#17 Mercer FCS Football 2022 Preview

Mercer Bears
Overall Rank: #17
#3 SoCon
 Mercer Logo
Mercer came so close to reaching the playoffs for the first time ever. The Bears have quickly built a solid program after starting up football again in 2013 following a 72-year absence, but the 2021 season was their best yet. In the end, a three-point loss at East Tennessee State to end the campaign kept Mercer out of the playoffs. The 2022 season will give the Bears another great opportunity to get to the playoffs.
2021 Record: 7-3, 6-2
2021 Postseason: None
Coach: Drew Cronic (12-9 at Mercer, 59-15 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Bob Bodine
Defensive Coordinator: Joel Taylor
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Brandon Marshall, RB, 339 yards
Passing: Fred Payton, QB, 1,661 yards
Receiving: Ty James, WR, 611 yards
Tackles: Isaac Dowling, LB, 73
Sacks: Solomon Zubairu, DE, 5.0
Interceptions: Lance Wise, S, 3
Other Key Returnees: WR Devron Harper, WR Parker Wroble, OL John Thomas, LB Ken Standley, S Richie Coffey, LB Danijah Gammage, DL Chris Hill, CB Michael Campbell
Key Losses: RB Fred Davis, WR Ethan Dirrim, OL Jason Poe, S Luke Ward, S Harrison Poole, CB Yahsyn McKee
Losing freshman All-American Fred Davis at running back hurts, but sophomore Brandon Marshall should be able to pick up some of the slack. Coach Drew Cronic will still want to run the ball early and often so finding another back to compliment Marshall. Fred Payton is back at quarterback for his senior season after throwing for 1,661 yards and a dozen touchdowns. If the Bears do need to throw a bit more this season, they do have a trio of talented receivers in Ty James, Devron Harper and Parker Wroble. James led the Bears with 26 receptions for 611 yards and seven touchdowns.
Mercer ranked second in the Southern Conference in rushing defense, pass defense and total defense. This year could be even better. The Bears return a lot of talent across the board. The front line will again be led by Solomon Zubairu and Chriss Hill. The Bears did struggle to get to the quarterback, but those two accounted for eight of the team’s 13 sacks in 2021. Sophomore Isaac Dowling is the star of the linebackers after recording a team high 73 tackles. The secondary is led by senior safety Lance Wise, who earned All-SoCon accolades after recording 59 tackles and three interceptions.
The Bottom Line:
Chattanooga and East Tennessee State are expected to again be the main obstacles standing between Mercer and a conference title. The Bears finished their 2021 season by beating Chattanooga 10-6 and then falling at ETSU. The Mocs and Buccaneers will again come in back-to-back weeks, but this time it is in mid-October. Those two games will still likely decide if Mercer can win the SoCon or reach the playoffs.
Projected Postseason:  FCS Playoffs
2021 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 209.4 (12th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 200.0 (69, 4)
Total Offense: 409.4 (28, 4)
Scoring Offense: 31.7 (27, 4)
Rushing Defense: 148.1 (53, 2)
Pass Defense: 179.4 (12, 2)
Total Defense: 327.5 (20, 2)
Scoring Defense: 22.7 (31, 3)
Turnover Margin: 0.10 (53, 5)
Sacks: 1.20 (111, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 1.40 (25, 3)