCS Football 2016 Preview

Mercer Bears
Overall Rank: #34
#4 SoCon
Mercer lost six games last year, but five of them were by a combined 20 points. With nearly everybody back, Coach Bobby Lamb hopes that those close losses can turn into close wins. The Bears beat some good teams last season, most notably Chattanooga, so there is certainly hope that this could be a breakout year for the Bears.
2015 Record: 5-6, 2-5
2015 Postseason: None
Coach: Bobby Lamb (21-14 at Mercer, 88-54 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Casey Vogt
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Kolakowski
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Tee Mitchell, RB, 946 yards
Passing: John Russ, QB, 2,141 yards
Receiving: Avery Ward, WR, 481 yards
Tackles: Tripp Patterson, LB, 70
Sacks: Tosin Aguebor, LB, 7.0
Interceptions: Stephen Houzah, DB, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Alex Lakes, TE Sam Walker, TE Robert Brown, OL Bret Niederreither, LB Lee Bennett, DB Mike Gray, LB Tyler Ward, DB Lendell Arnold, DB Zach Jackson, DB Jeremy James
Key Losses: CB Alex Avant, P Matt Shiel
The defense allowed a mere 21.6 points per game last season and with so much talent returning, they could do it again. The front seven did a solid job last year, allowing just 171.4 yards per game on the ground and tallying 1.73 sacks per contest. Linebacker Tosin Aguebor leads the way with 7.0 sacks and 10.5 tackles-for-loss. Tripp Patterson is the main run stuffer at linebacker and Lee Bennett and Tyler Ward were not far behind their fellow linebacker in total tackles. The secondary is where the biggest problem was last year for the defense. The unit ranked fifth in the conference in pass defense and return Stephen Houzah, Mike Gray, Lendell Arnold, Zach Jackson and Jeremy James.
Like the defense, the offense returns just about everybody of significance. Quarterback John Russ threw for 2,141 yards and 18 touchdowns. More importantly, he threw just three interceptions. Russ will again target Avery Ward and tight end Sam Walker. Those two alone combined for 65 receptions. Marquise Irvin and Jimmie Robinson are promising sophomores who could add another dynamic to the passing attack. Mercer will stick to the ground game as much as needed. Russ is a capable rusher, but it is Tee Mitchell and Alex Lakes who will spearhead the ground game. Mitchell rushed for 946 yards and six scores, while Lakes added 692 yards with seven trips to the end zone. The offense has a ton of potential, but consistency is an issue. Getting those big plays at the end of games to turn those close defeats into close victories would be nice too.
The Bottom Line:
This will be a very interesting season for Mercer. The Bears have some talent, but it is possible that everything went right last year. They often won the turnover battle and maybe that is what turned losses into close losses. If the turnover battle does not go their way, Mercer could be in for a disappointing season. On the flip side, a year of experience could just as easily turn those close losses into close wins. We should learn a lot in week one when The Citadel comes to town on Thursday night. The Bulldogs have playoff aspirations and Mercer should too. A loss there and Mercer will be playing catchup the rest of the season.
Projected Postseason: None
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 212.5 (20th in nation, 4th in conference)
Passing Offense: 200.5 (64, 5)
Total Offense: 413.0 (38, 5)
Scoring Offense: 28.9 (44, 4)
Rushing Defense: 171.4 (64, 3)
Pass Defense: 211.8 (59, 5)
Total Defense: 383.2 (60, 4)
Scoring Defense: 21.6 (32, 1)
Turnover Margin: 1.00 (8, 1)
Sacks: 1.73 (84, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 0.73 (3, 2)
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#128 Kaelan Riley
#157 Malique Fleming
#166 Christopher Ellington